Posted by psgels on 11 June 2009 with categories: Anime Reviews

Anime, just like any other medium, does suffer from the fact that as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to be original. In the past decade, nearly all of the genres we know today were already invented, and during the past few years, it has become near-impossible to create any new genres it seems. If I’m not mistaken, the last time a new genre was created was with the horeca-series: short series in which the main characters run a restaurant/food-shop/bar/etc. After shows as Ristorante Paradiso, the genre is quietly picking up in recognition and popularity, but the anime who pioneered it, Bartender, is even more notable.

Likewise, today it’s very hard to be original anymore. Just try to think of something that absolutely has never been done before; only a select amount of series can truly do such a thing with confidence. Still, I really have to say that Bartender is THE most original anime series to have aired in the past five years. It’s really one of those series of which you can’t think that anything good can come out of it… and yet it’s great. From the outside, it’s simply a series in which characters drop by the bar of the lead character, drink a bit, talk about their problems and “see the light”. This series however doesn’t only make this work, it also throws in lots of unique stuff that really makes optimal use from the fact that this is a show about liquor.

So yeah, the generic formula for this series is that a customer comes into the bar called Eden Hall, hosted by the bartender who can serve the Glass of the Gods, and talks about his problems. In cases like this, it’s of course very tempting for a show to simply cheese up his story and shallowly deus ex machina all of the customer’s problems away simply after drinking a bit, yet somehow Bartender manages to avoid this pitfall. It doesn’t just view cocktails as just mixes of random drinks, but it looks at where these drinks came from: why were these drinks created? How did they get their names? Why do people drink them? Throughout each episode it provides all kinds of real-life anecdotes, both well-known and obscure, and relates these to the customer’s problems. By cleverly combining all of this, the customer comes to an understanding of his problems that actually doesn’t feel forced or obvious, and yet makes a lot of sense. And THAT’s the strength of Bartender: it intelligently looks at its customer’s problems and analyzes them; all in a way I have never seen done before.

You can really see that this is a series that’s written by someone who has a passion for liquor. I’m a liquor noob myself, but even I could tell that this series has an incredible amount of knowledge about all sorts of drinks, cocktails and also the detailed history behind them. It’s just like Osamu Tezuka, who as a Medicine graduate made optimal use of his knowledge when he wrote Black Jack, or take Shion no Ou, whose manga was written by a former professional shougi-player, who completely understood all of the principles of the game.

The third point at which Bartender shines with originality is the way it handles its narration, which again is something I have never seen done before in anime. Customers simply don’t disappear when their story is over, but they instead turn into narrators: they occasionally return to help out the main narrator to tell his story, and share their views of the new customers, while at the same time they never try to butt in with other people’s problems. Especially the final two episodes shine in this, and the entire series closes off with a really rounded final episode, in the way that Seraphim Call’s final episode was originally meant to end.

Amidst the originality though, there is one flaw that really sticks out like sore thumb. While I’m often not bothered by animation, the animation in Bartender really is abysmal at times. A lot of the shots look like they were drawn in a rushed way, and the only thing that seems to save this show’s aesthetics is the atmosphere of a bar that this show manages to create. The distorted faces really get in the way when we see a customer have a moment of self-discovery and during these moments, the cheese also tends to take over. This series screams maturity, but at the same time it also becomes hard to take it seriously with some of these hideously drawn faces. Thankfully though, the production-values do get saved by an excellent and relaxing soundtrack that still manages to pack a punch.

In any case, this is probably the end of my little review spree for now, since the next show I’m planning to watch is another one of those 52-episoded ones, but the series that I’ve reviewed during the past week all have something in common: excellent narrative and a true passion and understanding for the subjects they were dealing with. This is another reason why I still am such a big fan of anime, because the series that are made with passion really are the most enjoyable to watch, and Bartender, just like Hunter X Hunter’s first OVA, Victorian Romance Emma’s first season and even Futakoi Alternative really show this.

Storytelling: 9/10
Characters: 9/10
Production-Values: 7/10
Setting: 9/10

13 Responses

  1. The_Observer says:

    If you like this incarnation of Araki Joh’s work (manga-ka)

    Then I recommend you look up “La Sommeliere”…the manga is not scanlated (sadly) but its looks great and very appealing to a wine fan like me.

    Looking for my own Kana-chan in my life…

  2. Dop says:

    The thing I always liked about The Bartender was that it was very theatrical. You could imagine each episode working as a stage play, and that’s really unusual for anime.

  3. Kurisu says:

    Dop: I wouldn’t bet my life on it. Mouryou no Hako was definitely just like a stage play, too. If you think about it, most anime with little to no action would work as a stage play, especially all the sitcom-like comedy. Also this frame plot of a narrator isn’t anything special either. Even old anime for kids like Tao Tao had this.

  4. elianthos says:

    *de-lurks* aah, Bartender ^^. I remember picking this series by chance about a year ago, the food angle + seinen approach (meaning: no anime about food championships or unbelievable cooking tricks, as enjoyable as they can be XD) really tickled my fancy . I must agree about the animation, some of the distorted faces shots do ruin the mood.
    But it’s a relaxing, insightful anime, plus the CG drinks looked very appealing, I tried some of those after watching :p .
    Btw, thanks for presently blogging RisPara and Anne too ^^ .
    I wonder what 50+ episodes-long series you’re going to watch. Eureka 7 maybe? The DVD for the AU-retelling movie will be out this month too :) , you could watch both with a fresh mind *wink wink*
    I’d love to suggest you (again :p) Rose of Versailles , but it’s ‘only’ 40 episodes long.
    Anyway, every review of yours is a change to discover -or redescover – some underlooked series, so whatever you’ll choose is fine. Happy viewing!

