Bartender is an anime series that takes an acquired taste to appreciate: its progressively engaging slice of life premise is unlike most anime series that are either exuberant in tone or use emphasized elements to tell their respective stories. Instead, Bartender takes its time to immerse you in an environment that's enticing and seductive in its own undertones. Like Antique Bakery for pastries, or Yakitate Japan for bread, Bartender immerses you in the world of alcoholic beverages with a mature flair. Only...it doesn't quite invest in the same humor or flares that define the series aforementioned.
I might be among the right audience for this series, in that I enjoy progressively paced slice of life series that indulge in a central theme, and don't mind if it has an episodic progression if the themes in each are tangible and relate well to each other. While I've never consumed an alcoholic beverage, I felt enticed by my watch of Bartender, in that it features a rather soothing environment and intuitive approach to the occupation with a charismatic bartender and a multitude of characters who wish to escape their dilemmas, shown in each of the 11 episodes this series highlights. The idea that a choice of a drink can characterize a person completely reeled me into the respective story and up to its rather noted conclusion, though if one is expecting something to culminate into a conflict or central resolution, you are definitely NOT the audience for this series to be able to appreciate it.
The problem also lies in that it is a series that you really have to be in the right mindset to watch it, otherwise, its affect is lost and those who are looking to be easily entertained or engrossed may find it quite dull. I personally thought it was one the best character expansive/philosophical series I've come across in a long time, and literally most series don't give the kind of depth and intricate expansion that this series does, with a soothing flair and at ease progression that takes its time accordingly.
Very high quality character designs and coloring, as well as depth to the environments that are just as soothing as the tone the series sets. The light/dark contrasts are easy on the eyes and the designs remind me of series like "Monster", "Master Keaton," and "Human Crossing" for fair comparison, if a bit more rich in quality. (Yet I should note the only one this series remotely resembles in tone and progression is "Human Crossing.")
Settings are quite realistic in design and intricate details, even from the sculpture that's showcased in one of the early episodes. I was impressed even with the level of detail in the wine bottles and the cocktail glasses.
Beautiful soundtrack overall, I'd honestly put it among my favorite anime soundtracks for its calm, jazzy quality. The opening theme is an enticing number called "Hajimari no Hito" by a prominent jazz group called Natural High. The showcasing of the various characters in the dynamic opening sequence invites you in its mature, moderate tempo song. The ending theme "Bartender" is just as elegant, and the BGM provides a nice accent to the environments and situations in which the characters are showcased.
Voice acting is appropriate though it isn't so much a factor that improves the series. Rather, it complements the characters and situations in its own right.
There are an array of characters that are showcased throughout Bartender in the episodic array of episodes, each dealt with an intricate manner of how their back story, personality, or respective situation matches the respective beverage of choice. The series treats its characters intricately, but doesn't really develop them over a progressive time where you come into resonation with them individually. Rather, you learn to appreciate who they are in an aesthetic, philosophical notation. Don't come into this series expecting characters to jump out at you, because while its characters drive it, it's done so in a way that's different from most anime series. I'll compare it to Human Crossing again: a series of stories in one-shot context that revolve within a central theme. If you can keep that notation in your mind as you watch, or you like series that are in that vein, you'll find yourself enjoying it for what it offers.
Yet, in the midst of it all, I was impressed with the character Ryu Sasakura, who acts as your "friendly neighborhood Bartender" with an eye that can see the core of his customer base. He has an awareness of who they are, their personality and what to match along with it, and he does so with a kindness and ease that's both attractive yet subtle.
It pains me a bit to not rank this higher than its respective measure, because I truly loved the series for what it had to offer, but this is one that I wouldn't recommend every anime viewer to watch, only those who can truly appreciate the elements it brings to the table. It's a beautiful series, soothing to the senses, and provides an educational look at the occupation, but I would say if you love series with progressive pacing and a different flair than most anime series, then this is one to watch. Likely, if you've ever seen the series Human Crossing and loved it, then you'll definitely like this.
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?
A friend and I decided that we wanted to watch an anime together and, due to the great reviews we had seen for this, we decided to give it a go. I was completely let down and I genuinely expected more from this anime than a bunch of heavy handed metaphors that were the base for each episode.
