What it’s about: Despite his youth, Ryuu Sasakura has gained a reputation as a master bartender among his peers and patrons alike. People seek out his bar in the hopes of receiving the perfect cocktail – a “Glass of the Gods” that not only suits their desires but guides them on the next step of their journey.
Why you should watch it: It’s a laid-back, meditative slice-of-life show. There’s nothing all that flashy about it, but every episode introduces new patrons with new problems and new stories to tell. There’s nothing outlandish or unbelievable about the stories (aside from Ryuu’s Sherlockian ability to read the minutia of behaviour), but they’re all interesting and well put-together. The show is unabashedly Western-focused, with cocktails, stories and trivia drawn from the UK and the U.S.. The show does a good job of introducing and settling each story in its own episode and, as a bonus, each episode ends with a recipe for the featured cocktails, if you want to try them yourself. Bartender isn’t in the running for “greatest show of all time”, but it’s a unique experience and well worth checking out if you want a bit of a breather from heavier or more action-packed series.
Caveats: With no overarching plot, it’s a show that’s best watched an episode at a time. Just sit back with a drink in hand, because you’ll definitely want one by the end of each show.
Themes: Well, on the surface, the show’s message might be read as “alcohol is the solution to every problem” but, really, it’s more about how the great stresses and tortured dilemmas that we all face really aren’t that bad – that all one needs is some distance and time to reflect, and the courage to see what needs to be done. And, of course, a receptive ear as we moan about our lot.
What it’s about: The Hundred Years War is in full swing, and France and England are at each other’s throats. When peasants from a nearby village are levied for the latest battle, the witch Maria steps in, using her magic to bring the fighting to a standstill. But as her use of magic becomes too obvious to ignore, the archangel Michael intervenes, putting a watcher in place to ensure that her sorcery remains secret, under pain of death.
Why you should watch it: Sex jokes and large-scale medieval battles. Junketsu no Maria offers a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the Middle Ages, with some obvious fantastical elements thrown in for good measure. There are no simple villains or heroes to the story – Maria’s interventions in the war are alternately praised by the survivors and cursed for prolonging the conflict and causing greater casualties. I particularly liked the character of the priest Bernard, who is forced to question his faith as the “heathen” witch is saving lives while the Lord’s angels are noticeably silent. The animation is bright, clean, and colourful, and the character designs for the protagonists are great. The plot moves along at a nice clip, and the series manages to wrap up the story completely in 12 episodes (which is a nice bonus in anime).
Caveats: While “Maria the Virgin Witch” sounds a lot like the title of a hentai, and the show does have a certain level of fanservice, there’s nothing distractingly raunchy after the first episode or two. The BD version is likely to provide better battle scenes and tidy up some of the niggling animation issues, so get those for the full experience.
Themes: The morality of interventionism – when should you step in, and when should you just stand aside and let the parties involved settle things for themselves. There’s a humanist/theist argument going on in the background, and a few nods to the conflict between living in the past and for the future. In all, it’s a show about striking a balance between competing priorities.
Similar works: Where Junketsu no Maria is about someone trying to stop war at the ground level, Maoyuu Maou Yuusha follows someone trying to stop war through more abstract means, mostly economic and political.
What it’s about: The Umanohone is one of the many bookstores in Japan selling manga, light novels, and doujins (even the dirty ones). More importantly, it’s home to a wide range of characters with their own particular appreciation for the industry, from an aspiring manga writer to a girl obsessed with zombie-media.
Why you should watch it: Denki-gai is a slice-of-life comedy show focusing on relationship humour and raunchy jokes at the expense of the more easily-embarrassed members of the cast. It’s pretty trope-heavy and shamelessly pokes fun at the manga/anime industry and its otaku fanbase, but never gets mean about it. There’s also a surprising amount of time set aside for romantic developments between the characters. In all, it’s a light, fluffy comedy to relax with between heavier fare.
Caveats: The brand of comedy is made pretty clear in the first episode and doesn’t move away from that. So you can pretty safely decide whether to continue just based on that.