Sep 13, 2013

Anime Review: Working!!

wagnaria1Slice-of-life shows like this are always difficult to review. They tend to attract statements like “funny, really enjoyable, and surprisingly earnest”; but rarely anything specific because it isn’t easy to put your finger on exactly what’s clicking with a show, yet you know it nonetheless. Certainly it is the great cast, the witty dialogue, excellent delivery and timing, and the rhyme and recall of jokes and themes. And yet, it’s more than that even, because behind all of that is a show that manages to have small, but real, progression. When it would be too easy to keep things static, characters and their relationships do show changes over the course of two seasons’ worth. This is important, as, like shows in the US such as The Office, it manages to give a solid core, or “heart”, to an already delicious outer casing.

Exterior shot of the restraunt, Wagnaria, the primary setting for this series.Our setting is that of a family restaurant, very obviously a parody of Denny’s, where it focuses on the day-to-day antics and events of the staff. While the show rarely ventures outside of this, never really glimpsing into the young part-timers’ schools and only occasionally their home life, the lack of adventure in locale is balanced with a sense of familiarity and stability. The focus, after all, isn’t the restaurant or working at all, but the characters themselves. Thus, the setting can and should be static and incidental, allowing it to recede while the characters, actions, and dialogue come to the front. Like Seinfeld, where Jerry’s apartment or Monk’s Café were never really all that important in of themselves, just frequently seen and thus familiar, allowing the show to focus on the best part: Jerry and George’s conversations about nothing.

Animation tends to be quite good, never flashy or truly eye-catching, but pleasing and well animated. This serves the show well, as it allows it to take the occasional splurge to have smoothly animated bits or interesting angles interspersed throughout episodes instead of blowing all of their budget on big action sequences like your typical series. The second season gets quite a noticeable bump though, mostly with the backgrounds and settings. It isn’t a different restaurant but it feels like it got a significant face-lift and the characters seem to be a bit sharper and more detailed.

A double screenshot comparing the animation quality, with the top from season 1 and the bottom from season 2

The true production strength, though, is definitely in the voice actors. Music tends to be serviceable and such but not very noteworthy. Characters, however, are helpfully brought to life with some great seiyuu. A show like this relies a lot on timing and delivery as much as wit and humor in the text itself. Thankfully, the show shines here. Poplar is bubbly and irresistibly adorable without being cloying or obnoxious (for me, she steals every scene she’s in); Sato is intimidating and of few words but still manages to be easy to read (well, for the viewer, not so much Yachiyo); speaking of, Yachiyo is kind and big-sister-like yet a bit of an eccentric airhead; Takanashi, our protagonist if there is one, is mostly normal save for his bizarre fetish with small things that overwhelms his otherwise normalness when it comes out; Inami, despite being a “violent-girl” cliché at first, manages to be sympathetic and sweet; and Yamada, not introduced until partway through the first season, is initially a bit annoying but becomes quite likable and amusing by the second season. All of them, immediately (Poplar) or eventually (Yamada), grew on me, so by the last episode I didn’t want it to end.

A lot of reviewers like to describe the cast as “wild and weird” but I prefer to focus on the latter. It’s not so much that they are really all that rowdy or wild, with the slight exception of the androphobic girl, but rather that they all have… quirks. Specific ones. Some that get slowly exposed and developed over time, some that are unmistakable, and some that only manifest in certain situations. After the establishing phase, the episodes follow a very episodic trend of setting up scenes and such to let the various personalities bounce off each other. This, obviously, requires some fairly heavy-lifting in the dialogue department, as it cannot fall back on sweeping visual scenes, action, or other set pieces. Nor can it rely on plot much. Oh sure, it is there, in the form of a vague sense of the passage of time, but it is rarely leaned upon. The only real evidence of a plot is in the form of lasting relationships. That is, the characters do develop, get to know one another, and find their groove both with their job and with each other. Mostly, it does not forget the events of past episodes and attempts to incorporate them into the characters, building them up over time until you have many running gags and interesting dynamics.

A group shot of most of the main cast

If there is a problem to be had with Working!!, it is that it can be a little slow and “pointless”. If you aren’t totally invested in the characters and enjoying their many whimsical interactions then you’re going to be fairly bored. The little plot that does exist moves at a glacial pace and isn’t enough to hold ones attention alone. Put simply, you must come for the characters… otherwise, move along. Of course, this is typical for slice-of-life shows as they must, as a matter of convention, rely primarily and overwhelmingly on strong characters or possibly, in rare circumstances, ambiance/atmosphere/mood to maintain viewers’ attention (or maybe just the cute factor). So, unless you are new to the genre, you already know to bail on things if it just isn’t tickling your fancy.

But I do think Working!! is one of the better examples of the slice-of-life genre. Few others manage to mix so many usually annoying clichés into likable characters and events and maintain that hold for two seasons. Really, it is one of those shows that if you like it you will probably really like it, even though it won’t ever blow you away with awesomeness. For me, it was more like Hanamaru Yōchien, in that there wasn’t any single amazingly good part to point to, only that the sum of the parts were put together excellently and left me feeling satisfied and content.

Mahiru, Souta, and Popura standing side-by-side smiling forward at the viewer

So… where’s my third season already?!

As of this writing, you can watch both seasons of Working!! for free on Crunchyroll.

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