We’ve been here before, so if I found few surprises in my reaction to this episode, I doubt there will be many in my reaction to it either. More so than for any other Summer series – and maybe than any show I can recall for a good long time – the entertainment value of Servant X Service is almost wholly dependent on where the camera turns its eye. It’s certainly the most inconsistent series airing as a result, but because the solution is so straightforward, I never lose hope – the recovery will come, it’s just a question of when.
There were some positives here, starting with Chihaya’s decision to come clean with Touko about her relationship with Taishi. S x S scored points with me for not having some cliche interruption happen just before she got the words out, but having Touko so clueless that she doesn’t get it even then feels like a cop-out. I prefer to think that she’s just working overtime at self-denial here, because the truth is so obvious that just about anyone – even a high-schooler – would see it without having to be told (with the possible exception of “atama ga ii-baka” Lucy). It would be hard to imagine a more tired and played-out anime trope than the bro-con imouto, and while S x S halfheartedly tries to inject something new into it, it never manages to make it feel remotely fresh.
Essentially, the problem with Touko for me is that I find her neither funny nor likeable, and the context in which she’s used – constantly disrupting the lives of people who just want to get their jobs done and go home – irritates me to no end. As such she’s worthless as a comic character, and the rather pat attempts to turn her into a sob story using her college aspirations come off as manipulative rather than authentic. Jyouji is an epic fail as a character for much the same reason – he’s not funny and his disruptive nature is irritating as hell. What I did like was the way Saya hit him square between the eyes with the truth – though in very Japanese fashion she apologized, aghast, for actually having directly stated that truth. This guy’s a freak, plain and simple, and the degree to which he’s willing to physically intimidate women borders on the genuinely scary.
I wish the workplace comedy was a little funnier, to be honest, because it was what initially drew me to this series and it really clicked in the premiere. Sadly though it’s never reached that height again, largely because so much of it is bogged down in Touko’s annoying silliness. I’m also still very ambivalent about Momoi, who doesn’t quite work as a character for me despite the game efforts of Koyama Rikiya. He’s a discordant note in the proceedings, a distraction that feels too absurd for the context, and I’m hard-pressed to see what function Kanon serves at all. There were some funny moments in the office, but nothing really exceptional. I spent most of the episode waiting for a payoff that never came.
I suppose the truth is, Servant X Service works mainly as a workplace romance between Hasebe and Lucy, and anything else pales in comparison to that. It works as much more than a simple romance, but at its best only when it focuses on those two characters. Why? Because they’re the funniest and most likeable in the cast as individuals, too, and characters like Saya, Chihaya and even Momoi are at their most entertaining when they’re drawn into their orbit. S x S really is two different shows, one when Hasebe and Lucy are involved and one when they aren’t, and it seems like a long-shot to hope that’s going to change at this point.