by Theron Martin,

Blend S


Blend S Blu-Ray
Maika Sakuranomiya is cute and cheerful but has always had problems making friends because her expression and demeanor inadvertently come across as mean. That also proves to be a barrier to getting a part-time job to finance her deeply-desired overseas studies, but that changes when she encounters Café Stile, a restaurant where the waitresses all play to otaku-favored personality archetypes. Dino, the tall blond Italian manager who's somewhat of a masochist, sees Maika as perfect for the role of a sadistic girl, which she proves exceptionally good at, much to her dismay. With tsundere and varying sister or idol types among the other waitresses, a day at Café Stile is seldom dull.

This fall 2017 comedy is based on a 4-koma manga that originally ran in a seinen magazine, which explains a lot about how the series is structured, more as a collection of loosely-related vignettes than an ongoing story. The only real progression comes from the gradual introduction of two additional wait staff members and a dog to the cast, though the interactions between the characters do deepen some as the episodes pass. In other words, this is a pure slice-of-life comedy colored by light bursts of romance.

As a comedy, the series works relatively well. While its content is rarely laugh-out-loud funny and doesn't approach the level of stronger romcoms like Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, plenty of its scenarios and character interactions can elicit at least a chuckle or two and some of its running jokes – especially the one about how Maika unwittingly comes across as menacing, which the customers just eat up – don't get old. Of course, the humor can be hit-or-miss; while the series isn't likely to offend many viewers, it isn't routinely as funny as it tries to be. However, its failings are rarely for lack of effort, and the series does try to regularly shake up the formula by instituting new themes or occasionally branching out to alternate locations. It stumbles most when trying to play things serious, such as the too-lengthy scene where tsundere waitress Kaho needs tutoring from “little sister” Mafuyu to pass a math retake exam. While that's a decent piece of character relationship-building, its entertainment value is minimal.

Although situations can sometimes carry the comedy, the series primarily relies on its cast for its humor, with some reliable results. Chief in appeal is lead protagonist Maika, a girl enamored with anything foreign but utterly unable to regulate how she comes across to other people. (Her mean face seems to be a product of her making too intense of a friendly face, as when she isn't trying she comes across as sweet and nice.) Dino makes a good foil for her as the handsome otaku goofball who adores Maika but has trouble expressing it in a way that Maika will understand, and the series gets a lot of mileage out of the pair's interplay. By comparison, Kaho takes on the role of the classic tsundere, but she's more of a genki girl by nature, which allows for some amusing irony when the café's chef Koyo falls into tsundere behavior toward her as he becomes more conscious of her common interest in games and alluring figure. The weakest of the initial cast is Mafuyu, the 20-year-old who could pass for an elementary school girl, though that may be due more to my personal irritation with that particular character gimmick. Later additions include stereotypical adult doujinshi artist Miu and flaky Hideri, a playfully energetic soul who fills the role of the secret cross-dresser. Nothing is actually explored with in regards to his gender or sexuality, so he just has to be accepted at face value.

While the series is far from a shining example of aesthetics, the A-1 Pictures production is sufficient to support the material. Male character designs favor a bishonen look (although one vignette about makeup exaggerates this to a comical level), while female character designs are decidedly more tailored to moe tastes and cover a remarkably broad physical gamut for the small cast size. In contrast, background characters are often portrayed in amorphous gray forms, and even customers at the café who have dialog don't commonly get detailed faces. Background art and animation are never lavish but remain sufficient to the task, and though light doses of fanservice are sprinkled throughout, it's mild and limited to the occasional emphasis on Kaho's chest, mostly-tasteful swimsuits, and a few odd lingerie shots when the waitresses are changing into their uniforms. Even the occasional S&M-flavored jokes and more overt sexiness of the “big sister” waitress are relatively tame, so this is not a series primarily selling itself on sex appeal.

The varied musical score for the series is effective at enhancing the comedy but mostly unremarkable. Opener “Bon Appetit” is a lively number that introduces all of the wait staff and their specialties, while the less impressive closer is more notable for the way its visuals update as the cast is gradually expanded. Japanese voice acting plays well to each character's personality, with appropriately varying performances for everyone's alternate personas.

The release by Aniplex of America only includes the Blu-Ray version and does not include an English dub. The only on-disc extras are the web versions of the next episode previews and an assortment of commercials and promo videos. Included in the lightweight cardboard slipcase is a 20-page booklet featuring character profiles, café menu item profiles, and a few pages of art card-style portraits. It's overpriced for what you're getting, but that's Aniplex releases for you.

Overall, Blend S is a lightly entertaining series that's most effective in small doses, such as its original weekly broadcast; it definitely isn't well-suited to marathon viewing, but its general silliness can make for a nice diversion from heavier fare.

Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B

+ Some good running gags and entertaining character interactions
But it's rarely as funny as it tries to be

Director: Ryouji Masuyama
Series Composition: Go Zappa
Yako Morimachi
Go Zappa
Shigeki Kawai
Ayako Kawano
Toshimasa Kuroyanagi
Ryouji Masuyama
Kengo Matsumoto
Masahiro Shinohara
Kazuki Yokoyama
Episode Director:
Ryûta Kawahara
Shigeki Kawai
Toshimasa Kuroyanagi
Takahiko Kyōgoku
Ryouji Masuyama
Kengo Matsumoto
Masahiro Shinohara
Kazuki Yokoyama
Music: Tomoki Kikuya
Original creator: Miyuki Nakayama
Character Design: Yousuke Okuda

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Blend S (TV)

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