03 November 2012

#2LR - "Working!!'" Season 2, episodes 1-6

Stories, in any medium, run on conflict.  After all, there can be no resolution to a story that doesn't have something to resolve.  Since stories and television shows only have a limited amount of "studio space", this means that the characters pretty much have to bring the conflict to the table.

This means that there are only a couple different characters that pretty much act as blank slates.  The first type, practiced for millennia, are the straight men.  The straight man is a blank slate mostly because he or she has to be normal in order to show the vast gulf of difference between a random person and the madcap zany main character (say, your Jim Carreys or your Jerry Lewises).  Giving the straight man any quirks not only takes away from the camera time of the zany half of the duo, but it lessens the gulf between them and gradually normalizes the zany main character.

Another type of blank-slate character has been practiced for ages, but has shot up in popularity quite a bit in recent times.  Having the main protagonist as the blank slate allows the protagonist to be humanized in much the same way as the straight man, and allows your readers to connect to the story easier, almost being able to subsume their characteristics into the main character and therefore live out the story.  The Harry Potter series does a very good job of this, introducing a main character that's so hard put upon by his family that in the beginning, the character is pretty much "different from everyone else" and "not at all like the loathsome people around him", and oh by the way "has a secret talent that no one knows about".  If that doesn't describe more than 90% of humanity, I'm shocked.

Today's ode isn't about either one of them.

Today, I want to sing the praises of the ignored background characters.  The ones who chew up eight minutes of screentime shooting at Captain America, keeping him pinned down and unable to help Iron Man.  The ones who get sent on away missions purely to act as cannon fodder, to allow the stakes to rise for Captain Kirk to come up with a more dramatic decision later.  The ones who are surprised when the Nazgul ride up and end up knocking down the walls of their village.

There's a variant at work here in the second season of "Working!!'"  To begin, the characters are arrayed with two primarily running the food prep in the kitchen, and four (Takanashi, Poplar, Inami, and Todoroki) running the floor.  A fifth character is added, Yamada -- this was alluded to in the previous review -- who also works the floor.  A *sixth* character, Takanashi's younger sister Nazuna, even pitches in on occasion.

The problem though is that there's conflict to be had, and while Takanashi is the primary protagonist of the show, he has his own quirks and hangups and definitely does not qualify as a blank-slate character.  As a result, the show introduced another character in Ep. 13 of the first season and gave her a couple quick lines. Matsumoto desperately wanted to be "normal" (a new one, a yearning to *be* a blank slate?) but was given a quirk anyway, of being clumsy.  Even with the quirk and even with the lines, through six episodes she can be seen only when the animators wanted to show the restaurant running "as normal", and for some reason one of the other six characters just can't be bothered to go out on the floor.

The oddest thing is that the floor is the only way you see her.  She does not show up even a second in any of the character conversations, not even as scenery.  She's not even anywhere near the kitchen window to pick up food, or drying dishes, cleaning the back rooms, on break... nothing.

I don't quite think that it's boredom on my part that I really enjoy seeing these random characters... on the contrary, I can only imagine how much richer the show could be if these random characters were allowed to grow their own quirks and idiosyncrasies.  After all, if not for characters who start as new but gain familiarity, how would stories in that specific setting even take place?  (Such as Lord of the Rings generating from a character that didn't even exist in The Hobbit?)  In Matsumoto's case, is this significant in that we see people "at work" all the time but without the connection of work, they wouldn't exist otherwise?  Or should I even attempt to read so much into it?

With all that said, I quite enjoyed the first half of the second season of "Working!!".  They pumped up Takanashi's quirks to put more conflict into the show, and that definitely helped the proceedings.  They gave more screen time to the manager, who evidently runs a gang on the side, as well as Takanashi's sisters.  Takanashi gets his foot into his mouth far more as well, and while it's sometimes really jarring to see him act so differently in five minutes than he acted in the previous twelve episodes, it does help a viewer to realize that he's not head-and-shoulders above the fray, he's an active participant in the scrum.

The final seven episodes await, and so far I have not been disappointed... except, I suppose, in meeting Matsumoto and figuring out how she enters into the equation.  (Null set, I'd guess.)

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