Review for Servant x Service
No other anime distributor is as divisive, as polarising among the fanbase as Aniplex US. Eschewing the mass market media model that most other companies adopt, trying to get as many people to buy anime as possible, Aniplex US has instead chosen an elitist posture, sell anime on disc at high prices to a small collector base, leaving everyone else to watch it on streaming, if it’s up on streaming. We might expect half series or full series collections, but Aniplex are still into the single volume format, demanding that sub-licensors toe the line as well. That’s why we got Sword Art Online in single volume releases in the UK. And in a world where everyone is finally embracing Blu-ray, they insist on releasing shows on DVD only, or if their calculations don’t work out, they just won’t release a show at all on physical media (Thankfully we got World Conquest Zvezda Plot and Magi on Blu-ray from Kazé, Mushi-shi S2 on DVD from Madman, and we should get Silver Spoon on Blu-ray this year from All the Anime). Worst of all, they’re taking back control of any license with the Aniplex name on it as it lapses from other distributors and then just sitting on the licenses. This is why you will never see an affordable release of Full Metal Alchemist again in the US, and maybe not even in the West. But the problem is that Aniplex US insist on owning the rights to shows that I want to buy on disc.
Take Servant x Service for example, a show that I first encountered by streaming, and then vowed to buy on home media. This is one of those Aniplex US licenses that only got a DVD release in the US. I’ve now finally got the show, on DVD, 3 discs in a standard Amaray case with an added booklet, for which I paid half price in a sale, still more than I’d pay at full price for an equivalent series on Blu-ray from any other company. But there’s something special about Servant x Service. In a medium where the majority of shows feature characters of school age, or indulge in fantastic and esoteric concepts and worlds, Servant x Service is about the mundane world of work, it’s about the bureaucracy of the civil service of all things. It’s about day to day life in the municipal service industry, and I have seen nothing else like it in anime.
When Lucy Yamagami was born, her parents had a dilemma. There were just so many wonderful names that they could give their daughter that they just couldn’t decide. In the end, they wound up giving her all of them. Now Lucy Kimiko Akie Airi Shiori Rinne Yoshiho Ayano Fumika Chitose Sanae Mikiko Ichika etc could have rightly held a grudge against her parents, but she instead chose to place the blame on the lackadaisical civil servant that approved the mile-long-moniker. She’s had a thirst for revenge for most of her life, and has actually got a job as a civil servant so that she can find the one responsible. On her first day of work, introducing herself is the usual problem, and the nametag she gets, helpfully written as Lucy (abbrv) Yamagami only rubs salt in the wound. But while she’s motivated (for the wrong reason) to work, her fellow inductees are less so, with Saya Miyoshi lacking confidence in herself, and Yutaka Hasebe intent on finding the best way to slack off. But the three new employees are nowhere near as eccentric as some of the other employees in the Welfare Benefits section of the Mitsuba Ward Office...
13 episodes of Servant x Service are presented across three discs from Aniplex.
1. Be Careful: How You Refer to Someone and Why
2. When You’re Working: Don’t Rush, Don’t Fuss, and Never Give Up
3. Don’t Neglect: The Safety of You or Your Workplace
4. Beware: Next Week’s Unseen Dangers
5. Everyone Has Close Calls: Learn From Them and Keep the Workplace Healthy
6. Examine: Unexpected Problems Playing Hide-and-Seek
7. Self Prevention: There are People Event Though You Don’t See Them
8. A Dangerous Sprout: Beware of Tanaka’s Grandson
9. Do You Have It? Mental Capacity and the Accumulation of Feelings
10. Procrastination: Cause of Huge Future Regrets
11. Attention: It’s Coming to Get You, The Sweet Trap
12. Wait a Moment: Familiarity and Negligence are Cause for Trouble
13. Now We’re Set: A Fun Workplace Leading to Tomorrow
Servant x Service gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer, encoded progressively on these discs for those with compatible players. It’s an excellent transfer on these DVDs, with the episodes spread across the three discs given enough room to breathe, even with the uncompressed audio, so that there are no visible compression artefacts, no problems with aliasing, or even digital banding. The animation is smooth, and detail levels are good, and the agreeable character designs and decent world design comes across well. Even better, the show scales up a treat on a flat panel display, and I have seen worse looking anime Blu-rays. Still, it does make you wonder how good Servant x Service could have looked in HD, and there really was no excuse in 2014, to release an HD animated show as DVD only.
