The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Bartender

Title: Bartender
Genre: Drama
Company: Bartender Production Team/Palm Studio
Format: 11 episodes
Dates: 15 Oct 2006 – 31 Dec 2006

Synopsis: Sasakura Ryu is a bartender at Eden Hall, a quiet bar in the back streets of the Ginza district. He is famous in bartending circles for his “Glass of the Gods”: the ability to serve an alcoholic mix which always manages to strike a perfect chord with his customers.

The Highlights
Cinematography: Creative; allows for some unique story-telling.
Music: Classy; fitting for a show about bars.
Episodic stories: On average good, but not great.
Finale: Tries something special and succeeds admirably.
Pacing: Slow, as one generally expects from episodic slice-of-life.

‘Healing’ anime, which are essentially episodic slice-of-life series that intend on making the audience feel good by developing and ‘healing’ its characters on screen, are an interesting concept and a small phenomenon in and of themselves. It’s hard to draw trends, but they’ve become a rarity this year when compared to the above average number we saw in ’06, such as ARIA The Natural, Shinigami no Ballad and (to a much lesser extent) Mushishi. I expected this mini-boom in the genre to continue into the present and further on down the road, but the indications so far this year are that I was wrong. Nonetheless, Bartender is a strong entry into a genre that is, no doubt, an acquired taste, hardly putting a step wrong.

Bartender has all the defining aspects of the genre in prominence: the pacing is slow, the focus is on characters rather than plot and dialogue rather than action (of which there is obviously none) and the atmosphere is surreal. The aesthetics do a fantastic job of creating this atmosphere, with an outstanding jazz piano soundtrack setting a fitting “classy bar” ambiance, while the animation remains adequate throughout. Visually, though, the highlight is the cinematography, which features some rather creative examples of segue. This allows the story to be told with numerous narrators and commentators and while the impact to the story telling may not be profound, it’s something different, which almost always gets my thumbs up.

Articulating the overall quality of an anime that consists of several episodic stories is a difficult task, since the difference between the best and worst episodes can easily be enormous, and they’re all independent of each other. Bartender’s episodic stories, on average, aren’t of the caliber of Mushishi’s or even ARIA’s, but the majority of them are interesting. They’re the type that, if a friend was telling them to you, for example, at a bar over a drink, they would be sufficiently interesting that you’d hang on every word, but you’ve likely heard far more enthralling stories in your life.

Each story does follow a standard formula, in which Sasakura listens to his customer’s story and serves a drink which turns their life around, but the series manages to keep itself fresh thanks to the varied and clever ways in which the drinks relate to the episodic stories and characters. Unfortunately, the repetitiveness finally catches up with the series in the penultimate episode, which pretty much dies on its feet half way through. Thankfully, Bartender chooses to do something completely different in its final episode, with a fitting tribute to artistic bartending, allowing the series to finish on a high, memorable note. The attitude that the final episode should be special is unfortunately rare in slice-of-life anime, but it is refreshing to see it here.

Bartender probably isn’t going to be appreciated by the masses, but fans of episodic slice-of-life will almost certainly lap it up. While the idea that a single serve of an alcohol beverage can turn someone’s life around may be difficult to swallow without having a few drinks yourself, following the plights featured in these episodic stories is still interesting and often heart-warming. I wouldn’t say this is the best example of this genre, but it’s still an enjoyable, feel-good way to pass the time.

The Rating: 7
7/10

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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