  5. Sarynn says:

    Very interesting… Bartender… I’ve had this on my “want to preview” list for a while now, but never really felt compelled to view it. A show about drinking and customer’s telling their problems to the bartender; maybe that’d be interesting, but I had doubts :P.

    But the way you describe it, it sounds like this show handles its premise rather intelligently.

    I’m definitely looking forward to it now. It’s hard to find good “intelligent” anime these days. Even harder to find is “originality”. Thanks for letting me know that this show has a bit of both. =)

  6. c160 says:

    I thought you reviewed this before 0.0 I seemed to remember reading a review on this before in your blog and watched it after reading your revew,but it seems I’m delusional nowadays :p I’m also curios,what 52 episode series are you gonna review next?NANA?

  7. Shippoyasha says:

    Hmm. I’m certain you’re missing a few other anime in the past that had the kind of themery Paradiso and Bartender had. It’s just that it’s gotten a bit of a modern makeover that’s all. I’m pretty certain Bartender isn’t the first of its type. Maybe in modern years.

  8. gsilver says:

    I believe that Oishinbo was the first anime specifically about the food industry. It’s from back in the 80s, and the manga is now being released by Viz. A few of the episodes were also fansubbed a while back.

  9. PL says:

    one of the first things I learned as a budding writer is that “there is nothing new under the sun…” ultimately, there are only two plots: man vs. other and man vs. self. Everything else is just the author/artist’s personal style, or as George R. R. Martin says, the furniture changes, the stories don’t. Of course, that style is extremely important, and it is what makes the difference between someone like Shakespeare and his contemporaries like Marlowe, who were telling the same Italian and French stories, but we all know who Shakespeare was, and only English major geeks like me have ever read Marlowe. Most of the time, I’d rather see a familiar story told really well, with the author and artists’ using the plot as a device to develop characters and themes which bring into sharp focus some aspect of the human experience over a story that is highly experimental but so unfamiliar I can’t make that connection with the human aspects of the story. Pushing the boundaries is good, but leaping out lightyears ahead of them only leaves us confused for the most part. Originality, for me, takes back seat to solid storytelling, great dialogue, recognizable symbolism and a feeling of connection with all the great stories which came before this one. Umberto Eco calls this last part “intertextuality” and for me, it is one of the most important parts of a good story because when I’m engaged in a story that reveals its connections with that vast intertext of which it is part, I feel attached to a long-standing tradition, and because some of the tropes are familiar (but not neccessarily cliche”, those tropes fade into the background, my suspension of disbelief takes over, and my engagement is with whatever unique and creative thing the artist is bringing to the story.

  10. Thanks for the heads up. This show sounds great. Can’t wait to find it.

  11. AKI says:

    Thanks for the review, psgels. Just watched it, and boy, was it amazing. The animation was indeed a shot in the face but overall it was a refreshing experience. Had a few drinks myself. If ever I’ll go to Holland (got a cousin living there) let’s have a drink or two. Hehe. BTW, what’s the Netherlands’ official liquor?

  12. psgels psgels says:

    We don’t really have an official liquor here, although people do drink lots of beer. I don’t, though.

  13. demiplayer says:

    want something really unique? try watching nazca, it’s definitely a unique experience to watch

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  • Bam
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 09:14 PM)
    I just hope they teleport back to Midland or something, or ride faeries or whatever, I don’t Gove a damn, just anything but the boat. #NoMoreBoat
  • Bam
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 09:13 PM)
    The artistry remains incredible, with every frame filled to the brim with details, almost to the point of tiring the eye. It looks great and all, but I wouldn’t mind some simplicity for the sake of more frequent Berserk. I swear Guts’ entourage has grown so numerous and colorful that they’re almost like a traveling circus. I didn’t even remember that Roderick and a whole bunch of other people are also on the boat.
  • Bam
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 09:06 PM)
    I enjoy Rickert but this chapter made me remember how better the story gets when Guts is back in the picture. This was a primer chapter and spent most of its time touching bases and getting the story back on track, and it did that wonderfully and humorously.
  • Bam
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 09:01 PM)
    I was tryna stay spoiler free, but you’re goddamn right they got there! Few months back when Miura got it running again I said I believed that if Guts didn’t get to Elfhelm before the next hiatus then the series will probably never end. I really did feel that way and had little hope, but alas, rejoice indeed.
  • Bam
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 08:56 PM)
    @Aidan: heh leave it to demo to throw some Protomen in there for no reason. He got on this pretty quick, but I can see from the vid he was going off the Japanese RAWs.
  • AidanAK47
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 08:36 PM)
    @Bam, By God…seven years…and he’s finally…finally…off that goddamn boat.
  • Bam
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 06:20 PM)
    @Kaiser: English Berserk out on Evil-Genius. Enjoy.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 09:49 AM)
    I read the first volume of dimenion W, good art but so far this looks like it’ll be an action series you read if you’re only in need of a fix for one. I also read the first volume of that shounen comedy dagashi kashi, nothing really impressive but every so often it had a moment, most of it due to reaction faces/expressions.
  • Bam
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 07:40 AM)
    @Kaiser: yes unfortunately. It cost me a 6-pack of Corona to have my Mexican friend sit there and translate it cor me.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Monday, Nov 30. 2015 04:38 AM)
    @Bam: That berserk chapter isn’t in English its in Spanish =<

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