Or “it’s halfway through the new season and I still can’t think of much to say about these shows.”
On the surface Working`!! has very little going for it. Sliding off the back of the first series the second introduces no major new jokes or any characters of substance, the animation is scrappy and there's no drama that isn't wholly manufactured. Telling then that the most exciting part is when Matsumoto - the eternal cameo - is gifted a voice and takes part, albeit in a small way, in the ongoing story. Against all of this, somehow everything clicks together and works.
This is mostly thanks to a core set of characters which play off each other very well, making sure that no personality (foibles and all) is allowed to dominate. So the sparky Taneshima remains the most enjoyable character thanks to her indomitable good nature, but her clashes with Satou are kept spaced apart, providing brilliant but occasional visual humour. Likewise Takanashi, who exists on the knife-edge of creepy and eccentric, interacts more with Satou and Souma now and his baffling relationship with Inami is kept restrained.
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.
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.
Joining the list of shows that consider a single exclamation point inadequate to convey their delirious enthusiasm, Working!! is an unlikely comedy set in a restaurant staffed by an eclectic and offbeat selection of characters. Favouring wry humour over slapstick, the first three episodes of the series have a wide stable of jokes and though it wears its four-panel comic strip heritage on its sleeve, the pacing is solid and it stays away from wildly exaggerated scenarios, instead sticking with the ongoing tribulations of the cast's idiosyncrasies. All of the enthusiasm may come from the diminutive pixie Poplar, but the series has all the hallmarks of a supremely competent comedy ready to fill its entirety rather than expend its energy all at once.
Poplar works at the Wagnaria family restaurant in Hokkaido and has been tasked by her surly manager to find a new employee to help with the increasing work load. After exhausting her options, she begins soliciting strangers on the street, finally asking Souta who mistakes her for a wayward middle school student. Beguiled by her size and demeanour, he accepts the job offer and is introduced to the menagerie of characters that make up Wagnaria's staff. There is the manager, Kyouko, who does little work and subsists on a diet of parfaits, most of them served by Yachiyo who, as well as carrying a sword around, has a long history with the manager. Poplar is small but sprightly and quite the opposite of Mahiru who has a ferocious phobia of men, much to the dismay of Souta who ends up on the receiving end more often than not. Souta himself isn't bereft of his quirks and despite his initial qualms, quickly settles in to the staff's continuing misadventures.
With no death dreams that night I woke up refreshed and ready for the 9am breakfast in which the flies from yesterday had informed their kin which made it very tedious trying to eat. Showering and getting dressed, Matt was suffering from lack of sleep (possibly still catching up with him from Trinidad) so we hung about in the microclimate of the room while we planned out the day. Finding out that there was actually very little interesting to do in Havana, we decided to head towards the Plaza Vieja which, according to the Lonely Planet guide, had some neat curios hidden away.