Bartender is a fine example of a show which is driven by its premise and nothing else to back it up.
As long as you fancy the basic formula of how each episode plays out, you will get one hell of a series. If on the other hand you expect something more… mainstream should I say? With action, plot, plot twists, development, and a powerful ending, then DON’T EVEN BOTHER!
The story is quite the simple one. There is this fancy bar where people go and tell their life’s problem to the barman. The barman listens to them and after a cool metaphor regarding different types of liquors from around the world, and how combining them into a specific cocktail creates a very specific flavor, the customers feel refreshed and may even reach to important revelations regarding their issues.
As cool as all this sounds, it is a completely episodic show and it is basically the metaphors that matter and not the actual issues the customers may have. To be honest, I hardly cared how cruel their lives are, how bad is their boss or how unfaithful is their wife. All I cared about was seeing the barman doing his weird allegories and mentioning the historical facts behind some drinks and then combining them into a super elixir of sorts that produces a flavor akin to the needs of the customer.
Each episode has a very linear and simple plot which is made to look fancy because it is filled with lots of allegories.
It is very thrilling the way I describe it and definitely eons more mature than most anime out there.
*stares at an ugly woman who now looks gorgeous*
At the same time though… it is not what most people would call entertaining. Since each episode follows the same pattern without deviating or evolving past its initial form, it eventually feels duller with each episode. The premise is great for the first three cases but after that the excitement simply starts to wear off and you are now staring at a formulaic show with predictable outcome.
Do you remember how each episode of Pokemon was following pretty much the same pattern? Well, despite being a very immature show for little kids, most of the times it would have something new for the viewer to take notice. They would go to different cities, meet different trainers, fight different critters, and even Team Rocket would occasionally change its punchlines and role in the show. Plus there was action; simplistic one but definitely something regarding energy beams and things blowing up. Bartender does not have this sort of variety and this is basically what makes it boring past a few episodes for most. It is always the same place, always the same rhetorical questioning, and always the same conclusion, without any action or even much of motion in general. The whole premise is driven through people sitting still, looking all gloomy, and talking all emo about something. Hardly as exciting as watching a bunch of high-spirited kids fighting with weird creatures popping out of spheres.
*Whiskey on the rocks, I choose you*
Although Bartender also has to do with lifting spirits through … spirits (the drinking kind)
and despite being very mature and interesting as a premise, this is not the reason most people are watching anime for. If they wanted enlightment, they would read a philosophical book or join some religion. They would NOT watch an anime, which its main objective as a medium is entertainment. Making the audience think and wiser is a great bonus but it is not enough by itself; it also needs to be EXCITING! And Bartender lacks that completely.
Sure, we could say that the show is directed at a very mature audience who has aged significantly and no longer looks for excitement but rather for insight and maturity. To those kinds of people Bartender would appear as a holy book or something. So speaking of books let me drift off a bit and make an allegory of my own based on the same subject.
*hallucination mode on*
Although there is no other anime like this one, there are lots of books that attempt to combine a story with a philosophical quest. I have read some myself, the most vivid examples I choose to mention is The Shack by William P. Young, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Both are revered as books that have given insight to several philosophical questions and there are thousands of people who have them as their favorites. At the same time, watching these books from afar you easily tell how they can usually be very pretentious, with bad storytelling, nonsense events, and eventually shallow philosophy that is forced upon the mind of the ignorant and unsuspected reader. Again, they are interesting but are not realistic, or THAT smart to begin with. At the same time, The Shack is basically a guy making questions in some hut and having the Holy Trinity answering them, while The Alchemist is about a guy traveling to many exotic places, having lots of adventures and even using mystical powers at times. Context aside, the later book is ten times more interesting to follow because SOMETHING HAPPENS! So back to Bartender, NOTHING HAPPENS!
By nothing, I am of course referring to some motion, other than mouths flapping and glasses being filled with more booze. Seeing the show from afar is basically staring at a bunch of drunkards in a bar, talking all emo in front of a cool bartender. ALL THE TIME AND IN ALL EPISODES!
Do you know how easy it is to get bored with all that? Or do you know how eventually the characters become nothing but plot elements that are forgotten as soon as the episode is over? Instead of caring about them as characters, the customers end up being nothing but ephemeral excuses for the bartender to start blabbering about booze.
Cool stories I admit, but nothing of interest around THE CHARACTERS! Do you know how stupid it looks to care more about some fancy allegory than the tragic life of the character? Essentially, there are NO CHARACTERS in the show; just excuses for fancy allegories. Not even the barman is a character since he just talks about stuff and we never get to know anything about him … other than being the Buddha of alcohol, offering his wisdom to the tired customers that is.
WHO WOULD WANT TO WATCH A SHOW WITHOUT CHARACTERS? This is closer to a documentary than a series. And for its medium, it’s bad. And this is again the difference between The Shack (which had a passive protagonist who was just making questions) and The Alchemist (who had an active protagonist, doing stuff all over the world).
Let me make another example, this time regarding anime. If you have watched a few comedies made by studio SHAFT (Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, Arakawa Under The Bridge, Maria Holic) you will have easily figured out that there isn’t any story or characters in them either. All their comedies are episodic, lacking development entirely, and the cast is nothing but eccentric caricatures defined by a few repeating punch lines and mannerisms. At the same time, there are many cinematics in each episode, combined with wordplays and fan service, usually leading to some criticism regarding society and stereotypes, making them far more pleasing to watch. There is motion, there is emotion, there is crazy camera scrolling, there is criticism, and there is pantsu. ENTERTAINMENT! Bartender doesn’t have that; it’s just people talking while sitting down in a room and drinking!
Of course all the above are generalizing the show. It is still very good if one with proper mindset gets to watch it. It is not a lie if you read other reviews and comments regarding this show; they all say it is a very special show for a very specific audience, which makes it very hard to be appreciated by the majority of the anime fans. This does not make it a bad series. In fact, if we talk about production values, Bartender is great in overall.
*the song “What A Wonderful World” plays in the old pick-up*
The artwork is amazingly realistic for an anime show. You watch an episode and get the urge to go buy yourself some Gin&Tonic. I mean just look at those bottles! They are so amazingly drawn! The sound of liquor pouring in the glass, the ice melting in the glass, the soft music playing in the bar, the low lightning, the mesmerizing voice of the barman, YOU JUST WANNA TURN DRUNKARD AT THAT SECOND! Do you know the tag called Gar? (Gay for Archer). Well this show gets the tag Drub (Drunkard for Bartender).
It is THAT successful in terms of atmosphere; it just sucks you in! … Of course chances are you will be bored and ask to pull out after a few episodes because the formula becomes boring but the show is still successful in its initial impressions and overall directing.
So in all, I find this show to be VERY SPECIAL and HIGHLY CAPTIVATING IN THE BEGINNING but also NON-EVOLVING and eventually BORING FOR MOST PEOPLE. If you like it or not, it’s up to you. I warned you about it as best as I could.
*puts eggs in a blender*
Time of Eve
p.s. Can someone tell me what was I doing last night and ended up waking up in a bed shared with a very ugly woman?