Monday Anime: Working!

If you’ve ever been in a family restaurant, such as Denny’s, then odds are, you’ll get a kick out of Working! If you’ve ever worked in any restaurant, then you’ll find Working! more than a little familiar.

This 2010 workplace comedy ran for three seasons, wrapping up with a special one hour episode, and pretty much sets the benchmark for not just workplace animes, but 21st century comedy. Brilliant use of sight gags, slapstick, and pretty much every other form of comedy you can think of, all delivered with the signature anime style, makes it a must see for any anime fan.

The premise is simple enough. High school student Souta is enamored with all things small and cute. So when a complete stranger, Popura, who happens to be both short and adorably cute, runs up and asks him if he’d like to be a waiter at family restaurant Wagneria, he instantly says yes without giving it a single thought. Souta quickly finds himself embroiled in the weirdness that is the workplace, and caught up in the daily lives of his eccentric co-workers.

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It might not seem like you could get three seasons and a one hour special out of that, but boy, do they ever, and it never gets old. The humor is always on point, and for a long time restaurant worker such as myself, it feels delightfully familiar.

Souta himself is the least charming member of the cast, in a lot of ways. Aside from his weird fixation with small cute things, he’s a fairly practical young man, who lives at home with his three sisters, which are eccentric themselves, all of whom have an overbearing politician for a mother. Every bit of that is relevant, as well, and often provides the finer, more heart touching dramatic moments that the show switches in between the endless laughs.

From his violent lawyer of an oldest sister and her masochist ex-husband, to his drunken self defense fighting sister, to his sweet younger sister who is plotting to take over the world, they provide as much comedy as the rest of the cast, and give Souta no end of trouble. Especially when they cross over into his workplace, which they do frequently.

The rest of the cast is where this show really shines, though. Popura, it turns out, is actually older than Souta, and despite her bubbly, warm personality, is quite smart and capable, something the show greats take care to let us see frequently. She is occasionally at friendly odds with the head chef, Sato, who comes across as quite and taciturn, but loves messing with the tiny Popura.

Then there’s the head waitress and chief of staff Yachiyo, who despite having a rather ditzy personality, is very capable and efficient. She also carries a katana with her everywhere she goes for some reason, including when she’s waiting tables. Her best friend happens to be the manager of the restaurant, Kyoko, a former street thug who takes a rather apathetic approach to being manager. Until you mess with her staff, that is. Then she can get down right violent. The rest of the time, she’s scarfing snacks.

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The cast gets rounded out with gossip monger Soma, as well as a kind of, sort of teenage runaway named Aoi, and my favorite member of the cast, the androphobic Inami. Her fear of men is so profound, she instantly punches any man who gets too close to her, and since she’s abnormally strong, she can lay them out cold with a single blow.

The entire series revolves around the characters and how, in their own weird way, they form a family that helps each other deal with life’s problems, and how each of them grow from having known the others. The cornerstone of the series lies with Souta and Inami, though, as the two slowly build a friendship, leading to a romance, that is paced out over the run of the series to be one of the most natural, believable relationships ever.

It is still a comedy, first and foremost, though, and some of the shows strongest elements are the running gags it carries on for three seasons. Top of the list there would be the restaurant owner, Ooto, who is constantly searching for his missing wife, who went out to by some milk one day, and due to her terrible sense of direction, never returned. While it might sound almost tragic, the rest of the cast frequently runs into her, and it turns out she is looking for her husband, and the two keep missing each other. This gag goes for three seasons, and it never gets old, mostly because the writers keep switching up where people run into her. She is brought to the restaurant at one point, but keeps disappearing, forcing everyone to hunt for her, until they decide to chain her to a chair, from which she vanishes in seconds the moment nobody is looking at her.

Yes, there is a reunion. It’s a comedy.

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Another great running gag is Souta cross dressing so Inami can be more comfortable with him, something nobody ever judges him for, by the way. Actually, girl Souta is liked better than boy Souta. It’s a weird gag, but it works because of everyone embracing it, and making the comedy more about what happens around Souta while he’s cross dressed than about Souta being cross dressed.

Come to think of it, that might be less a gag, and more a really important social commentary dressed up as a gag, making it work on a couple of levels.

Honestly, it’d be hard to list all the great running gags, and all the clever social commentary that Working! slides in over the course of 40 episodes. It’s hard just to give a broad sense of the show in general, as so much happens, and the writers handle it with such skill, that nothing ever feels like it drags. The show moves at a brisk pace, but not too fast, and every character is given their time to shine. Each of their story arcs gets a satisfying resolution, and one the whole, it’s just brilliant television.

The animation is solid, but never really stands out, but it doesn’t need to, as the real draw is the story and characters. Every character design is well done, and the quality of both are executed very well. It’s a pretty show to look at, but it isn’t likely to wow you on the animation alone.

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The music, though, is just perfect. From the catchy opening themes, to the background music, to the excellent closing themes, it is always just what the show needs to give it that extra little something, making an already great experience all the better. Outside the third season opening credits, I can’t say you’ll ever catch yourself humming any of it, or even remembering it, but when you are watching, the music is that just perfect blend of background enhancement.

There isn’t much of an overarching plot to speak of, nor would it matter if there were. It would get drowned out by the excellent character plots and arcs that really drive the show. That’s where the strength of the show is, and as such, it more or less abandons any sort of story arc to just let the characters drive the story, which works extremely well.

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But really, it’s in the comedy that this show makes its best mark. Even if everything else doesn’t appeal to you, the giggles and straight up belly laughs this series delivers will be worth it in the end.

On a side note, this is one of the few anime shows I’ve ever managed to get my sister to watch some of, as she prefers stuff like Vampire Diaries, and doesn’t really get anime in general. Also relevant is that she and I spent many years working together in in a restaurant. All of which led her to make the observation that she was like Popura, and I was like Sato, since she’s the more outgoing, bubbly type, while I’m the quieter, more reserved type, but I also loved to mess with her on a daily basis.

Once I realized she was right, the show was even funnier to me, enough so I grabbed an image of Sato to use for my avatar image here on WordPress, as well as over on Facebook, Twiter, and a few other places you might find me, like Disqus. So, if you ever wondered what the image on my avatar was from, it’s from this show, and you can thank my little sister for pointing out someone had finally made an anime with a character just like me in it.

Life is crazy weird sometimes, folks.

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