My taste in anime is wide-ranging but until Bartender I had yet to watch one based on food/drink.
What I know of them is that they tend to work on the basis that all problems can be solved by getting advice and learning through the creation of food. The closest I have ever got is the Yakitate!! Ja-PAN Manga which was very funny. Bartender isn’t funny yet it is humane and even glamorous.
Based on a manga written by Araki Joh and illustrated by Kenji Nagatomo, this 11 episode series was broadcast on Fuji TV in 2006 (it also recently had a live action television adaptation in February of this year) and I can see why it is popular as drunken salary-men stagger home, switch on the television and see an anime that might reflect their lives better than Milky Holmes.
The story focuses on Ryū Sasakura, a young bartender at a small Ginza establishment named Eden Hall. The place is like a magical hide-away from the world where various characters with troubles enter the bar and find that through Ryū’s bartending skills of mixing drinks, listening to customers and giving advice, they can overcome their problems.
Advice at the bottom of a beer mug – how are we going to work alcohol into the narrative? Customer of the week, that’s how.
I didn’t expect to hang in there with the anime because I’m not particularly fond of alcohol and the anime sounded like it could be tedious – the show venerates alcohol, using a conventional yet detailed visual style for the characters but blowing its visual budget on the drinks behind the bar and CGI sequences of Ryū Sasakura’s alcohol making skills. It even throws in recipes and history for the drink of the episode.
I actually enjoyed the attention to detail however what I really liked was the fact the show is cultured. Not only does it reflect the changing nature of Japanese culture but it shows the interior lives of Japanese through the interesting characters.
One of the themes of the show is the increasing westernisation of Japan – a lot of the characters are older men who have grown up during the peak of rapid growth where Japan rebuilt and modernised itself after World War II and so their experiences take in the turbulent changes.
The second episode shows a family melodrama where a young woman wants to solve a rift between her father and grandfather who fought over whether to modernise a family0-run ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, to keep up with the influx of new hotels. The father remains a stubborn traditionalist whilst the son recognises Japan is changing.
What does the bartender have to do with this? The son wanted to mend the relationship with the father by giving him a special kind of whisky that symbolises his feelings only for the daughter to drop the bottle. The daughter is searching for the drink and only Ryū Sasakura’s bar-tending skills can save the day.
The beverage in question is Kakubin – Japanese whisky – taking a western drink and making it Japanese, neatly symbolising the son’s feeling about hotels: we need to adapt the old and make it new. It sounds silly but the execution was humane.
The third episode features a man who regrets never acting with an old love in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House – Ibsen in anime?!?!? – and confronts his own cowardice and regrets after Ryū tells him the story of the creation of the Margarita. What emerges is a love-story and an examination of duty, guilt and regret as well as the clash between dreams and reality.
Okay, I’m probably reading too much into it but it is refreshing to watch an anime that is down to earth and doesn’t feature school-kids. What I love even more is the jazz score running through the anime. I love the opening theme as well.