Hi, friends! Every year our friends at Reverse Thieves hold an event where people who write silly things about silly cartoons are given a person for whom they must choose three cartoons the recipient has never seen. I’ve had decent luck in the past with the things I’ve received! This year I got Nichijou, Working!! and Yuru Yuri, the latter two of which I watched. (I dropped Nichijou as it aired and felt no inclination to revisit it. Sorry, Secret Santa! Please do not take it personally.) Here I shall write about Working!! Enjoy!
Watching Working!! made me realize yet again how some shows just can’t win by airing week-by-week. I watched the series in the span of three weeks with a friend of mine — five episodes for two weeks and three in the final week. I’m not sure I would recommend watching this series in such large chunks. Particularly early on, the humor doesn’t vary all that much. The show pulls some different tricks every so often, but a lot of the characters have their one joke that isn’t played around with all that much. It can be a bit much when taken in all at once.
So just watch it week-by-week, yes? Well, after the first week I realized that if I had watched Working!! as it aired, I probably would have dropped it. If I hadn’t watched it for this project and given it a proper chance all the way through, would I have discovered that I actually like what Working!! has to offer? It’s troubling! But it’s also why I occasionally like to revisit series that I dropped and/or overlooked that went on to be generally liked by people whose opinions I trust. We all leap to conclusions every so often that aren’t totally fair (likely because there are just too many shows to keep up with), or drop out of a show before it has an opportunity to fully reveal its hand. Sometimes shows really do GET BETTER, I SWEAR!! … And sometimes they don’t. (A lot of the time they don’t, really, if I’m being honest.)
Not sure where I was going with this. Sometimes it’s nice to stick with a series and see it through? I learn this lesson every so often, but it doesn’t stop me from dropping a ton of stuff every season.
Perhaps I should stop dancing around the show. For those who don’t know, Working!! (or Wagnaria as it’s known by way of NIS America) is about a high school student, Souta Takanashi, who is recruited to work a part-time job at Wagnaria, a local family restaurant. As Souta does odd jobs around the restaurant, he gets to know his oddball co-workers: the pint-sized Popura Taneshima, the androphobic Mahiru Inami, the lazy manager Kyouko Shirafuji, and so on. The series mainly revolves around workplace hijinks and relationships, with everything slowly branching out to the outside world as the show goes on and everyone gets to know each other better. It’s when Working!! starts branching out a bit more that I actually got into it.
The first five or so episodes of Working!! are a bit bland. There’s a lot of general workplace humor: coming up against co-workers who rub you the wrong way, trying to get work done in spite of the entire world conspiring against you, the little cliques that inevitably form when you have a large group of people together, etc. And as the characters are introduced you get a peek at their main quirk: Popura is small and often mistaken for an elementary schooler, Inami punches every man who crosses her path, Takanashi loves cute things, and so on. There’s plenty to chuckle at — good gags with solid timing are not lacking. But Working!! exhausts its supply of jokes with these characters rather quickly early and doesn’t freshen them up often enough.
A quick example: Hiroomi Souma, a chef who is tired of being hit by Inami, decides to help her overcome her androphobia. To help Inami get used to men, he proposes that he speak to her over the phone so that she can become comfortable with the idea of communicating with men before having to deal with the physical reality of interacting with them. So Souma starts talking to Inami about this and that, and it goes well at first; however, even though she can’t see Souma, Inami can’t forget that she’s talking to a man, and so she gets nervous and starts whacking a nearby wall as hard as she can. This simple thing takes something that to that point hadn’t been all that funny — Inami’s androphobia — and makes it amusing due to the situation. It is something that doesn’t happen enough in these first five episodes.
Then Working!! spreads out a bit. Episode 6 is almost entirely about Takanashi’s home life with his sisters: the serious lawyer, Kazue, who is also quick to anger; the romance novelist, Izumi, always fretting about deadlines and ever messy and unorganized; the heavy drinker, Kozue, who always seems to be recovering from another break-up; and the youngest, Nazuna, who is the most mature of the lot and looks after her big brother in strangely manipulative ways. They’re all one-note characters, too, but the way they’re used brings welcome chaos into Takanashi’s life and made me laugh a lot. There’s a charm to the workplace interactions in the early episodes, but they fall too easily into routine. It’s much more fun when people get the rug pulled out from under them.
Episode 7 gave me just what I craved. Every comedy needs that one character who can guarantee laughs no matter what they do. For Working!! that character is Aoi Yamada, a girl picked up by the head of the restaurant while he searches for his wife. (This is not nearly so sleazy at it sounds!) Yamada is a compulsive liar, making up a life situation on the fly and bribing Kyouko into letting her work and live at Wagnaria. Yamada is also quite observant and has a big mouth, a deadly combination for those who wish to maintain the status quo, but also a fantastic powder keg for comedy. She interferes in basically every burgeoning workplace romance she can find, always to funny results. She’s not even around for a whole episode before she interferes with the not-so-secret crush taciturn chef Jun Satou has on the cheerful waitress Yachiyo Todoroki. If Yamada has a chance to point out something obvious to everyone that will make you totally uncomfortable, she will hit that shit without mercy.
Yamada is also wonderfully weird in how she tries to fit in at Wagnaria, almost like an enemy spy who observes and emulates the behavior of a certain people and culture but can’t quite get it right. She gets very close with Popura and copies her movements, as if she is trying to capture and use that same cute appeal for herself. There’s a moment in one episode where Yamada acts like an exuberant child and jumps on Souma’s back, almost knocking the wind out of him. It’s a moment that’s slightly amusing in and of itself, but taken in the context of Yamada’s self-aware cutesy act becomes funny as hell. Yamada is going to be moe, and she doesn’t care who she has to hurt to get that way!
And don’t even get me started on the greatness that occurs when Yamada meets the Takanashi girls.
What I’m trying to say is Yamada the best. Everyone else is but a pretender to the throne.
Something I haven’t touched upon all that much: the romance. It’s rarely a huge draw to me; the main exceptions are when someone like Yamada uses those budding feelings of romance to stir things up between people. The actual process of romance, though? If people get together, then great. If not, then whatever. The silliness and humor of Working!! is much more compelling to me than anything the romance has to offer. I don’t really look at Takanashi and think, “Man, I want to see that dude get with someone!” That all said, I don’t think the romance aspect of the series is all that bad. I’d imagine it’s quite appealing to those who care about that stuff. I could see Inami overcoming the hurdle of her fear of men and struggling with her burgeoning feelings for Takanashi being compelling. I’m just glad it doesn’t take up too much time. I never felt as if the romance squeezes out the comedy. There is plenty of room for both in Working!!
Overall, I enjoyed Working!! The first few episodes left me skeptical, but once Yamada and Takanashi’s sisters made their presences felt, it was all fun for me. Thanks, Secret Santa!