First Impressions – Servant x Service

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In the immortal words of Jerry Seinfeld, “It’s so nice when it happens good.”

OP: “May I Help You? (めいあいへるぷゆー?)” by Lucy Yamagami (Ai Kayano), Saya Miyoshi (Mai Nakahara), Megumi Chihaya (Aki Toyosaki)

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Yesterday I found a premiere I actually hated, so it was especially rewarding to find one today that it’s no exaggeration to say I loved.  I don’t know which feels better, finding a great premiere when you least expect it or having one you had high hopes for deliver exactly what you hoped – but they’re both great, and Servant x Service (that “x” in the middle of the title is becoming a stamp of quality) is definitely an example of the latter.

One reason I loved the two Working! series so much is because it was clear that author Takatsu Karino gets what work is like.  In that case it was life in the food service industry – a subject about which I can speak with some authority – and this time it’s the civil service game.  The results are just as spot-on.  The quirks of office life – while exaggerated for comic effect – and portrayed with great accuracy.  The dialogue is natural, witty and rhythmic, just as it was in Working!.  It’s wonderful to see any anime tackle the issues of adults rather than those of teenagers, but especially when it’s done as well as A-1 Pictures has done with Takatsu’s manga.  There aren’t any Working! veterans among the main staff for Servant x Service, but the feel is undeniably there.  We also have Miishi Terumi, a tremendous industry veteran with a great track record, as Animation Director and Character Designer and the results are predictably pleasing.

As with Working!, S x S offers us a very mundane workplace livened up by the larger-than-life personalities of the staff.  It’s the first day on the job for the three newbies who seem to form the core of the cast, led by Yamagami Lucy (abbr.) played with verve and wit by Kayano Ai.  She’s serious and tense – and hot-tempered – and it’s later revealed in quite hilarious fashion that she joined the civil service in a quest for revenge against the clerk who allowed her parents to register her under a preposterously long name.  Her classmates are Hasebe Yutaka (Suzuki Tatsuhisa) and Miyoshi Saya (Nakahara Mai).  He’s a self-professed proud slacker who’s “good at everything” and she’s a demure, shy college graduate who’s never even held a part-time job yet.  Their boss is Ichimaya Taishi (Takahiro Sakurai) who describes himself as a newcomer despite having 8 years experience in the job.

I didn’t recognize Sakurai-san, which I would have thought was impossible – he does a great job sliding into the role of meek middle manager here.  One of the great things about the premiere is how many of the well-known cast are playing against type – Nakahara Mai without a hint of snark or irony, Kayanao Ai with a hair-trigger rage button and strung more tightly than a Stradivarius – this sort of stretch performance is interesting to listen to.  Another crucial element to why this works is that all of these character types are spot-on – anyone who’s worked in an office, never mind a local government office, knows people like these.  And the fact is that people who have natural charm like Hakebe can succeed with ease where others fail by grinding like crazy – it’s an irritating fact of life.  The gift of smoothing things over with customers is very difficult to teach, but with some it’s simply innate.

I’ve never worked in a government job but I’ve been on the other side of the counter many times, and quite a few since I came to Japan.  This is another aspect that Servant x Service gets exactly right.  These folks work for modest pay in a boring job, and their main function may well be as Hasebe-kun says – to get scolded.  People are rude to them constantly (even in Japan) – I loved the bit where Lucy picked up the phone and the caller simply yelled “This is why I hate you people!” and hung up.  They’re paid with tax dollars and dealing with insurance issues, licenses, welfare et al is a frustrating endeavor.  So what happens?  The frustrated citizens take out their frustration on the hapless peons who represent the public face of bureaucracy.  Some deal with it gracefully, some legitimately don’t give a damn about doing their job – but it sucks to be them.  And anyone who’s ever worked in a public-interface job knows about the times when people come in just wanting to talk your ear off because they’re lonely, which is almost worse.

The thing is, none of this would matter if the show wasn’t funny – and thankfully, S x S is very funny indeed.  From neat little touches like getting Ishida Akira to say two lines as Lucy’s dad to the inevitable but glorious reveal of Lucy’s name tag, there’s a sense of fun underpinning everything in the show.  It’s as Hakebe says – you can’t take this sort of thing too seriously or it’ll just drive you crazy.  As an employee you have to recognize the absurdity of your situation and laugh at it if you don’t want to be a miserable wreck, and a show that takes it upon itself to do that is a welcome thing indeed.  Really good anime comedies don’t come along all too often, and it looks as if we have a gem in Servant x Service.

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ED: “Hachimitsu Tokidoki (ハチミツ時間(どき))” by Lucy Yamagami (Ai Kayano), Saya Miyoshi (Mai Nakahara), Megumi Chihaya (Aki Toyosaki)

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24 comments

  1. i

    H x H, Arakawa under the Bridge x Bridge, Inu x Boku SS, Ladies x Butlers… besides the last one the theory does hold.

