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Now, like shonen manga, there's only one story that really works for shojo manga!! ... The heroine screams "I'm late! I'm late!" while running out of her house (because she's clumsy)!! There are no alternatives to this beginning!! Another important detail: she has to be chewing on a piece of toast!! — Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
A common device for a series opening or Establishing Character Moment. Things begin in a frantic rush which usually results in taking short cuts, such as eating breakfast on the run. The classic image is of someone running down the street with a slice of toast hanging out of their mouth, dragging their backpack with one hand while trying to put on their jacket or sweater one-handed with the other, bumping into important people in a manner that gets the plot started.
Basically, they're never on time for school. While some are Heavy Sleepers, it would appear that they may have simply set their alarm clocks so as to give them insufficient time to get to class.
In manga and anime, this is associated with the shoujo (girl's) genre, where the original intent was to establish the protagonist as cute but clumsy, or give her a minor flaw (in Japan, there is a stigma against eating in public). Overused to the point of becoming a Discredited Trope; current Japanese "How to Become a Shoujo Manga-ka" books specifically advise against using this trope, and more recent manga even lampshade how much of a cliche it is. It is often paired with Crash-Into Hello.
It's also Truth in Television, as any teenager/parent/college student will tell you.
Compare Easing Into the Adventure, Good Morning, Crono.
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Anime & Manga
Usagi from Sailor Moon was running to school when she saw a bunch of kids teasing Luna. She saves the cat and soon is told that she's Sailor Moon by her...It's not just the first episode, either—Usagi being late is a Running Gag.
During his Alternate Universe experience in the last episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji and Asuka quite literally run into Rei, who is running wildly with a piece of toast in her mouth, trying not to be Late For School.
The toast is spoofed in the Petit Evayonkoma manga, where one of the Reis has whole loaves of bread labelled "breakfast", "lunch" and "dinner".
Two of the main characters in Manabi Straight meet this way. The threat of their tardiness results in one breaking out her Hoverboard that was apparently stolen from the Back to the Future set, and they practically have the same music playing.
In Strawberry Panic!, Nagisa runs in to the Etoile while taking a short cut to get to school because she was late on her first day. This show likes to be thorough with its use of tropes.
Nayuki in Kanon became the track team captain because her sleeping habits trained her to run quickly to school.
Ahiru of Princess Tutu wakes up in the first episode, hears the bell, and runs to school, convinced she's late. Turns out she's woken up early, and this bell was for a different class.
Ichigo of Tokyo Mew Mew seems to have to run everywhere she goes, from school to work to dates and everything in between. Even with her catgirl powers, she never arrives normally, always panting and flopping over with a second to spare.
In Azumanga Daioh, Yukari-sensei's immature and irresponsible nature is suggested when she is Late For School in the very first scene. She then compounds this by flying into a rage, stealing a helpful student's bicycle (when he stops to fix hers, no less), and reporting to the wrong homeroom.
Tomo, of course, is even later. "Yukari's here already?"
In the anniversary manga chapters, one section opens with Osaka leaving for school and one of her parents asking off-screen if she will be late. Osaka is definitely Not a Morning Person.
Mira from Papa To Kiss In The Dark is late for school in the very beginning of the series. The reason? He was having sex with his father. What else.
A variation in Youre Under Arrest: Natsumi is frequently late for work, enough to become a running gag, especially when she makes up more and more outlandish excuses.
Parodied in a high school Bizarro Episode in the Excel Saga manga, when the unusually Genre Savvy Excel states that the surest way to bump into someone important is to run to school with a piece of toast in your mouth. Naturally, it backfires, and she is hit by a car.
This was actually the point of a scene—Ryoko plays a little joke on Sasami so she can see this in the Tenchi Muyo! manga.
Mika in Doki Doki School Hours often has to be driven to school by her father to avoid being late - which is a bit embarrassing since she's actually a teacher.
