So pretty much everything I said in last week’s post, about Servant X Service having two orbits and the success of the series depending on which mode it’s in? I’m doubling down on that, because this episode just confirms it as far as I’m concerned. If last week’s ep was rather flat, this was was all peaks and no valleys – terrifically funny and involving from start to finish, and one of the best romantic comedy episodes of any anime this year.
In a funny way, S x S is both sillier and more serious than Working!. We have the obvious gap in suspension of disbelief – the whole “Boss Bunny” thing certainly trumps a katana-carrying waitress in that regard – but the relationship side of the show is, for me, more grounded. Perhaps that’s because we’re dealing with adults here while the main couple in Working! were high-schoolers, but that pairing was also built around some pretty far-out conceits that sometimes felt like a lot to take as a viewer. There are some comically extreme elements to Hasebe x Lucy too, but they’re more anchored in real-life neuroses and somehow, feel more connected to reality.
I make no bones about the fact that a good chunk of my affection for S x S is based on Hasebe and Lucy, and about the fact that I absolutely love their relationship. It just gets more and more charming with every episode. Romantic pairings are funny things, and it’s not always easy to quantify why one works and another doesn’t, but for me this one fires on all cylinders. I suppose is starts with loving both of them as characters, and I do – Hasebe especially is a fascinating puzzle, a man full of contradictions that he’s more self-aware of than most, but Lucy is extraordinarily likeable and unpretentious as well. It’s the chemistry between them that really makes things soar, though – every conversation at every family restaurant is incredibly natural and unforced in a way few anime couples can ever achieve.
I’m not especially fond of Tanaka Jyouji as a character, but he was certainly used effectively for a noble cause here – furthering the relationship between Hasebe and Lucy. Tanaka is both unhinged and quite unlikable – it’s no wonder he needs his Grandma to try and pimp him out for a potential wife. His obsession with Hasebe turns out to be supposedly based on a confrontation they had in high school, which he’s convinced sent Hasebe down a path to mediocrity (in reality a desperate attempt to inflate his self-worth, as Tanaka is nowhere near that important to Hasebe), but it’s very clear this extends far beyond that. I don’t know if Tanaka is in love with Hasebe in the conventional sense, but he’s certainly a stalker – I mean, if the waiting outside the office every day thing didn’t convince you, following Hasebe to college certainly should. He really crossed a line though this week – first, by physically dragging Lucy off to have dinner with him, and then in the way he treated her once they got to the restaurant.
The funny thing here is that as soon as Lucy adopted the strategy of getting Tanaka drunk as her escape plan, I thought to myself “The guy acts drunk when he’s sober, so will there even be any difference?” And indeed, that’s exactly how things turned out. What a fucking nerve, insulting sweet, kind (and very pretty) Lucy as a “plain girl” and then asking her out in spite of admitting that he doesn’t fancy her, just to try and jab at Hasebe. Fortunately Saya has spotted the kidnapping, and called Hasebe in to save the day. Which he does, riding to the rescue in true white-knight fashion, and delivering a couple of richly-deserved punches to Jyouji in the process of the rescue. Hasebe’s facade comes crashing down when it comes to Lucy – there can be no doubt that he takes her very, very seriously.
The aftermath of the Jyouji incident contains absolutely one of my favorite exchanges of anime dialogue in a very long time. Lucy is clearly grateful – genuinely so – to Hasebe for coming to her rescue. She offers what amounts to a defense of Hasebe’s choices and his lifestyle in the guise of a defense of her own – a rather profound proclamation that if you enjoy your job and do things in your life that make you happy, you’re a success no matter what anyone else says. And Hasebe so clearly snaps in that moment that you can almost hear the “Crack!”. He’s been falling for Lucy for a while, but this is the tipping point where he can no longer convince himself that this is all a lark, just another challenge for him – and he walks home ten stations in order to try and clear his head. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt and convincing romcom moment – one of the best scenes in any anime this season.
We’re left with an interesting sort of cliffhanger, as Hasebe calls in his “points” when Lucy tries to thank him for saving her yet again, and offers her a choice – wear a skirt on a date, or to work. He even calls her bluff when she says she’s busy for two months – two months later is fine, he says – and skilfully undercuts Chihaya’s jealous meddling by offering her the plum assignment of dressing Lucy for the date. In truth, of course, Hasebe and Lucy have really been dating for a while – these casual after-work dinners and bookstore trips have slowly been building familiarity and comfort between them, though crucially Lucy has been able to convince herself they were nothing like real dates. There’s a fun and funny and fascinating dance of self-deception – and plain deception – going on with Lucy and Hasebe, but I think they understand each other better than Lucy would admit. I don’t know where we’re going with this relationship – we have five eps left, and the hope of another season in the future – but I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t see the two of them become a real couple. They have great chemistry, and their relationship is the most genuine and charming I’ve seen in anime this year.