Saturday, January 14, 2017

REVIEW: Servant x Service (manga, vol. 1) by Karino Takatsu, translated by Amanda Haley

Servant x Service is a four-panel comedy comic strip series licensed by Yen Press.


I know it seems like I’m on some kind of four-panel comic strip series kick, but it’s mostly by accident. I’m trying to get through more of my manga collection, and they looked like the quickest reads and the volumes most likely to help me free up some shelf space. Unfortunately for my shelf space situation, this actually turned out to be pretty good.

Servant x Service is primarily set in a public service office building in Japan. The cast includes several newly hired employees in the Health & Welfare Department: Yutaka Hasebe, a carefree and lazy guy who is also somehow brilliant at everything he does; Lucy (etc.) Yamagami, a woman who became a civil servant in order to find the civil servant who approved her amazingly long name and give him a piece of her mind; and Saya Miyoshi, a woman who can never get her paperwork done because elderly people love talking to her and she doesn’t know how to gently disengage. They are overseen by Taishi Ichimiya, who hasn’t been around that much longer than them. The cast is later joined by: Megumi Chihaya, a temp who cosplays in her free time; Touko, a teenaged civil service geek; and an adorable stuffed bunny.

The beginning of the volume was okay, but not terribly exciting. The humor focused on the quirky cast and their efforts to do their jobs (or not, in Hasebe’s case). The strips about Hasebe featured jokes about his laziness and playboy behavior (he asked nearly every attractive woman for her email). The strips about Lucy featured jokes about her long name, her big breasts, and her oblivious attitude towards Hasebe’s flirtations. Miyoshi was always that person who couldn’t seem to get away from talkative elderly ladies. The artwork didn't really grab me either. Hasebe and Ichimiya looked too similar, and Hasebe's facial expressions sometimes felt a bit stiff and limited.

The volume really started to grow on me when it began to focus more on the various relationships. My absolute favorite was the sorta-romance between Hasebe and Lucy. Hasebe was one of those characters I kept expecting to dislike and then...didn’t. His attitude said he didn’t care about anything, and no one could even really yell at him about it because he was so effortlessly good at his work. He constantly hit on women and even used Lucy’s obliviousness against her, getting physically closer to her than necessary during sign language lessons she’d asked him to do for her. Also, if I remember right, he was the one who was involved in most of the “Lucy has huge breasts” jokes.

He should have made my skin crawl, and yet… After he asked Lucy out for the first time, Lucy learned that, although he’d filled up his phone with women’s email addresses, he’d never actually emailed any of them or asked any of them out. When Lucy rejected him, he asked if they could still go out to eat as coworkers/friends. While, granted, he was secretly hoping she’d eventually change her mind about him, he seemed at least as concerned about making sure that Lucy, who had a tendency to spend all her money on books, ate properly. There was repeated evidence throughout the volume that he genuinely cared about Lucy and what she thought about him, although he did his best to continue projecting his usual carefree image.

I enjoyed the signs that Hasebe was a more complex character than I’d originally taken him to be. As for Lucy, she was the character I most identified with. We both try to do our work well, we both think books are important (I, too, have saved money for books in the past by skimping on groceries), and we’re both pretty oblivious (although I’d probably have noticed what Hasebe was doing during those sign language classes...and then done my best to avoid him from that point on). She hasn’t really done much searching for the civil servant who approved her very long name yet, and I can’t help but wonder if that civil servant will turn out to be Hasebe’s father. It’d certainly add more drama to the series.

I’m a little worried that future volumes will sour Hasebe and Lucy’s relationship for me, but so far I like it. The “Lucy has huge breasts” jokes were frequent enough at times to bug me, but some of them were surprisingly funny. My favorite was a series of strips about the time Lucy’s bra broke just as she got into work. Most of the focus was on Lucy’s coworkers and their desire not to embarrass her but also somehow let her know that she wasn’t hiding her problem as well as she thought she was. This part featured one of my top favorite Hasebe moments. Also, the strip on Lucy's bra shopping difficulties felt depressingly realistic.

Besides Hasebe and Lucy, there was one other office romance, plus one client basically shoving a relative at a character who really wasn’t interested. Those storylines had their fun moments, even though they didn’t grab me quite as much as the developments between Hasebe and Lucy. Miyoshi was probably the most one-note character out of the bunch, although I did like the brief period when she started to become dissatisfied with her job. Of all the characters, she was probably the least interested in romance. I hope Takatsu does more with her in the future.

I definitely plan on reading the next volume, although I do have some concerns about it. I’m crossing my fingers that Takatsu allows the various relationships introduced in this volume to evolve. One romantic relationship, in particular, is already showing signs of strain. Either something has to give, or the whole thing will feel forced.

  • Four full-color pages.
  • Two postscripts written by the author.
  • Four pages of translator's notes.
  • Six pages of bonus comics that were included on the jackets of the original Japanese editions. Unfortunately, most of these focused on Hasebe's efforts to customize his latest game character so that it looked as much like Lucy as possible.

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