Back at the summer season's halfway point, Servant X Service didn’t end up making my list of the five anime of summer 2013 you should watch. This is because, while being the funniest anime I watched last season, Servant X Service is still largely forgettable.
One of the best aspects of Servant X Service is the way in which the story is told. For the most part, each half-episode is centered around a single character and one of his or her problems. These mini-adventures, while generally self-contained, then provide the base for later stories about the same character.
Because of this structure, you never follow any one character for too long. You might spend the first half of the episode watching a old woman ramble to a poor girl who just can’t say no and the second half watching the hassles caused by a secret office relationship. And it might be several episodes before either topic is mentioned again.
But the most enjoyable feature of the series’ constantly changing focus is that this allows the characters to be both the main character of their own stories and a supporting character in everyone else’s. In this way you can see both how characters act when they are the center of attention as well as when they aren’t—making for some excellent character development.
While a lot of the comedy in this anime comes from what is said, even more comes from what is not said. The characters in Servant X Service all have constant inner monologues which serve both as a running commentary of what is going on and as a tool to show their thought processes when they are way off base about something. Either way, the inner monologues tend to be quite hilarious.
When it comes down to it, for better or worse, Servant X Service is a sitcom—that is to say a “situational comedy.” Largely set in a local government office, it follows a cast of coworkers and their everyday adventures. In other words, something weird or troublesome happens, the characters freak out a bit, talk with each other to come up with a plan, and then sort it all out (or at least try to) in a somewhat comical fashion.
Being a sitcom, many of the everyday adventures are centered around the characters’ love lives and often stem from some sort of contrived misunderstanding. And also like most other sitcoms, while it seems to be going somewhere with its romantic situations (and every other ongoing situation, really), it never really seems to arrive anywhere new by the end.
While clearly a comedy, Servant X Service starts as an anime grounded in reality. It deals with the common problems of being an entry-level worker at any job, the ups and downs of an office romance, and the utter hell that is customer service. While the situations are often silly and the characters a bit over the top, it’s all believable enough (as long as you haven’t spent any amount of time in a real Japanese government office, anyway).
Then, suddenly, there is a major tonal shift in the anime when it’s finally revealed that their section head is…
A pink, robotic, toy bunny.
This changes the entire nature of the anime. It’s no longer grounded in the real world. Now it’s grounded in a sci-fi world with staggering technologies. The anime does loosely address the bunny body but the ramifications of its existence are glossed over for a few cheap laughs. And while its existence is treated as generally normal by the workers in the office, it is kept a secret from the general public—though exactly why isn’t ever made clear. In a world where a middle-aged, mid-level government employee can afford a robot body, you’d figure that robot bodies of all shapes and sizes would be commonplace.
But the worst thing about the bunny-body is that it has no great comical pay off to make it all worthwhile. Yes, there are jokes here and there about the boss being hard to take seriously as a bunny as well as a few centered on keeping the secret of his existence but really, most of the humor would work just as well if he were an eccentric bureaucrat going through a mid-life crisis. Making him a man in a robot bunny body just opens up a can of worms that undercuts the show’s original reality-grounded tone.
When it comes down to it, Servant X Service was no doubt the funniest anime I watched last season. It was constantly clever and witty and I found myself laughing out loud quite a lot. But while I enjoyed the characters, I found it harder and harder to connect with them as it became obvious that nearly every step they took forward would be countered with a magic reset button of misunderstanding.
So, in the end, Servant X Service didn’t leave me with much of a lasting impression. However, if you like laugh-a-minute sitcoms, this is definitely a show you should look into. But if you’re looking for something deeper than a series of comedic setups with appropriate payoffs, you won’t find it here.
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