Story: The concept the story started with was pretty fun. At its core, this show is about the numerous people that come into a bar, Eden Hall, and leave with a lesson well learned from the Bartender who works there. The creators didn't have to push the concept as hard as they did. I felt like the irony of the situation and the terrible metaphors were being shoved down my throat. Around the third episode of the show my friend and I decided we needed to start doing whipped cream shots every time we heard a terrible metaphor. That was a lot of whipped cream. I am going to give some examples. In episode two Sasakura, the bartender, asks the woman who walks in if he can get her a menu. She replies that he can help her find "A menu of the heart." My friend and I had to rewind this part because we could not believe she had just said that. In episode 6 the phrase "flames of passion" was being thrown around like it was the most natural line of dialogue in the world. It was incredibly halting for the story line since we kept missing things due to our laughter and having to rewind it. The dialogue was this horrible throughout the whole anime. It didn't feel natural, like average people talking about their problems to a bartender. It felt like the creators beating a terrible metaphor to death throughout the course of an episode. Ultimately, the fact that I could feel the creator’s presence behind this whole anime was incredibly irritating to me as the whole show felt like their extensive monologue. One major plus I will give this anime is the history behind the alcohol. That was genuinely interesting and incredibly entertaining. Every drink that went along with an extended metaphor would get a historical explanation. I genuinely found that to be the most interesting part of the show. I probably would watch a show on the history of alcohol so I thought that part was excellent. Furthermore, I really enjoyed how the ending credits were individualized to show the episodes main drink being prepared by a live bartender. That was probably the best part of the show in my opinion.
Animation: I feel like I need to split the animation into two categories. Firstly, to get the negatives out of the way, the character animation was incredibly poor. Their movements were very choppy and somehow seemed to defy the laws of physics. For instance, in a shot that is used repeatedly in multiple episodes, Sasakura is shaking one of the numerous drinks. His forearms and bangs are the only things that seem to move but the fashion in which they do is so improbable. They treat the shaker as if it is creating such a vacuum of wind that his bangs would move along with it and not as if the force against his body of the shaking would cause his bangs to move in the opposite direction. Little matters like that piled up so all of the characters actions just felt bizarre. Furthermore, for an anime that bases so much on emotions, the expressions were far too stiff looking and didn't even seem to fit the scene. Moving on to the positives, the background animation was stunning. Any time I would see the row of bottles on the shelves I couldn't help but admire the amazing job that the animators did with making each and every individual bottle look real. The same goes for pouring the drinks. The animation of the liquid was smooth and flawless and it was obvious that the creators had done a lot of observation on how liquid would pour. In the end, the pairing of the prop and background art with that of the people was bizarre and felt like it didn't mesh. I only wish that the people had been animated better so I could give this a higher score.
Sound: The music was actually pretty good. I loved the opening and ending themes. They were catchy but also caught the laid back nature of the show. The music in the anime scenes itself was alright but I will admit that I didn't notice it much. I would say that the music was well done but nothing I would rave about.
Characters: Don't get me started. Sasakura could have been such an interesting character if he had been developed more. I don't think that he needed more of a backstory than we got but I felt like his personality should have been developed more in the moment. His attitude seemed to stay on one level throughout the entire show. He almost didn't feel human. It got to the point when my friend and I thought he was an alien who had come to earth to learn the ways of humans. The rest of the characters were just as two dimensional. The creators obviously developed one level of "deepness" for every character in order to give all of them a problem that the Bartender needed to help them solve. There weren't any characters in this show that I would believe for a moment.
I wouldn't recommend this anime to anyone. There were good aspects to it but I didn't feel that the good parts outweighed the bad. Unfortunately, Bartender was a letdown.
People relieve their burdens in different ways. Some choose to eat them away, work out till their muscles burn hot enough to sear through clothes, laugh it off, pass it on or just simply forget about it. Some might opt to drink their problems into submission, letting their nerves numb with alcohol working like an anaesthetic for a nasty wound nobody wants to think about.
Sasakura Ryuu wants people to treat alcohol differently. His philosophy is that a good drink should not cause someone to forget, but make them remember. Remind them of a past that made them happy or of a future that will bring something better.
With lots of sophistication and genteel manners, Bartender takes the therapist's couch and replaces it with a barstool. This episodic anime follows various people who wander into Ryuu's very cosy, almost hidden pub, "Eden Hall". And this place is an Eden for the lost, weary, confused, troubled and broken-hearted souls who need the warmth of good conversation and of course, a good drink. Ryuu might just be the world's greatest bartender. He knows that a bartender ought to speak only when necessary and the point of his job simply isn't to hand over drinks. This anime treats bartending as an art. It's about studying people, hearing them, and most of all, knowing exactly what they need. It's more than just simple service. It's about human relations.
