This is another one of those Summer series that ended up being quite a bit different than my initial impressions, but generally succeeded in what it set out to do. No question Servant X Service was an uneven show, both in terms of the cast and the plot, but more often than not it managed to be solidly entertaining. At its best, it rode the strength of its central pairing to be one of the better romantic comedies of recent anime vintage.
Endings are never easy, but I think this one was pretty much an unvarnished success. The main reason is that it struck a nice balance between realism and absurdity, something S x S didn’t always manage to do, and avoided any unrealistic leaps in the progress of Lucy x Hasabe without leaving us totally starved for development. And it addressed the cliffhanger it raised last week (the fact of who approved Lucy’s name being pretty much a foregone conclusion, the real suspense being how she’d react to knowing) rather than take the cheap anime route of punting on it (though it did satirize that route in the process).
There’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief in this scenario, obviously – for the fact that a parent would name their child thusly, and that the child would be so obsessed with taking revenge on the wrong person. After all, it’s really Lucy’s parents who’re to blame for this when push comes to shove, not the hapless Hasebe Pater who merely gave his assent (note: since writing this post I went back and re-watched Episode 1 to see if that character had been played by who I thought it was – he was – and noticed that way back then Hasebe flat-out said, “You should confront your parents first!”). But that’s OK – I’ve been asked to believe in a lot more ridiculous conceits in character comedies, and this one is genuinely funny, so they pretty much had me at “hello”. And the reality is that this is a pretty huge Sword of Damocles hanging over the prospects of Hasebe and Lucy’s future, much to Hasebe’s dismay and Chihaya’s glee.
The twist in all this is that it was – sort of – Yutaka’s fault. Turns out he was in the hospital with a cold (yes, they often do that here) the day his Dad signed the papers, and the elder Hasebe was too distracted to kick up much of a fuss about the name. Again, you and I (and Lucy, as it happens) can see that Hasebe Jr. is even less to blame than his Dad, but the premise is what it is, and in context Yutaka’s dismay and hesitation is understandable. Incidentally, I still wonder what’s going on with Kaoru’s fiancee – I couldn’t help but notice that his identity was hidden from us yet again (too drunk to meet Yutaka, being carried off to bed) – I suppose it’s either a red herring or a teaser for whatever comes next…
In any event, Hasebe Sr. (played hilariously by the relentlessly superb chameleon Namikawa Daisuke) turns out to be an interesting fellow – he describes Lucy as “a hippie name if ever I heard one”, which sets him off talking about the weird names that crossed his desk all those years ago. His “Wow!” reaction to Yutaka’s spit-take is probably the funniest moment of the episode. Ironically it’s Chihaya who ends up taking the impetus to break the logjam back at the office – mainly because it irritates the hell out of her to see Hasebe Jr. moping around feeling sorry for himself. There’s also a nice bit of scripting here as Hasebe’s dilemma is neatly tied in with Ichimiya’s, when the latter gives his kouhai some good advice – just go ahead and get it over with – that his “girlfriend” is only too pleased to remind him he should have followed himself.
I can’t say I find fault at all with the ultimate moment of reckoning for Lucy and Hasebe. It was just right – the somewhat silly premise was treated with the seriousness it deserved in the context of the story, but with humor, and I thought the way both of them behaved was in-character. Lucy continues to blame herself for everything, which Hasebe doesn’t want, but of course he doesn’t want her to blame him either. Ultimately he spits it out more or less by accident, and Lucy reacts like the trooper she is – she sees right to the logic of the situation, that Yutaka is not to blame in any way, shape or form. In fact, by insisting he “take responsibility” and keep calling her Lucy, she’s effectively confessing – which may be what drives him to try a full-on confession himself, only to be interrupted by a succession of idiots (Tanaka Jyouji, Touko and Kanon, Momoi) which the others do their best to deflect.
I never really expected we’d get to a formal confession-acceptance here, so I’m not that disappointed we didn’t get one. We got enough, I think – Yutaka’s feelings are openly stated, and Lucy’s just about so, and despite her “not yet” (which is surely a lot different from “no”) I think the handwriting is on the wall. Heck, he even got her email address at-last, that has to count for something. Lucy’s been carrying around the name grudge her whole life and using it as a crutch to explain away all her social issues, so it’s only logical that she needs some time to come to terms with no longer having that crutch to lean on. As for the rest of the potential romantic pairings, I’m glad there wasn’t more push with Saya and Jyouji – even the two of them going out to dinner so she could scold him was too much – and I certainly didn’t expect Ichimiya to walk the walk and tell Touko the truth.
There’s an obvious temptation to compare Servant X Service with Working!, and I think I’d asses my feelings this way: Working! was the superior comedy, but S x S is the superior romance. Over the course of two seasons Working! certainly delivered the big laughs more consistently, and mined the workplace aspect for more of the humor than Servant X Service has. I was surprised by how much of S x S’ appeal ended up being on the romance side – but then, it also happened to have probably my favorite romantic pairing of 2013 so far, so while it isn’t what I initially expected I’m certainly not complaining. Given that this series features cute teenage girls far less than Working! it’s not surprising that it hasn’t been as much of a commercial blockbuster, but it’s doing pretty well – well enough for another season to be a real possibility, except that it’ll be a couple of years before there’s enough source material for it to be an option. Perhaps we’ll see an OVA in 2014.
The fact is, appealing romantic relationships between adults are exceedingly rare in anime. While there are certainly other strong elements in S x S – Saya’s character and her ability to lob perfectly-aimed missiles without even intending to especially grew on me over the course of the series – this show is really all about Hasebe and Lucy. Adults they are, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see their relationship play out free of the trappings of a high-school setting. But they’re also at the stage if adulthood where they’re still learning who they are. Hasebe is living a kind of half-asleep life as a talented slacker who doesn’t let himself feel anything too deeply, and Lucy is struggling under the weight of her massive lack of self-confidence. They’re perfect for each other, really, and that fact becomes apparent the more they interact with each other. Their conversations were some of the most natural and gently amusing of any couple in anime, and each of them works well as a character, not just as part of a set. This pairing is a winner, plain and simple, and it’s the best thing about Servant X Service, and one of the best about the entire season.