There’s only one thing wrong with a series finale as great as “Lord of the Takanashi”. Namely, it was so good that it makes the pain of knowing it was the finale that much more acute. if “always leave them wanting more” was the goal, Working! succeeded with me by any conceivable measure. The last season has been excellent all-around, but it would be fair to say it ended with its very best face forward.
One thing I can say for certain – whoever made the decision to wrap up the series this way is either a genius or a hero (and maybe both). Think about it – this is a terrific way for any series to end, with an hour-long (almost) epilogue after a little break to appreciate how much we love the show. Obviously this is not going to be realistic in every case for commercial reasons, but Working! has been a success for three seasons and I’m sure “LotT” will sell very well when it’s released on disc. Structurally speaking I think this format is fantastic – it necessarily lends the finale more of event feel, and nudges the creators towards making it more of a reflective affair. I know we won’t see many shows end this way, but I for one wish we would.
I could go on for quite some time expounding on the virtues of Working!, but one thing becomes especially clear not just with this special, but with the third season as a whole – this is a series that does about as well at balancing humor and plot as any anime comedy out there. It never stops being funny for long, but it had a beautifully constructed web of a story too, the threads becoming ever more tangled as the seasons progressed. There were times when some of the loose ends seemed to be left dangling for too long, but there was a plan – and in Working!!! it was executed with extreme prejudice.
That’s one of the real joys of this show – it’s a complete story. It has a beginning, middle, and end, and it’s told in exactly the amount of time it needs to be. Working! will be one of those myriad series that has the term “slice of life” slapped on it, but in the way some have come to interpret that phrase it doesn’t really apply here. Working! is a comedy that’s character and plot-driven, for all its superb situational humor. There are no contortions needed to make it fit into its three-cour space – it just flows quite naturally like some kind of Mythbusters ballistics gel into a mold the shape of an anime classic.
As for “Lord of the Takanashi”, it may have been a little different than some were expecting based on the preview at the end of Episode 13. This is not some sort of fantasy RPG parody (I never really thought it would be) but a comprehensive summation of three years of the series. That said it does take on the structure of that preview and the games it alludes to a lot more literally than one might realize the first time watching it. There are some playful pokes at gender roles here, and Souta effectively does play the part of the princess in distress. Mahiru even dons men’s clothing (Souta’s, to be exact) to rescue him (though sadly, she has no need to bind her chest).
As with almost all of the third season, the mix of comedy and character-driven plot (character and plot are so intertwined with Working! that they’re effectively the same thing) is just about perfect. It’s pretty clear something bad is going on with Souta – so much so that even Kyouko is worried (though she professes that it’s only because he’s such a good worker). Inami blames herself, naturally enough (as always I’m fascinated by her haripin choices – why “711“, I wonder? An allusion to the konbini?), though her friends strive to convince her otherwise.
None of the other plotlines slide to the wayside here – they all get a good airing in the finale. Yachiyo is still working through her issues with Satou’s help, Popura is still psyching herself up to be a good chief, Aoi is still refusing to reconcile with Kirio (that’s the one thread that isn’t totally tied up), Otoo-san still can’t keep track of Okaa-san. But the focus here is squarely on the Takanashi clan, and what a severely messed-up family it is. Even after Kyouko jiggers the schedule to allow Souta to return to work without being seen by Inami he does it in women’s clothes.
Shizuka is one bad mom, that’s for sure. She’s messed up each of her children’s lives in their own way (forgetting Kozue’s name has clearly scarred that poor girl deeply) but it goes to a different level with Souta. Her anger at her dead husband seems to have morphed into a kind of general man-hating complex she’s taking out on her son, forcing him to cross-dress and tying him to a chair because he’s “not being honest with his feelings”. This is a comedy, yes, but Shizuka’s parenting takes the story into some pretty dark places (as was the case with Mahiru’s father).
Since it was Souta who stood up for Mahiru to her father in manly (if traptacular) fashion, it seems only fitting that it’s she who now goes to bat for him. And thank goodness each of Shizuka’s daughters is really on his side (with damn good reason, given their own battle scars) and effectively help Mahiru while they’re supposed to be blocking her. Nazuna (I love the fact that she’s angry at Inami for hitting her brother when it turns out he’s not a masochist after all) has even devised a blackmail plan, obtaining a photo from Souma via Aoi and Kiro’s mother of Shizuka as a chibisuke loli (Nazuna’s heart seems to be in the right place, but in her own way she might just be the scariest member of her family). But even that’s not enough to sway Shizuka, who refuses to be blackmailed as if it’s not the first time someone has tried to do it to her.
All’s well that ends well, and “Lord of the Takanshi” ends well in every sense of the word. It ends up being Popura’s arrival that turns the tables – the notion that Souta could have chosen Mahiru over such a little girl sways Shizuka to the idea that he might just be more well-adjusted than she thinks. She does try to use Popura as an offering and then abduct her, but apart from that everything works out for the best. And when the gang returns to Wagnaria, it’s Souta who officially confers Popura’s new title – “Chichai Chief”.
As anime endings go, that one was pretty close to perfect. The tone was reflective without being saccharine, the humor was sharp and consistent with what we’ve seen for three seasons, and the story was wrapped up beautifully. And I think it forces us to ask the question – is Working! anime’s greatest pure comedy franchise? I don’t think any one season of Working! was as great as the first of Minami-ke, but over the course of their entire runs Working! was definitely the more consistently excellent series. These three cours have been remarkably good, with very few low points – that’s hard to do with any sort of show, but even more so with comedy. I ended up expounding on the virtues of Working! for some time after all, but I guess that’s what these series review posts are for – when they’re for shows as good as this one, anyway.