Ryuu Sasakura is a bartender who serves people various cocktails. He's so good at it, he has the nickname "Glass of the Gods" attached to him. Join Ryuu in his bar at Eden Hall in Ginza, Japan as he talks to (and comforts) various customers with drinks.
"To alcohol! The cause of - and solution to - all of life's problems!"
- Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
This is more accurate of a statement to describe Bartender than you might think.
In the 13 years I've been watching anime, I've seen many ideas and concepts for series. Fighting robots, monsters kept in little balls, outer-space harems, Technicolor dating sim girls doting over a single, glasses-wearing male, outer space soap operas, pessimistic teachers chatting about Japanese society, a 10 year old teacher in a girls' only school who's secretly a magician. But there was one series that caught my eye a few years back that I never bothered to check out until now - Bartender.
Bartender is one of the most self-descrpt anime titles you'll ever find. It is about, well, a bartender. Ryuu Sasakura, to be more exact. Voiced by Takahiro Mizushima (Nagasaumi, Seto no Hanayome), he's the bartender of a little bar who helps other people through serving them alcoholic beverages. Yes, this is seriously the plot of most of the episodes.
This isn't to say this is a stupid series, though. Quite far from it. If you keep an open mind about a bartender who can solve all of his customers' problems by talking to them and serving them cocktails, you'll learn more facts about bartenders and alcohol than you ever thought you would from anime. For example, did you know that the Margarita was named after a man's Mexican girlfriend who died 23 years before he made the drink in the 1940's? Or that there's a drink called Black Velvet, combining both dark beer and champagne?
Ryuu himself is the most observant bartender ever. He can tell a person's emotion from their hands, can taste two different drinks mixed together, can tell whether or not a person is lying, and can even make out the names of drinks from just from descriptions of a bottle's texture. And except for a flashback episode about Ryuu's early apprentice days at the bar, the series treats him with a great air of pretentiousness. There's being observant, and then there's being a mind-reader. It's a good thing Ryuu is only serving drinks; imagine what would happen if he used his uncanny ability to tell a person's emotions/thoughts in a more dangerous field!
The only recurring character in the series is a 24 year-old office lady, Miwa Kurushima, voiced by Ayumi Fujimura (Karada, Asatte no Houkou). Although she's seen as one of Ryuu's customers of the day in episode 2, more often than not she serves as one of the narrators of the series, mainly to bring up the history of certain drinks and events that led up to the creation of said drinks.
The plots are pretty straightforward and are mainly episodic. Ryuu meets a customer, they talk, and he serves them a drink, making them feel better in the process. To its credit, Bartender tries every way possible to spice up this scenario. The customers vary greatly, from a con man swindling a single mother by pretending to love her, a young couple's inability to settle on a single drink in a bar, and a scriptwriter and a director who's annoyed with his inability to finish the script because he doesn't have the "inspiration" needed to finish it. One episode about a spineless man who reluctantly transfers from his current job under pressure from his boss even makes numerous references to Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea". In episode 7 Ryuu gets sick, and in episode 9 we even see him making a few mistakes on his first day as a bartender, and find out the reason why his bar is closed the day of his first customer each year. It ranks as one of the best episodes of the series, and the reason for his error is quite clever and not fully revealed until the end of the episode.
Unfortunately, despite all its attempts, Bartender is still, at its heart, a show about a bartender who can solve peoples' problems with drinks. The alcohol trivia is kind of nice, but way too heavy-handed at times, and even goes so far out as to actually use brand names for various products. Each episode has a cold opening describing various things certain drinks can do, and each one ends with instructions on how to make one drink predominately featured in that episode. Even the opening and ending themes of the series talk about drinking!
In much the same way Yakitate!! Japan's talk of bread will make one hungry, Bartender will leave your throat dry from watching it. I know that sounds weird that an animated series could leave one's mouth feeling dry, but it definitely did for me, especially when viewing several episode back to back.
Art-wise, the grand majority of the series takes place in Ryuu's bar, and rarely do you see his bottom half. The animation isn't all that stellar, but considering the subject manner of this series, it doesn't really need a high frame rate to get its stories across. Many of the drinks are, oddly enough, done in CG, and many of them look quite good. In fact, the pouring, mixing, and stirring of the drinks have the best animation in the series! The character designs are fairly generic aside from Ryuu, and the mute colors work well for a series that takes place in a bar.
The music is predominately done with pianos and occasional hints of jazz music, including the opening/ending themes. While it fits the atmosphere of the show, it does get a little repetitive to listen to over the span of 11 episodes, especially if you watch several episodes at a time.
And that concludes my review of Bartender. It's a slice-of-life drama about a bartender and his customers, and if that sounds like an interesting anime to you, then I recommend you check it out. There's practically no fan service, underage characters, sex, gun violence, innuendo, or smoking - it's basically a series about a man serving cocktails to unhappy people. To quote Ryuu himself: "We hope customers leave a little happier than they come in." If you're looking for a different kind of seinen drama series, then you might want to pull up a chair and sit down with Bartender.
An interesting concept for an anime that probably would've been better off as an OAV than a TV series. Add a star or two if you like history to go with your alcoholic beverages. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Lots of drinking involved. The way the series glorifies drinking makes this show not for little kids, especially when they tell you how to make certain drinks! Other than that, not much in the way of objectionable content.
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-licensed digital source
Review Status: Full (11/11)
Bartender © 2006 Kenji Nagamoto / Araki Joh / Shueisha / Bartender Production Committee
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