18 October 2012

#2LR Too Late Reviews: First Impression, "Working!!"

Reviewing an anime series is a bit different than reviewing a movie.  If an anime goes on for twenty-six episodes, it ends up at about nine or so hours, give or take a few minutes based on commercials, opening theme, and next week's preview.  There's so much more time to fill with an anime series than there is a movie.

There are movies that promise an immersive experience, such as Avatar, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or even the Harry Potter series.  You may note that there is, quite often, a direct relationship between how immersive the experience is and how long the film is.  (I'm sure that if you were to crunch the numbers, the eight films of Harry Potter would exceed the screentime that a season of anime brings.)

When you have all this time though, the setting itself almost becomes a character... Planet from Avatar, Middle-earth, Hogwarts... due to the fact that characters interact far more with the background when there is time and reason to show them interacting with the background.

I am currently viewing the anime "Working!!", set in a family restaurant called Wagnaria in Hokkaido, Japan.  (The English production is known by the name "Wagnaria!!")  As of so far, I am at episode 4, which has been introducing the characters one-by-one.  The show opens on what seems to be the current main protagonists, Takanashi, an 11th-grader who is roped into being a waiter at a family restaurant by one of his (here-to-fore unknown) classmates, 12th-grade Poplar.  She's super-short, and Takanashi loves short stuff, though "not in a creepy way" he maintains creepily.  Takanashi's mouth gets him into trouble at times as well.

For her efforts, Poplar is short and reminded of it constantly, from customers mistaking her for an elementary-school kid to not being able to put things on high shelves to not being able to carry dishes to the sink.  One of the enjoyable things about Japanese though is that practically everything is a pun, and Poplar in this case is no exception.  Her happiness and bubbly personality have made her popular (see?) with her coworkers.

The other denizens of this series are being introduced as well, including the manager who does not lead by example, her second-in-command that lives only to serve the manager, the two cooks (one aloof and the other conniving), and the other waitress who is scared of (and therefore hits) all men.  Since there's so much studio space to explore, the characters are gaining backstories, additional quirks, and other sources of conflict and comedy as the series goes on.

If I were to compare this series to anything, I would say that it would be as close as one could get to crossing "Azumanga Daioh" with "The Office", and setting it all in a restaurant.  Much like "Azumanga", "Working!!" came from four-panel comics which gives the episodes a feeling of hit-release-hit-release that wouldn't normally occur with a twenty-minute show... most times when you're watching a show, the action builds on itself while there are times that a set piece is purposed for a joke, and then everyone goes back to what they were doing.  While the plots for each episode are self-contained there are still moments where you can almost see the direction your eye is supposed to go to get to the next comic.

And yes, this all loops back to the introduction.  The restaurant itself, Wagnaria, is a family restaurant.  There is no fine-dining here... but everyone's set up for it.  The waitstaff is all impeccable in their crisp white shirts, Takanashi's bow-tie, and the girls' skirts.  The kitchen staff is just as impeccable -- amazing in the context of a restaurant that there's not even a single stain on them.  In one episode, Poplar is trying to demonstrate how to dry dishes without fingerprints left on them, which shows a fastidiousness that may be purely Japanese but is still unfamiliar for such an informal restaurant format.

So, therefore, at this moment in watching the series, I feel as if the restaurant (i.e. the setting) itself is throwing the most major paradox.  I may be off-base and seeing something that isn't there, but these characters almost don't fit in the box that's been drawn for them.  On the other hand, you could even say the same thing for the characters of "The Office", in that the whole conceit was that you had all these dysfunctional people brought together to complete a goal that they would possibly be better at without all the other dysfunctional people underfoot.

Since it had been a while, I checked a few other series ("Soul Eater", "Puella Magi Madoka Magica") along with "Working!!" to see if there was one I would be interested in watching.  I realized that the last few series that I have enjoyed the most ("The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya", "Azumanga Daioh") were ones that could be called "slice of life", and that "Working!!" is similar in tone and setting.  I expect that this series will get a couple extra notches due to my biases, but I will strive to offer both the good and the bad of this series as best as possible.  And yes, I will be working back to the other series mentioned above eventually.

The plan is to stop every few episodes and to give an indication of my thoughts, especially since when you stack four to five episodes it's practically movie-length anyway.  Reviews will follow and Season 1 (there are two) will receive a grade once I reach the end.

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