The sole audio option here is an uncompressed PCM 2.0 Stereo Japanese track at 1536kbps. That offers a clarity and richness of sound that puts some Blu-ray anime to shame. The dialogue is always clear, and everything’s in sync with no dropouts. The actors are suited for their roles, and it’s a predominantly dialogue focussed piece. The show’s quirky music comes across well, especially the themes. The quality of the audio really comes across in the sound design. In any scene, deep in the background, you’ll be able to hear the susurration of chatter, the hum of air conditioning, the sounds of PC fans, of printers and photocopiers whirring. You do get the feeling of being in an office environment, but it’s at a subliminal level, and might very well be completely lost in a conventional lossy audio track. The subtitles are legible, accurately timed and are free of typos.
You get three discs in an Amaray case, with two either side of a central hinged panel, and one on the back face of the case. The case gets an o-card covering it, and there’s a reversible sleeve as well, and all offer different pieces of character art to look at.
Following insertion, the discs will play the English and Japanese copyright warning before auto-playing the programme. You can escape to the main animated menus.
Disc 1 has a couple of extra features, namely the textless credits (the only place where the theme songs get romanji and translated lyrics), and a couple of text pages of credits listing the show’s cast and crew in English.
You also get a 24 page booklet in the case, Servant x Service Special Public Documents. In it you’ll find a set of episode synopses, along with the answers to the Servant x Service quizzes at the end of each episode (you won’t have to look at a Japanese website as they suggest. There are also a set of four panel comics featuring the major characters in the show, as well as 4 pages of character art.
I should be feeling a touch of buyer’s remorse here. After all, I paid $39.98 for a 13 episode series on DVD, more than I would pay for an equivalent series on Blu-ray at the best of times. And that was after Servant x Service was discounted for the Christmas sale at Right Stuf. Its R.R.P. is actually $74.98. There’s no way that I can endorse that kind of pricing, right? It’s extortionate! Frankly, no 13-episode series is that good. The thing is that I really do enjoy Servant x Service, it’s a delightful slice of life romantic comedy, which while it isn’t earth shattering anime, is watchable indeed. And this is the only way that I can legally own it on home video in the English speaking world, despite the Region 1.4 coding on the disc suggesting an Australian release as well.
The other thing is that despite my enthusiasm for it at the start, as a show that breaks the mould, set as it is in the world of bureaucracy in a municipal office, it doesn’t often delve into the comedy potential of rules, regulations and paperwork. Servant x Service is primarily a romantic comedy, and in many respects it’s a lot like all the other romantic comedies. The difference is really only in the setting. So there’s less of the office politics, the scheming, gossip, and social climbing, and it’s more about the awkwardness of first love... again. It would be disappointing were not Servant x Service really entertaining about it.
Still, the office setting and the bureaucracy does see enough use in terms of the show’s comedy to set it apart, and offer a degree of originality. It has the oddest premise too, with Lucy Yamagami taking a job as a civil servant, solely to find the person who approved her unwieldy full name so that she can get some as yet undetermined revenge. She’s a single-ish minded girl, naive and trusting to a fault, who as well as being devoted to hard work, and finding her target, tends to spend all her earnings on books (you might know from my reviews of R.O.D. the TV and the like, that I love bookish characters). She certainly has no time for romance, and a lack of self confidence in her appearance (she sticks to a black turtleneck, slacks and glasses, although she does have the requisite anime boobage), although a prominent characteristic is a mobile cowlick that defines her emotional state.