    Wasn't Mai Nakahara's most famous role that of Nagisa from Clannad, maybe I was sleeping but I don't think there was much snark in that one.

    Still this was the kind of sitcom one can chuckle at rather than burst a gut, but it keeps on making me chuckle and never once made me think that's a fail of a joke. Consistent comedy is better than one that can make you laugh only once really hard.

    I've been hating on my research job for the last three weeks because I just sit at a desk and summarize review articles for my professor but now I'll go at it with full vigour as long as I don't end up being yelled at by unreasonable people or bored to death by senior citizens. No wonder people in these jobs talk in monotone and never smile, I wouldn't if I had to say the same 4 lines to a thousand people from 8-5 for 5 days a week.

  2. She did play Nagisa although I think that's more of an aberration for her, in terms of type. Not one of my favorite Nakahara performances on the whole, but I think that's more the part itself being rather limiting than anything she did or didn't do with it.

  3. d

    great stuff, enjoyed it and looking forward to more as we dive into their backstories.

  4. R

    I bet it's Hasebes Father or Grandfather who's responsible for Lucys name.
    He did say that he's a third Generation civil servant and if his work ethics run in the family, it's highly probable that one of them is responsible.

  5. Yup, that sounds like a good guess.

  6. H

    Yeah, that seemed to be telegraphed so hard that I almost was feeling bad thinking about 'spoiling' it.

  7. J

    you got it right on the money….

  8. J

    Is it me, or am I seeing a lot of Wagnaria's employees reincarnated into the Servant X Service staff?

  9. I think it's you. I don't see these as especially similar to specific characters from Working!, apart from the fact that they're funny.

  10. u

    Aside from being set in Hokaido, there's no overlap in character types either. And I do remember reading that this is intentional, as Takatatsu wants to keep her casts of all the series she does distinct.

    Heck, compare the published/anime Working characters with the web-manga Working. Different Wagnarias, different people!

  11. l

    Actually, Miyoshi does remind me of Todoroki (sans katana), while Hasebe does remind me of Souma just a tad. Not their characterization necessarily, but more of an aura/vibe type thing.

  12. M

    I loved Working!! and this show has just the same formula 🙂

    BTW, if anyone is interested in the quiz question at the end of the episode (which Cruchyroll translated horribly wrong):

    They asked which one of the documents is the heaviest:
    A) Marriage certificate
    B) Divorce Certificate
    C) Birth Certificate

  13. E

    It has to be divorce!

    Thanks for the translation.
    I was watching HorribleSub's release and I was confused with the question.

  14. Z

    Got bored really quickly. I guess I'm not looking for recreation of daily activities.

  15. G

    I liked this episode a lot. My only question is how they plan on carrying this for a whole season. Perhaps they will be introducing more side characters in the weeks to come?

  16. d

    more character introduction, an unrequited lust story, a personal phobia to be overcome, a character finding ones true self, romantic triangle and a few running gags is my best guess (i.e. Lucy's name)… yes those may be tried and true story devices but if done well can still bring multiple smiles and return business.

  17. I don't necessarily see any less potential for storylines in a ward office than in a family restaurant. It's all in mining comedy out of mundane everyday life. If "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" can do it – not to mention that the workplace has been the bread and butter of sitcoms for decades – so can S x S.

  18. m

    i love this show since the op! and i haven't really watched the episode yet

  19. d

    Loved the Gintama reference re Lucy's name.

  20. R

    Love it — both the comedy and character interaction are wonderful. I like that the jokes are genuine — and not making a character (usually female) act unbelievingly stupid (like her right foot suddenly stepping on her left foot and falls) and call it funny. I like that each character has his/her own quirks and that they fit well together. I think I will be happy if the show can keep this up — with a bit more on the characters and the story, even if it's about the mundane lives of civil servants.

    I am quite happy with this wonderful entry from A-1, and I am desperately looking forward to another entry — a charming one and my first pick — from the same studio next week. Hmmm…I seem to like A-1 a lot lately.

  21. m

    i think A-1 is a good studio when they get serious. they're big at all. look at shin sekai yori and ano hana for example. but then, to give them more credit, i think they're getting better. i used to hate their shows

  22. R

    I agree — they are really getting better. They did Tsuritama last year, and I love SSY and Uchuu Kyoudai. I very much look forward to their Silver Spoon this season, and they will be producing two new Noitamina shows in the coming Fall season. I didn't pay much attention to them in the past, but happy to see them producing more quality shows.

  23. T

    Irony – I just started a government job on Monday. It's quite different (I don't have to deal with the public much).

    Nonetheless, great series; hopefully, it can keep up the laughs for 13 episodes.

  24. K

    I immediately thought of this upon learning Lucy's (abbr.) name.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOmFjpdaXEk

    That aside, SxS feels quite fresh. Definitely one of the few series I'll follow this summer.

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