I know what you’re probably thinking, but no… despite its title, Servant x Service is NOT a pervy show about sexy maids and/or butlers. I’m as surprised as you, frankly… knowing what I do about anime, titles, suggestive ecchi, and maid fetishes, it seems like it would be an obvious combination.
But Servant x Service is about a very different kind of servant: civil servants. In First Episodes, First Impressions, we take a look at the slice-of-life comedy that delves into the world of Japan’s local government branch offices and the people who run them.
Episode summary: Three young graduates – eager and responsible Lucy Yamagami, sweet and spacey Saya Miyoshi, and slacker lech Yutaka Hasebe – arrive at a local government office somewhere in Hokkaido for their new jobs in civil service. Guiding them in their first day at work is Taishi Ichimiya, a self-professed “fellow newbie” who has actually been working at the office for eight years.
And.. that’s pretty much it! Oh, there’s some vague hint of a “central” story – Lucy has an ulterior (and hilarious) motive for joining the civil service related to her name – and it does touch on themes of how civil servants are treated, how they behave, and what they contribute to society. But for the most part, it’s an entertaining string of comedic moments and vignettes as all three characters settle into their jobs in their different ways and endure the bizarre, humiliating, and entertaining baggage that comes with being a public servant.
First impressions: As someone who’s been on both sides of the Japanese civil service desk, this anime immediately struck a familiar chord with me. I remember waiting at Kagamiishi city hall, trying to get my documentation in order, dealing with a progressively longer chain of forms and “helpful” admins; I also remember sitting at my own desk at the local education office, twiddling my thumbs and trying to look busy until lunch appeared (how did we ever fake work before computers?) While Servant x Service certainly exaggerates some of this, it also makes some pretty on-the-nose commentary about working in local government in Japan. For example, civil service jobs are known for being much more relaxed in regards to overtime and breaks compared to most Japanese company jobs; as such, it’s considered the plum job for “slackers” like Yutaka (whose first-day questions are all about breaktime length, frequency, etc) Half the office seems to be in a rush to avoid as much work as possible or defer it until breaktime. This is, of course, aided by the levels of arcane bureaucracy; Lucy spends HER entire first day telling frustrated customers that they need to go to Section 17, but only after they’ve gotten the form from Section 12, etc. On the other hand, Servant x Service does highlight the difficulties of being a civil servant, namely the endless struggles with angry, stupid, or otherwise tiresome customers who take out their frustrations with bureaucracy on the semi-innocent staff just doing their job. Lucy encounters more than a few snappy clients ready to rip her a new one, while Saya is trapped by old ladies going on and on about their medical problems/grandchildren/favorite pets, too polite to interrupt and bring them back on track. The episode even ends on a bit of a positive note, showing a few of the customers that our heroes have helped and reminding them that they’re making a difference… of a sort.
But don’t let all this analysis fool you… Servant x Service may have interesting thematic content, but in terms of STORY, it’s about as light, sweet, and substanceless as a cream puff. There’s no dramatic arc, no central core, no sense that this is part of some larger tale on the human condition. Instead, it’s a Seinfeld of an anime: a series of funny conversations, observations on life, anime slapstick, expressive hair sight gags, and verbal pratfalls. The good news is that most of this is done in a very entertaining way; there are plenty of belly laughs to be had, the characters are likable, the artwork is expressive, and the civil service setting at least lends some unique flavor to the proceedings. The bad news is that the show definitely skews to the shallow side thanks to its lack of meaty… well, anything. As likeable as these characters are, you’ve met most of them before, and probably seen most of the gags too. Her hair moves when she’s upset! He’s asking all the girls for their phone numbers! The shy wallflower can’t get a word out! Also, there is little connecting them all together; without a dramatic center, the anime is pure “slice of life” with a random assemblage of jokes and anecdotes. Which, to be fair, isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Azumanga Daioh managed perfectly well with that model, as do many American sitcoms – but it requires a certain mindset to enjoy.
Compared to the rest of the series? As of writing, only 7 episodes have been released, but from what I can tell, this first episode is definitely representative of the series as a whole; gag-heavy fluff dealing with the realities of civil service. While Wikipedia indicates that several other characters are given prominence later on (such as Lucy’s cosplaying mentor or Ichimiya’s sister), this still gives a good sense of who our heroes are and what they’ll be doing (either slacking or being keeners, by the looks of it). It almost seems like once you’ve seen the pilot, you may have seen it all… and if that’s NOT the case and the series suddenly develops a plot, they’re doing a DAMN fine job of misleading us with this first outing.
Worth plowing on? For what it’s worth, I actually liked it – it made me laugh a lot, which is a plus – but your experience will depend entirely on your own personal preference about fluffy, non-plot driven comedy. If you don’t mind trading in central plots and deep character development for well-timed slapstick, cutesy animation, and funny commentary on bureaucracy, you’ll probably dig this, even if just as a silly, fun palate cleanser… a Seinfeld to balance out your Game of Thrones, if you will! If you really do need your series to have a point, however, or if you’re not a fan of anime comedy, you can give this a miss. While it’s very cute and funny, it’s not exactly a trailblazer, and if you aren’t up for twenty two minutes of pointless fun, you may find it as much of a time-waster as the bureaucracy it mocks.
Seen Servant x Service? What do you make of it? Any funny experiences with civil service?