Subverted with Nozomu in Kanokon acting out the trope despite not actually being late. She continues to go through the whole New Transfer Student routine shortly after, despite becoming a new student in the previous episode.
Himeno Awayuki from Prétear is Late For School at the beginning of the series, and attemps to take a shortcut. Depending on which adaptation you are following, she either wanders close to Leafenia and meets Shin, or has a rather violent encounter with Hayate; in both cases, this eventually leads to her being recruited as the titular Magical Girl.
Happens in the Distant Finale of Code Geass with Kallen Kouzuki (who spent the whole show fighting The Empire as a part of La Résistance) hurriedly saying goodbye to her mother and running to school with a piece of toast between her teeth. It serves to show how peaceful the world has become after Lelouch's sacrifice.
Similarly subverted in Whisper of the Heart: When Shizuku is late for school, she comes upon a boy who had previously confessed an unreciprocated crush on her. The big, athletic boy easily leaves the petite girl behind, in effect returning her rejection.
Miyukichan In Wonderland. Miyuki is late to school at the beginning of the story, which leads to her passing a skateboarding bunny girl and then falling down a hole in the sidewalk. After her reluctant adventures, she wakes up, looks at the clock, finds out she's late, grabs a piece of toast, passes a skateboarding bunny girl... it's ENDLESS.
In the massive CLAMP crossover Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, there's an alternate Miyuki in almost every world the gang goes to before Tokyo.
The Hellsing episode that is a flashback to Sir Integra's childhood starts with her being late to go be instructed by her grandfather.
During her examination for First Class, Urd dons a blazer and plaid skirt and demands a slice of toast, saying, "A schoolgirl can't run down the street without toast in her mouth!" Skuld comments, "I think you're watching too much anime."
Deliberately avoided in the beginning of the Black★Rock Shooter OVA. Mato wakes up on time, enjoys her toast at the table (with her mother making comments on her being early), and because she's early going to school, encounters Yomi who has a limousine take her. (And is likely always early or on time.)
Parodied in episode 4 of the TV series: Mato's mother tells her that it's rude to go around in public with a piece of toast in one's mouth, to which she replies something like "I always wanted to try doing this". Then her younger brother says he also wants to try it, and does. As would be realistically expected of holding a piece of toast in one's mouth while running, Mato has issues holding it in her mouth, and it eventually breaks.
Yui does this in the beginning of the first episode of K-On. It's then subverted when she realizes that she's actually one hour early. She proceeds to do the same thing in the first episode of the second season as well, although that time it isn't shown, as the episode begins with her sitting in the club room with a piece of bread, waiting for the others to arrive.
Shio does it in the first episode of Nobunagun. Similarly to the Black★Rock Shooter example, she has trouble keeping the toast in her mouth and it eventually breaks.
Discussed in Seitokai Yakuindomo. When Takatoshi is late, Kotomi points out that he shouldn't run to school with a piece of bread in his mouth, since only girls are supposed to do that. A day or two later, she realizes that she's late herself and proceeds to run off with an entire baguette in her mouth.
In the opening credits for the second season, Takatoshi is introduced while playing it completely straight.
Played for knowing laughs in a Fullmetal Alchemist omake later made into an OVA depicting Izumi Curtis having a Meet Cute with her future husband, and meeting him when she was running late for school (alchemical training). At the time, she is lugging a bear on her shoulder that she just defeated in combat.
In Softenni, Asuna and Elizabeth does this, only the latter with an entire loaf of bread.
Is one of the main plot points of My Heavenly Hockey Club. Hana is such a Heavy Sleeper that she studied as hard as she possibly could so she could go to the prestigious school 200 meters down the street from her house and sleep as long as possible. She still manages to be late and "runs" (actually, sleepwalks) to school with bread in her mouth, and is subsequently hit by the car driving the male lead to school.
In Super Dreadnought Girl 4946, Isaac Montana does this intentionally, complete while trying to eat a slice of bread to get Makoto Tobita's attention with a Crash-Into Hello. This didn't work as Tobita easily dodges. Growing up learning about Japanese from Anime she came to believe this was something of a male fantasy. Ironically Tobita's friend Jinguuji chews him out for dodging it, as he did wish something like that happened to him.
