Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is a reminder of just how thrilling a series can be when it dares to be different. Underneath the speed talking protagonist and the eyeball LSD art-style is a current of enthusiasm that is positively infectious; it toys with narrative, characters, aesthetics and music in such a playful and endearing way that before long it doesn't matter if the series fits together all the pieces, the energy and cast are enough to carry it through. That it does tie together all the story threads in a way that is achingly brilliant is just another reason to fall completely and utterly in love. Unpretentious, endlessly enjoyable and supremely satisfying, this is a series whose execution and limitless creativity is only the tip of something sublime.
there are precise clockwork mechanisms working beneath the surface [...] and the fun comes from piecing together what they are operating
It doesn't seem to matter which university club the protagonist chooses, events never end up how he wants them to. Tennis, cycling, foreign languages, film - all conclude with him unhappy and burdened with the desire to turn back the clock to relive his two years and obtain his rose-coloured campus life. His misadventures are accompanied by a panoply of roguish characters: the devious and incomparably snide Ozu, the belligerent and mottephobic Akashi, the plunging chin of the easygoing Higuchi or the dentistry student Hanuki - prone to giving gum massages when inebriated. The protagonist is convinced his discontent stems from a wayward decision, the question is will he ever make the right choice in order to be happy?
The most obvious question to ask about Working!! is where it sits with regards its contemporaries. The easiest answer is: somewhere between Azumanga Daioh and Minami-ke. This puts it in an odd position where its intended audience is concerned for it's not surreal enough to garner a cult following and not accessible enough to be immediately appealing. Sure the idea of a violently androphobic girl is quirky, but the restaurant setting is littered with customs and rituals that are foreign enough to be disconnecting. The series then occupies a middle ground, rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious but frequently inspired, inventive but tends to grind its best ideas, fulfilling and satisfying but lacking the spark that would elevate this beyond a fleeting curio.
there is a baffling fixation on the cross-dressing of boys as beautiful girls, and their relatively blasé acceptance of it
When Sota is recruited on the street by the diminutive and infectiously cheery Poplar, he is inducted into the world of the Wagnaria restaurant. Staffed by a cast of misfits which includes a layabout, parfait devouring manager, Kyouko, an overprotective sword-toting waitress, Yachiyo, the ordinarily demure but in fact freakishly strong Mahiru, and Hiroomi whose talent for leveraging information about his co-workers provides him with an easy day's work. Sota by comparison adores small and cute things but after being repeatedly punched by Mahiru, vows to cure her of her androphobia. Meanwhile all manner of shenanigans transpire in the restaurant starting with the adoption of Aoi, a wayward teenager who the head manager, Hyogo, meets on his travels to find his absent wife. And despite what the quiet Maya may claim, she is just another one of the varied and off-beat employees that make Wagnaria so eclectic.