Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san
Episode 11

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san ?

This week's Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san shakes things up by tossing an extended flight of fancy into the usual retail shenanigans. Aptly titled The Alternate Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san, the episode's first half reimagines the staff managing a town-sized bookstore in a realm inhabited by yokai. (Interestingly, the cast's over-the-top character designs feel more at home in this setting than the usual backdrop.) Although Honda and company experience the same types of stocking issues and customer complaints as their real-world counterparts, there's a supernatural spin on each incident. For example, in response to only being allowed to purchase a single copy of a popular title, a customer turns into a drill-handed demon and tears off one of Armor's arms.

The second half takes us back to the real world, where Honda has just gotten off the phone with an irate customer. Visibly shaken by the experience, he subsequently has the pleasure of providing assistance to an unflinchingly gracious elderly woman. However, this customer is so polite that Honda fears he'll soon be faced with an impossible-to-please patron in order to balance the scales.

Even though the audience has come to accept that the bookstore staff is made up of a skeleton, perpetually masked individuals, and otherworldly figures, applying the same treatment to customers seems to have required a brief sojourn into an earlier period of history. Fortunately, this random segue serves to liven up the usual formula and does a surprisingly effective job of peppering the drudgery of retail with folktale flourishes. The enraged demon being vanquished by manager of the manga department Tengai-san's business card is a particularly clever way to meld the mundane with the otherworldly; the unreasonable customer refuses to accept any explanation offered by a non-management employee. Similarly, the super-sized monster nearly killing Honda for refusing to sell him the latest issue of a magazine before the street date is another fun spin on the show's usual formula.

Regardless of whether this was intentional, the over-the-top customer interactions from the first segment provide a nice segue into the episode's cathartic second half. In light of how many horrible customers Honda has helped throughout the show's run, it's satisfying to see him being shown some genuine appreciation. The old lady in question is so sweet that her niceness practically radiates off the screen and provides the audience with healing vibes. Honda is so in awe of her gratitude that he eventually loses the ability to form words in her presence. Unfortunately, this prevents him from encouraging her passion for visiting bookstores or even thanking her to her face.

Since customer interaction is often central to the retail experience, it's fitting for it to be the core of Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san. With literal demons and unbelievably polite old ladies, this week's episode aptly illustrates the broad spectrum of patrons that many customer service professionals handle on a daily basis. Unfortunately, as Honda reiterates in the final moments, good customer experiences are almost always followed up by terrible ones.

Rating: A-

Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.

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