Parodied in Daily Lives of High School Boys. At the beginning of the first episode, Tadakuni runs out of his home with a piece of toast in his mouth, late for school. He's joined by his friend, Yoshitake, who is also late for school... and eating leftover curry while running. Their mutual friend Hidenori then shows up, chastising Yoshitake, saying that obviously he should be eating bread... while slurping noodles.
The gag is repeated in the final episode, only this time Yoshitake is eating fondue and Hidenori is eating Brazilian barbecue.
Further played with in a High School Boys and Consequences, where Mitsuo is walking down the street, a girl comes running around the corner with toast in her mouth yelling she's late for school... However, Mitsuo bends down to tie his shoelaces, and ends up missing her.
Yu-Gi-Oh! GX opens with Judai/Jaden late for his entrance exam to get into Duel Academy. He crashes into Yugi, who gives him Winged Kuriboh.
In a later episode, Jaden's already late for class (he sleeps through his alarm clock), so he decides to stop and help a woman push her van to the school. That woman runs the card shop and later gives Jaden a special pack of cards as thanks for helping her.
Parodied to absurdity in the Touhou 4-koma 200 Yojana in a Flash. The masters behind the scenes go to great lengths to have Youmu and Sakuya have a faithful encounter, only they have no toast and Youmu always eats up the substitute bread before they can meet.
In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Madoka runs off to school with toast in her mouth in the first episode, and runs into her friends Sayaka and Hitomi along the way. All, of course, to help trick you into thinking this is a typical Magical Girl show.
One fan parody even jokingly pointed out that Madoka eats the toast, noting that "We are going to be one subversive show!"
Parodied to hell and back in Sket Dance. Roman's shoujo manga almost always starts with this, and always lampshaded by other characters. This being Roman, however, things will get weirder and weirder. In one of the chapters, she has the heroine doing this...while riding a flying Humongous Mecha.
Happens to Sosuke and Kaname all the time in Full Metal Panic!; it even gets lampshaded in the comedy spin-off manga Full Metal Panic! Overload, where the artist drew a label pointing to Kaname's piece of toast that read "Over-sleeping emergency kit item".
In World Conquest Zvezda Plot, Itsuka goes undercover as a student at Asuta's school, and plays up the cliche by showing up to school late complete with toast in mouth. However, she's still carrying her katana and wearing her skull-and-bones Eyepatch of Power, making her acting completely incongruous with her image.
Bust out some early Spider-Man comics (or later comics that are set in high school or college days) and take a shot every time Peter's late for class. You'll be very drunk, very quickly.
The Powerpuff Girls are assigned to track down twin brothers Lloyd and Floyd (story "Tardy Boys," issue #56, DC run), who are late for school because they have spring fever. The girls are successful in curing the boys of spring fever but the story concludes with the girls being late themselves.
Being late for school, either by accident or design, is a habitual problem for Dennis the Menace (UK). In one episode of the animated series, his teacher tells him off for being late and he argues that it was the first time this week. She then points out it's Monday. It then turns out he's been late every day that term.
In the beginning of episode 2 of Egoraptor's Girlchan in Paradise!!, a direct parody of most anime tropes, Kenstar is "late for the end of school." Taking the parody one step further, Kenstar leaves with toast in his mouth. While it's still in the toaster.
In the animated short film, Welcome to Hell, the character Jonathan is seen running for the bus with toast in his mouth, while the main character, Sock, tells him, "You're late".
Max makes it on time to school in A Goofy Movie (barely), but only because he gets into Late For School mode with enough time to fix it.
While more of a parody than the real thing, it has become a meme to put something in one's mouth, and have a picture taken while running, captioning it "I'm late for X school", where X is related to the object in their mouth. This, of course, started with "I'm late for Anime school" with the object being toast.