Episodes 1 - 3
by Lauren Orsini,
“Contributing to society is fun!” That there's a rewarding joy that comes from working minimum wage has been a subtle message to otaku apparent in many recent anime hits like Wagnaria!! and The Devil Is A Part-Timer.
Denki-gai no Honya-san puts a tantalizing fandom twist on this message, telling the story of the Umanohone (literally: “Horse Bone”) bookstore in the electronics district. Here, employees stock the shelves with hit manga and games with jokey names like “My 70-Year-Old Sister” and long-awaited Christmas special “Die Heart 2.”
There's no doubt that even the casual fan will get some of the anime references. This Gundam fan loved hearing about the red band-aid that heals “three times faster.” And it's hard to imagine a manga about working minimum wage isn't self aware of its message when it features the fictional “The Devil Is An Idol” manga as its episode one ending eyecatch.
Based on the eponymous slice-of-life manga, Denki-gai splits its episodes into two or more smaller parts, mirroring the way the manga told its stories. As a result, pacing is quick and the small dramas that make up the character's daily lives are resolved in a few minutes. From fending off invading customers on launch days to shipping a manga by deadline to holding parties at the bookstore on their days off, the characters while away the episodes through jokes, innuendo, and slapstick incompetence.
The focus is usually on an employee named Hio, who is a manga fan but perhaps not as well versed as her coworkers in the seedier side of the bookstore's wares. In many ways, Hio is the boke of the show, the butt of the joke, constantly trying to pull one over on everyone else, but ends up victimized by her own embarrassment. (In one of many examples, she tries to abash her coworker Umi into admitting his love of erotic comics. When he wholeheartedly admits it, she flushes anew at his frankness.)
At its heart, Denki-gai is a moe show, with four very young-looking heroines, who are actually in their late teens and early twenties. Their charms are crystallized—some might say exploited—by the show's tendency of taking every opportunity to make them squirm.
Hio-tan is embarrassed by her coworkers' frank sexuality. Sensei is shy about showing off her body in costumes. Kameko doesn't want to take off her hat or be in the pictures she loves to take. Fu-Girl is afraid of crowds and wields her trusty bat to fight them off. Three episodes in, we already know how to push every girl's buttons, because these situations keep popping up.
It's moe by helplessness at its most textbook, which might make some viewers uncomfortable. However, I believe the show does a good job of giving the girls their own agency, in which these situations are often self-provoked and usually self-resolved. For example, when Sensei doesn't want to put on a party dress for Christmas, she is goaded into it and winds up loving every moment of the attention her coworkers bestow on her. Still, this isn't always the case. One instance in which the character's agency is a little more questionable: when Hio is compelled to enter a ball-rolling contest while the announcer makes dirty jokes, and crumples into a heap of embarrassment before she can finish.
Here's something you don't see often in moe shows—men with flaws and personalities. Usually in a harem, the few male characters are generic. We don't know their hobbies or their interests beyond a slight caricature, because they're designed to be an avatar for the viewer. Denki-gai, however, gives its male characters as much personality as its women. We have a tone deaf and slightly sadistic boss, a savant manga recommender, and an otaku excessively versed in the lore of his “girlfriends,” aka bishoujo figures and game heroines.
All these personalities work together to make an entertaining chemistry. It's the group episodes that are the strongest, but we can already see couples pairing off. Unlike in most moe shows, the men have the advantage of having distinct personalities that help to justify what each couple sees in one another. Each episode has given at least an arc to one of the developing couples. In episode one we saw the first stirrings of Umi's feelings for Sensei while the latter had a tantrum on the floor, fed up with her manga deadline. Episode two explored the admittedly creepy possibility of Fu-girl, who is mistaken for an elementary schooler, and Sommelier-san, a strong, silent, and grown adult man. But my favorite relationship takes the stage in episode three, where hapless Hio and the Director affectionately tease and torture one another all day. As each episode strengthens characters' bonds with each other, the show becomes more relatable little by little.
As episode three wraps up, we've concluded the Christmas and New Year's special (in October?) and are moving on to Valentine's Day chocolates for next time. I'm expecting the rest of the show to be a little bit like chocolate: sweetly enjoyable and perhaps a bit cavity-inducing, but nothing to make a meal out of.
Denkigai no Honya-san is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lauren writes about anime and journalism at Otaku Journalist.
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