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The premise for Working!! is pretty simple: a comedy set in a family restaurant, focusing on the young staff of servers and cooks. This has a lot of potential, and instantly catches my interest just for being a series with a realistic setting that’s not a school. Why don’t more series focus on characters at their jobs? It’s a bigger part of life than high school, but you wouldn’t know it from watching anime. And besides, a premise like this should provide plenty of ripe material for laughs. I can only think of one film that’s mined a similar territory, and certainly nothing in anime. It could work as a slapstick comedy or as a more serious slice-of-life show. Imagine the possibilities.

Unfortunately, Working!! is only occasionally concerned with its setting, and operates more as a traditional high school comedy. Only instead of classrooms and school rooftops, most scenes play out in a kitchen and in a dour-looking breakroom. Occasionally, characters are shown taking orders or washing dishes, but most of their interaction takes place in the backrooms of the gawdy Wagneria restaurant (an homage to the late Wag’s, I wish). And while there’s plenty of opportunity for humor in the daily routines of the servers and short order cooks, almost all of the humor is character quirk-driven and has little to do with the titular subject. If only these gags didn’t grow stale within a handful of episodes.

The central character of Working!! is Sōta Takanashi, a sixteen year-old student who takes a job as a waiter at Wangeria. Sōta is often given to uncontrollable public displays of affection for all things small and cute: puppies, stuffed animals, small children. Despite his philia, he’s still the most “normal” character in the cast, which is composed of fellow servers Inami (a timid girl with a violent case of androphobia), Poplar (a vertically-challenged girl who remains determined to grow taller), Yachiyo (who carries a sword on her belt and spends more time waiting on the restaurant manager than on customers), and cooks Soma (a friendly young man who’s not above blackmailing his coworkers) and Sato (Working!!‘s Sanji-clone). Their manager Kyouko is a few years their senior (aged 28!) and extremely sensitive about her age. While willing to stand up to troublesome customers, she strives to do as little work as possible and seems irked that she has to even show up at all.

Once the characters and their quirks are fully established, Working!! tends to coast on the idea that repeating the same gags about them over and over somehow serves to make them more and more funny. Sota is unexpectedly punched by Inami, Kyouko acts lazy, Yachiyo remains perpetually ignorant of Sato’s feelings toward her, Sato jokes about Poplar’s height… and so it goes for one episode after another. I don’t watch very many comedic series, but most every one that I have has aspired to greater techniques than the simple repetitive nature of this series. This isn’t to say that Working!! is a miserable failure, but that it rarely hits the comedic mark that it’s actually aiming for.

While Working!! doesn’t always work as a comedy, it should be said that I grew to like the characters, at least enough to wish that they were in a series that knew how to use them better. The title is misleading; characters are rarely seen working at all, but rather huddling in Wagneria’s back room for lengthy scenes that don’t really go anywhere (during which, just who is out on the floor, anyway?). Further defying the title, the series doesn’t really get interesting until the characters are shown outside of their workplace. Scenes showing Sōta with his family — composed of even more aggressively quirky and one-dimensional characters than the restaurant staff — at least provides his character with a refreshing sense of depth. He’s not without his own set of stock qualities, but the more we get to know him, the more we like him.

As the series progresses, the plot focuses less on the ensemble cast and more on Sōta, Inami, and their efforts to cure her of her androphobia. Again, there’s lots of comedic and dramatic potential in this conflict, but it’s never quite flushed out. Their awkward relationship is kind of endearing, or at least grows somewhat interesting toward the finale, but it seems like the writers were holding out for another season to really do much with it.

Am I being too hard on a series that promises to be nothing but silly fun in the first place? I don’t know. I’d be willing to forgive its cliches if it had made me laugh more than a handful of times during its 13 episodes. I’m currently in the middle of watching Soul Eater, a title that makes no claims to be a gut-busting comedy, but I’d be willing to bet that I’ve laughed more at a single episode of that than I did during this whole series. So why did I stick it out until the end with Working!!? Somewhere inside the stock characters, repetitive gags, and aimless plot, there seemed to be a seriously funny and potentially touching show trying to get out. It’s a pity that it never quite emerges.


Do I support the Libyan revolution and our recent intervention in it against Col. Gaddafi’s forces because it’s the right thing to do? Or just because these are the last two anime series that I’ve watched and my imagination is primed for yet another story of against-all-odds revolution?

I’m an idiot, I know.

But seriously, consuming stories like these has got to make a person a little more interested,  inspired, and involved when the real thing starts going down. Or at the very least, a little less cynical.

For the record, I don’t think this is about oil, and to try to conflate our motives here with the misguided ones that got us into Iraq is cynical ignorance. I want to believe that, for once, we’re out to do the right thing. Time will tell.

Behold: early photos and accounts from the dawn of American anime fandom.

I’ve no idea what anime this is but I lol’ed at this entry. This blogger needs to post more often.

Roger Ebert pans Battle: Los Angeles and Red Riding Hood in reliably hilarious fashion.

