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.