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.