The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Blend S ?
What is this?
Maika Sakuranomiya is a regular high school student who dreams of studying abroad, though she has one problem. Despite being a naturally sweet and friendly girl, she tends to look scary and imposing whenever she smiles. Having failed to find a job anywhere else, Maika eventually finds work at Café Stile, where the employees all play specific character types when they interact with the customers, such as the playful little sister or the tsundere. Despite her misgivings, our heroine must adopt the dominant and aggressive role of a sadist. Together with the rest of Café Stile's wacky crew, Maika will work to make new friends and fulfill her dream! BLEND-S is based on a 4-koma comic strip and streams on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 1:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
BLEND-S introduces us to Maika Sakuranomiya, who dreams of eventually studying overseas, and wants to save up the money to do so by working a part-time job. Unfortunately, her naturally sadistic-looking smile keeps her from being hired, until she just so happens to find a character cafe looking for its “sadistic character” server. So that's pretty convenient.
Genre-wise, BLEND-S is mostly a gag comedy with a side helping of slice-of-life, a dash of romance, and a side of consistent horniness. As far as success in those goals goes, I'd give this episode two for four. It's certainly pretty horny, and the slice of life stuff is comfy enough, but almost none of the jokes worked for me, and the romance isn't even worth mentioning.
Honing in on the comedy, BLEND-S leans heavily on silly faces, misunderstandings, and that eternal “now let us have another character explain the joke” style. Much of this episode was dedicated to tiny skits predicated on jokes too mild or half-formed to feel impactful, and there was far too little wit on the whole. Perhaps the only joke I unambiguously liked was “Maika's incompetence as a waitress actually enables her sadistic character”—it's not the height of comedy, but it's a genuinely snappy beat that works well with her existing character. Aside from that, my biggest smiles mostly came from the show's charming superdeformed interludes.
Outside of the comedy, BLEND-S's writing is mostly just nondescript, though I did enjoy the low-key outing shared by three of the shop's employees near the end. The show's aesthetic execution is fortunately much better—there's plenty of playful animation used to emphasize the show's sillier moments, the character designs are all pretty strong, and the show's overall art design is inviting. Still, a comedy that isn't funny doesn't have much appeal for me. BLEND-S gets a pass.
Based on my experience at an actual Japanese maid café, I can absolutely imagine that one really exists somewhere where the waiters and waitresses all play fetish-based personality types to cater to their clientele. So there's nothing all that unrealistic about the basic scenario here.
But realism doesn't really matter with a series like this, does it? No, this looks like a pure moe comedy, without much to the story beyond Maika seeking to earn money to study abroad. All the rest is just typical anime comedy silliness, in a vein that reminded me quite a bit of Ouran High School Host Club, which is a good comparison to have on your side. I found the execution of many pratfalls and silly behavior to be laugh-out-loud funny, even the parts where the manager is being beaten down for his over-the-top behavior. Despite doing nothing all that extraordinary, BLEND-S had more effective moments of humor than any other series I've yet seen this season. Given that only three waitresses have been introduced so far, there's a lot more room for new characters and their antics to be added, and I get the impression that Maika's sister may also eventually play into the humor at some point.
The technical merits of the series are not anything special, with generic character designs of both sexes. Even so, they're at least starkly different in appearance from each other. SD art is used significantly but effectively. Overall, this is not quite as sharp a comic effort as last season's Gamers!, and it definitely lacks that series' keen insight about its subject matter. However, it still looks like it should be a fun diversion to add to the weekly viewing schedule.
I'm kind of torn on this one. On the one hand, there's some decent humor to be found in people having to act contrary to their normal behavior, and Kaho desperately trying not to break character and discuss video games with a couple of customers is both funny and relatable in terms of hearing strangers have a conversation you're just dying to get in on. On the other hand, primary heroine Maika is so clearly uncomfortable with her sadist role that I feel bad about finding other parts of the show funny, alongside wanting to sit her down for a good long talk about scholarships and other alternative ways to pay for a semester abroad.
I gather that we're supposed to find the opposition of personality to role amusing. It's when the characters aren't uncomfortable with it that bothers me – Kaho doesn't seem to mind playing the tsundere and while being the cute little sister is the polar opposite of Mafuyu's real self, she doesn't seem to hate it. In fact, her putting on her “work face” is another good familiar moment – even if you aren't totally shifting your character when you go to work, there's a good chance that there will be something different about the way you act; Mafuyu's just exaggerated the point. The problem is just that Maika is so uncomfortable with her act that she's shaking the whole time and feels like she has to apologize after the customers have left, and given what we've seen of her home life, she's clearly been brought up that way, so it's both her personality and her upbringing making her uncomfortable.
I do find the two guys a bit funnier, especially since neither of them appear to be putting on an act. Dino is apparently just that weird, and Koyo's presumably cranky from having to deal with him. I'm not sure why Dino couldn't just find actual waitresses with the personalities he's looking for rather than forcing roles on the girls he hires, but I'm going to guess that the answer is “comedy.” It does work well enough to carry the show, although I found it more fun when everyone was actually being themselves, like when Maika tried to kiss Dino on the cheek in greeting and he flipped out.
According to the opening theme, there's at least one more waitress to be introduced, so we'll see if she falls into the Maika or the Mafuyu camp in terms of her comfort level with what's going on. If Maika comes to enjoy her role, that could make a big difference in the story. If both she and the new character are that uncomfortable throughout, however, it stands to undermine the humor and take the series just one step too far.
Comedies based off high-concept gag comics can be a hit-or-miss proposition, but BLEND-S makes a satisfying first impression in this premiere episode. I've always been kind of picky when it comes to these slice-of-life shows, but BLEND-S impressed me overall with a strong first outing, even if the show doesn't seem terribly ambitious in its goals. Maika's adventures working for Café Stile are breezy, lighthearted, and charming; the show even managed to get me to laugh out loud a few times. It's fueled by equal parts overwhelming adorableness and a brazenly goofy sense of humor, and it will likely satisfy anyone looking for a cute hangout comedy.
The show's success can be attributed to its strong cast and laid-back tone. The premise of the show is simple, but fairly effective: Maika, along with the other girls in the café, are forced to adopt personas that are in stark contrast with their actual personalities, and low-stakes hijinks ensue. Maika will spit out venomous insults to her customers, only to apologize profusely behind their backs when they leave. Kaho is a nerdy and bubbly video-game fanatic, but she has to act like a disinterested tsundere, even if the folks at her table are discussing one of her all-time favorite games. Mafuyu looks and acts like the archetypal anime little sister, but in reality she's a cold and disinterested college student. Mafuyu is the last of the core cast we meet this week, and I was initially put off by her presence; the show was already dipping into more fanservice than necessary, so the alarm bells started going off in my head the minute BLEND-S introduced its “grown-woman-with-the-body-of-an-eight-year-old” character. Thankfully, outside of some unnecessary dallying in the girls’ changing room and a couple off-handed boob jokes, BLEND- S refrains from being too skeevy.
Generally speaking, the cast's interactions remain in the realm of good-natured silly humor, which made the show work for me. The three main girls all have an easy chemistry, and their eccentric Italian boss Dino is just silly enough as a collection of foreign stereotypes and random buffoonery to win me over. The bit with using his nosebleeds to write messages of congratulations on the floor was incredibly stupid, one of the funniest gags I've seen all week. Plus, I would be lying if I said I didn't find the friendly and familial dynamic of the café crew to be incredibly endearing. This is another show that hits the mark by making sure not to aim too high. The world needs lackadaisical comedies about cute characters being friends, and that's exactly what BLEND-S provides.
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