She wasn’t expecting Yutaka Hasebe, who’s slacked his way through school, and is aiming on slacking his way through work too. That he’s eminently talented at it, and still manages to get a lot done, in between finding corners of the office where he can waste time, makes him infuriating to almost everyone. It isn’t long before a connection develops between him and Lucy, although it takes its time developing into something more. The whole show is about the pre-courtship between the two, taking us to the point of their first date. One reason it might take so long is that Hasebe is the kind of boy who teased the girl that he liked in school, so as soon as he learns Lucy’s name, he insists on calling her Lucy instead of Yamagami-san, and given how sensitive she is about her name, that’s immediately the first roadblock on their path to potential happiness.
The third new inductee is Saya Miyoshi, the oldest and most educated of the three, but the one with the least amount of confidence. She becomes a target for any old woman who comes into the office, and winds up spending hours listening to their family woes and stories. But she also has a stunning lack of tact when it comes to speaking to her co-workers, and when she’s trying to be the most sympathetic, she chooses words which instantly stab at the heart of that person’s character weakness.
The person who’s in charge of these inductees, and is supposed to acclimate them to their new jobs is Taishi Ichimiya, who turns out to have the least confidence of them all. He’s been working there eight years, and only now has he been given the responsibility of training the new recruits, which given a government bureaucracy is about right. Also working there and helping Lucy get used to her new job is temp Chihaya Megumi, who didn’t pass the civil service exam, but prefers to set her own hours so that she can devote her time to cosplay instead. She has a dry sense of humour, and in the manner of all temp workers, is probably the most qualified and competent in the office. The section manager Kenzo Momoi on the other hand lacks not for competence, but for presence. He’s so shy that he just can’t come into the office, and instead, thanks to the wonders of Japanese technology, works by remote, personified by a robotic plush rabbit. As you might guess, a toy rabbit doesn’t quite engender the right level of deference from his employees.
Other minor characters include Ichimiya’s little sister Toko, an exaggerated tsundere who refuses to admit that she adores her brother, but spends all her free time in the office anyway, administering her own civil service tests to the new employees to see that they aren’t wasting taxpayers’ money. One anime shortcut is the use of a crosshatch on a cheek or brow to indicate raised veins and a degree of frustration/anger. Toko permanently has a crosshatch on her face. Then there is Kanon Momoi, the section chief’s daughter who also happens to be friends with Toko. Finally there is Grandma Tanaka, who quickly latches onto Miyoshi as someone to gossip with, and eventually tries matchmaking, getting Miyoshi to go out with her grandson Jyoji. Only it turns out that Jyoji Tanaka is seriously annoying, and that annoyance doubles when he sees former schoolmate Hasebe.
Romantic comedy is at the heart of the show, with Lucy and Hasebe slowly edging towards a relationship as the series progresses. There’s balance too as we quickly learn that Ichimiya and Chihaya are an item, although they’ve been keeping their relationship secret to avoid causing more stress to Ichimiya’s sister. She may adore (although she’ll never admit it) her brother, but she’s also dense to the fact that he’s found love. She actually wants to become a civil servant and support herself, so that he can have the freedom to finally get a girlfriend. Even given that, it’s hard for Ichimiya and Chihaya to come clean about their relationship, and those attempts become a regular thing in the show.
Servant x Service isn’t quite the original concept that I might have hoped for, but well-written characters, a warm and engaging story, and some great observational comedy make it a show well worth watching. You ought to be aware though that it follows that Japanese comedy trope of something daft happening, and the characters’ inner voices commenting on that happening to underline the stupidity. It’s a comedy style which some might say is used to excess here. I like it, it’s just a different style of comedy, but I can understand how it could get old pretty quickly for someone else.
I love Servant x Service, it’s genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and it’s well worth watching. I’m delighted to own it on DVD, but at Aniplex prices, I can’t recommend it. Fortunately it’s still on Crunchyroll so you can watch it in its entirety, before deciding whether to get that second mortgage. But if you do decide to buy this relatively barebones release, know that you’ll be getting stunning AV quality, probably the best looking and sounding anime release on the DVD format.