Nopybot’s “My History With Anime” project continues to grow with more entries this week. It’s still not too late to join in!

A thoughtful and interesting non-review of Oreimo, several months old now but new to me. Well-written, well thought-out posts like this remind me how badly I need to up my game in this whole blogging thing.

Where are the A-list anime bloggers?

Countless entries on the earthquake in Japan this week, too many to sort through or post here. But many have provided helpful information on where to donate to help victims. The most helpful link I found in this blogosphere-wide roundup of Japan charities? I do plan on donating something in the next week or two, so I’m glad to find a tool like this to help in the process.

And a thoughtful, concise editorial on the future of Libya and the choice that stands before us today. Not to downplay the tragedy of the earthquake in Japan, but a Gaddafi victory would certainly be a human tragedy of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Rawanda or the Balkans. This is the week for the west to act. It can’t wait any longer.

Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend (1991)
I actually think this video has dated pretty well, especially when you consider how difficult it is to blend animated and live-action footage like this (and on quite the modest budget compared to the next video), and the huge potential for it all to go terribly wrong. The footage here comes from the 1982 film Space Adventure Cobra, which I haven’t seen so I can’t comment on what connection the it may have (if any at all) with the lyrics to the song. I’ll admit that the first half of this video kind of meanders but the second half is pretty good by early 90s alt. rock video / early AMV-standards. If this video wasn’t enough for you, check out the one for his next single, “I’ve Been Waiting,” which features lots of footage from the iconic 80s title Urusei Yatsura.

Michael Jackson – Scream (1995)
Apparently this video cost seven million dollars to make, a record that I doubt will be broken any time soon in our age of cheap viral video hits. Anime clips are used sparingly — blink and you’ll miss them — and seem to be borrowed from Akira and a handful of other titles. Don’t forget, this video was a big deal when it came out! I didn’t have cable when this was released and I know it was aired on network television, so lots of people saw this.

Chage and Aska – On Your Mark (1995)
Hayao Miyazaki directed this original music video, which is the earliest example I can find of a completely original anime music video. I find it hard to believe that this was the first of its kind, but whether or not it was, it’s certainly one of the most ambitious music videos of any kind that I’ve ever seen. The song itself seems completely incidental to the dramatic video, which nearly buries it in its own sound effects (for the better, IMO). A must-see for any Miyazaki fan. Kind of a pity that Youtube and/or Ghibli seem intent on taking it down every time someone uploads it for all to view.

Ghostface Killah – Daytona 500 (1996)
The history behind this video doesn’t seem to be well-documented, but the ID tags at the beginning of this copy of the video seem to suggest that it was, in fact, recorded from a television broadcast. Wu Tang’s fondness for the far east is well-known, but I always thought it was chiefly rooted in Chinese culture and film. Still, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that the same guys who borrowed much of their mythology from Hong Kong kung-fu movies could also have a soft spot for classic Japanese anime as well. Did the creators and owners of Speed Racer sign off on this music video? Or did they notice but turn a blind eye to it? Life in the 90s being so less connected than it is now, is it possible that no one at Tatsunoko Productions even noticed this when it was released? Wikipedia cites this as “one of the earliest anime music videos ever made,” which is kind of a ridiculous and unfounded statement, but anything of this nature appearing in the 1990s is worth a second look today.

Daft Punk – One More Time (2001)
Essentially the opening to the film Interstella 5555, which was released in 2003, but I know I saw this video at least a year or two before that. I found it hard enough to wrap my mind around this song when I first heard it, but the video… I think I assumed that they were both made in the spirit of parody (of 80s pop and AMVs in general, respectively). I really wish I could go back and slap some sense into myself back then, as I wholeheartedly adore both today. Interstella 5555 just might be my favorite film of the decade; hopefully this video will help keep it fresh in fans’ minds for years to come.

Linkin Park – Breaking the Habit (2004)
The most mistakenly dismissed band of all time? I know, I know. “Lol, Linkin Park!” etc. But this is a great song. The music video, developed by Studio 4°C, continues in the style they contributed to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. It’s as angst-ridden and moody as you’d expect, but it’s also really interesting and well done. Not “anime” in the classic style that we’d expect, but an eye-opening and really cool work nonetheless.

Radiohead – 15 Step (2008)
Maybe not a “real” AMV, but one of the winners of Radiohead’s music video contest for their album In Rainbows. “15 Step” was never a proper single and never received its own official video, so it’s probably safe to say that this one, hand-picked by the band themselves out of more than a thousand entries, qualifies as an official video in its own right. I’ve no idea what its creators are doing now but I hope they move on to bigger success in the future, though I guess the prospects for aspiring animators in Japan aren’t exactly the most encouraging right now. I’m not even sure if I really like this video or not, but I think these guys have potential.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (2009)
I don’t know what prompted Leiji Matsumoto to create this video, what connections may exist between the song’s lyrics and the video’s story, or if it reaches the heights of his work with Daft Punk, but it’s still a pleasure to watch, and reminds me how badly I need to watch some of his classic works (I’ve been meaning to for the longest time, I swear).