This series will undoubtedly tickle the fancy of any connoisseur of cocktails, fine wines, strong whiskeys and other alcohol-based assortments. It's no show about guzzling beer or drinking things like Slippery Nipples, B52s, Blow Jobs, Sex on the Beaches, Sake Bombs or Mai Tais. There is a certain richness about this show which starts not only with the atmosphere but continues with its choices in quality alcohol for the more experienced palate.
As for the atmosphere, the best thing about Bartender's artwork is the cosiness it creates with its tones. The inside of Eden Hall is the story's primary setting; the pub is a warm, wooden, traditional European establishment that does not have the flashing lights and pictures of half-naked women or big screen TVs with the latest football match on that grace the walls of other bars. It keeps the decoration to a minimum, contextualising this area as a place for people to bring themselves in and fill with their own personality rather than have the décor impose on them. The drinks as well are beautifully rendered and in some ways, they might be treated more like the stars of this anime rather than the characters whose designs tend to be rather unimpressive at points. When still, this series is beautiful, but the animation of characters' movements (or lack thereof) tend to reveal its weaknesses. Considering that most of the visuals are dedicated to people sitting on stools and talking, moments of greater action tend to suffer.
Music-wise, Bartender has a relaxing and soothing score and it is entirely appropriate for communicating the mood and atmosphere. The light piano in the background might just lull anyone into a relaxed state where they might just want to tuck in a brandy to warm their bones. The theme songs are more mature songs and there is a noticeable lack of frantic rhythms in the score-- this isn't a series about that, after all. It's about being at peace. The voice cast consists of mostly older performers which is a refreshing change from the high-pitches squeaky or loud, brash voices one normally hears in anime. The narrator of the series especially has a very deep, calming voice, setting up each episode with a sense of tranquillity. The downside to all of this just might be a viewer actually wanting to fall asleep. The fact that the score does so much to lower the guard of the listener also contributes to losing their attention in the process.
Bartender's cast has a considerable number of characters though not enough to overwhelm or be entirely forgettable. There are very few recurring characters since every episode focusses on the issues of whoever decides to sit for drink in Eden Hall at that particular moment. Some characters are more interesting than others and others have better stories to tell than other customers. The main attraction of the series if of course Ryuu who might just be more elusive and mysterious than anyone who sits on a barstool. While they spend the episode pouring out their life troubles to him, he stands there pouring out their drinks. He is a wealth of knowledge about alcohol and at more than one point, you might find yourself wishing bartenders like him existed so you'll get your destined drink.
Generally, Bartender is quite the unusual experience. It's quite different from other anime given that it is centred around alcohol and its consumption. If anything, it gives you rather interesting, non-boring histories about rum, whiskey, beer, wine and other drinks. Never has a history lesson been so absorbing or alcoholic. The series may not have widespread appeal since it caters mostly to an older audience in terms of pace and presentation, however, the content is nothing shocking or destructive that anyone of any age can enjoy it. The slowness and mellowness might turn a lot of viewers off, not to mention the lack of any real action or events might bore some people. But for any viewer interested in a series to really, really relax to, this title just might be it.
So get your favourite glass, pour yourself a tall one, and sit back and let the warmness of a good drink and a nice anime spread all over you.
Opening Remarks - Never before have I ever encountered an anime, any anime, for which I feel so aggrieved. No doubt this is one of the most underrated productions in the last decade, and its three tags aren't helping matters. Yes it is slow-paced, yes it is episodic, yes it is slice-of-life, but take from me, someone who usually wouldn't go near something with three of my four top hated tags (yaoi takes first place); you will not regret watching this.
Story - OK this doesn't exactly have one which ties the whole series together. It is purely episodic after all. But each individual story is well told without being too fantastic. Precisely the sort of little everyday troubles which can get a person so very down and depressed and in the slumps, and in search of a drink. Not so light that you can just shrug it off, not so heavy that you just collapse.
I'm no bar regular, and the number of times I've placed an order at one I can count with one hand. But if this series doesn't make you want to actually leave the house and head out to one immediately, then nothing ever will. The stories are themselves very grounded and believable, as well as easy to relate to. With the dashes of history for the alcoholic beverages featured every episode, it makes for a compelling tale with just enough content to keep the watcher engaged without overworking the mind.
Now, for the more anal audiences, I'll admit that there's a glaring plot hole or two here and there, but it's nothing which hampers enjoyment, really. Besides, you might want to sedate some parts of your mind while watching this: the philosophical/rational faculty, as well as the MOAR-ADRENALINE faculty. Bartender is all pure empathy. There is no need to think. Only feel, feel in that way that's well, kind of masculine (if it makes any sense to you). If TTGL brought out the manliness of masculinity, then Bartender has brought out its sensitive, emphatic side (yes, apparently such a facet does exist).
