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