The focus of Servant X Service has turned more and more onto the potential ships at sail among the cast, which isn’t really too surprising. It’s pretty much much happened with Working! as well – it’s not as if that series spend a lot of time focused on the subtleties of making naporitans and serving coffee once the initial few episodes has established the premise. The difference is more one of tone – despite the presence here of Usagi-shachou, the cast of Working! was actually weirder on as a group, and the focus was as much on their bizarre quirks as romance itself (though that was a major factor). The cast of S x S is on the whole slightly more grounded, and more of an age where serious relationships are a serious possibility.
While it’s clear that Lucy x Hasebe is the star around which everything else in Servant X Service orbits – and rightfully so – there was a considerable focus this time on fleshing out the Chihaya-Ichimiya partnership. As I’ve said before my main take on this relationship is that I can’t see what either of them sees in the other, and this ep seems to be a tacit admission of that issue and an attempt to clarify it – at least from one side of the equation. For Ichimiya the case can at least be made that desperation was a factor, but wither Chihaya’s interesting in a simpering, self-loathing foot-stool like him?
Via flashback we see Chihaya’s early days at the Ward Office, where she – like Lucy – dressed frumpily, saving her creativity for her cosplay moments. I’ll be honest and say that while I understand what the show was trying to do here, it doesn’t really explain anything as far as I’m concerned. It seems as if Chihaya was drawn-in by Ichimiya’s sob story about being a father figure to his sister, and developed a sort of quasi-brocon affection towards him when he slipped into Onii-san mode with her. Is that really a strong basis around which to build a relationship? I suppose there’s an implication there that Chihaya’s stern exterior is a front and she’s actually a lonely kid underneath, but the whole thing is pretty much a whiff for me. What did work, though, was the scene where he told her to make sure she didn’t catch a cold cosplaying in a suggestive outfit at Comiket, and she first kissed and then slapped him. “I’m unable to put into words how I feel about that.” she says, “So I expressed it objectively.” It was the best moment so far centered around that pairing.
We also got some flashbacks surrounding Jyouji, apparently aimed at trying to humanize his character – and likewise, they didn’t really hit the mark for me. I still think the guy is a freak (thankfully it doesn’t seem as if Saya’s view has changed either) and if he’s in-love with Hasebe he’s be better off dropping the facade and just admitting it. But the interesting part here is how fascinated Kaoru is with Jyouji (she carries around a grade-school picture of him), who she describes as “her type” though she did refuse when he asked her out in the same sort of anti-Yutaka attack he tried with Lucy. That whole dynamic is an odd one, too, no less so because we find out later in the episode that Kaoru is engaged to be married. I’m not sure to who – I can’t imagine it could be Jyouji (maybe it’ll be Momoi for all I know), but the timing of all this is suspicious to say the least.
It’s possible that the marriage could be otherwise unrelated to the rest of the plot because it was used as a device to tweak the Hasebe-Lucy relationship. Indeed, all of the other plots are important partly for how they impact that one, the clear heart of the series. We have Lucy and Chihaya off to buy a skirt for the date, and the three-way dinner between Lucy, Saya and Kaoru where the Jyouji flashbacks play out. The salient point that emerges from the shopping trip is confirmation of Lucy’s low opinion of herself, which Chihaya rightfully scolds her for. Lucy can’t even imagine why “someone like me” could even be in a middlebrow boutique looking at skirts, never mind the object of real affection from a guy who isn’t a complete loser. It’s still not 100% clear how Lucy got the way she did but it’s quite sad to see, and despite Chihaya’s continued attempts to denigrate Hasebe in Lucy’s eyes – which even she is starting to lose her enthusiasm for – she tells Lucy that her lack of self-respect is also a lack of respect for the people who think highly of her, especially Hasebe. It’s an excellent and very penetrating observation that fits the moment perfectly, and one we don’t see made in anime often enough.
As always everything swings back to Hasebe and Lucy sooner or later. Saya drops the bomb on Yutaka that Kaoru is getting married, the start of a misunderstanding chain that occupies the last third of the ep. Saya presumably assumes Hasebe already knows, but to make things worse, because of loud-mouth Touko and the phone he ends up thinking that it’s Lucy that’s getting married. This misapprehension is advanced by Lucy’s glowing happiness – which turns out to be not because she’s engaged, but because she won a “Tosho card“, a sort of bookstore-only gift certificate – often with limited-edition art – that’s given to frequent bookstore shoppers when they spend enough.
There’s not a whole lot of interpretation required for what happens here. Hasebe’s devastation at hearing this news is the last nail in the coffin of any self-deceit that he’s not nuts about Lucy. When he finds out the truth he smashes his phone in disgust (and relief) and tells Lucy he was planning on getting rid of all the girls’ numbers and emails anyway, because “she’s the only girl he needs”. Lucy is incredibly dense (and naïve about relationships, as witness her cluelessness about the implications of telling Hasebe she’ll “Do her best to accompany him till the end!” of their date) but even she must surely start getting the picture soon (subconsciously she probably has already) – it’s only her truly impressive lack of self-worth that’s allowed her to believe Hasebe isn’t nuts for her for this long. Hasebe has admitted the truth to himself – the question is, what will Lucy do once she’s finally done the same? Presumably that’s what this season is building towards, with what happens afterwards likely a part of any second season that might come down the line. Given the solid if unspectacular week 1 sales for the first volume (about 4200 units) that seems like a real possibility, though no sure thing. Given that this is one of the better romantic pairings of any anime for a good long time, I certainly hope it happens.