The pacing is excellent as well. The details and elements flow smoothly, the audience is not subjected to boredom by over-long narration or dialogue, and at the same time there is the feel of the slow leisurely melancholic mood one would expect from a true bar.
I'll say this though: Bartender is not for everyone, and you really have to be in the right mood to enjoy it properly. There's no action, no humour and nothing beyond a very slight shake of romance. I suggest that if the first episode doesn't just pull you in right away, then take it slow, watch maybe just one episode a day to savour the taste.
Animation - 2006 seems to have been a time for fantastic background art. If you've seen The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (and I wonder what rock you live under if you haven't), you'll know how the classrooms and desks and walls and streets and chairs are so intricately drawn they look like you you can just reach out and touch them.
Well, the bar in Bartender is something like that, but even more detailed. The amount of attention paid to recreating the bartop (for there is no doubt in my mind the bar must have been closely based off a RL namesake), as well as the bottles of the back bar just blew me away. Every bottle, every glass looks wonderfully authentic, and given the sheer number of spirits they go through, sometimes in a single episode, it's amazing how much painstaking effort the studio must have had to put in.
I do have one complaint though, that the colouring of the cocktails are mildly disappointing. When it's supposed to be rich, it's rarely rich enough. When it's supposed to be translucent, it's rarely translucent enough.
The art for the characters populating the series makes them look like they were cut from paper. Normally that would be off-putting, especially since paper-cut figures tend to look best when in stills and not when animated. As it turned out however, it had a splendid effect; the paper-cut figures served to accentuate the solidity of the bar. One got the feeling that the customers, their troubles and even the bartender himself were transient, ready to be blown away by the wind at any time. But the bar, the bar will remain. Besides, hardly any action occurs at all throughout the anime, and it's not uncommon for an episode to feature fully half its footage devoted to the bartender standing at attention with only his lips moving. That displays such paper-cut art (as I call it, no idea what's the proper term) at its best: still.
Also, although it's strictly not animation, the decision to use live-action for the ED was sound. And yes, there's some use of CG but hey if it's brilliantly executed (it is) why complain?
Sound - If you ever get a chance to get your hands on the lossless FLAC OST, grab it. Aside from the OP and ED, it is currently dominating the playlist I use when I'm in a contemplative mood (reading, writing, reflecting etc).
I don't think much of the OP and ED though. The OP is a bit too hippy to sit well with the rest of the production (although it's a decent track in its own right). And the ED, while not bad by itself, doesn't sit well with me. Perhaps it's the norm in Japan, but I wouldn't think of having such a voice paired with any bar I might frequent.
The voice acting is adequate and satisfactory without being particularly commendable. If anything, the bartender sounds rather too youthful and eager to please to match the solid sophistication of his own bar. The unnamed narrator however, was definitely well-cast. A deep, mellow, affable voice which just oozes quiet class and dignity.
Characters - Transient, with very little known about any of them. In fact, by the end of the series, I realised I still knew next to nothing about the bartender himself. And in fact, sometimes I don't even know the names of the episodic cast members.
But it doesn't matter. The anime succeeds in 25 minutes where so many have failed in 25 episodes: create characters we can actually care about. Doesn't take 25 minutes either. By the time of the first cocktail I'm usually already in sympathy with whichever poor sod is occupying the bar that night. Sure sometimes their concerns are shallow, sure not all are likeable. But their behaviour is so human, and their concerns are so human.
In fact, the characters are what made the bar seem real. They were common folks, dressed in simple working-class attire and with simple mannerisms. All masks stripped bare, if not voluntarily, then by the bartender's masterful eye. None of that high-brow posing, even at a bar with as much class as this one.
I wouldn't go as far as to say it is easy to relate to them. But I'll say this: the series places the audience at the bar itself. Now the customer is speaking, and the audience is behind the bar with the bartender, not necessarily understanding with the trials the customer is going through, but seeking to emphatise. Now the bartender is mixing his drink, and the audience is in front of the bar next to the customer, watching with curiosity and wonder and anticipation. Like I said, Bartender is pure empathy.
Closing Remarks - I urge everyone to give this a shot. At the very least you'll learn a good deal about spirits and alcohol (all the better to pick up girls with). Palm Studio no longer seems to be active, given that Bartender seems to have been their swan song production. A huge pity (even if I did drop their Genshiken after the second episode), but fitting in a way. Bartender is like them raising a glass to themselves, a sense of the same melancholic courage found throughout the series.