Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san
Episode 5

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san ?

Everyone's favorite bookselling skeleton has a hectic week in his show's busiest installment to date. This week, Honda is faced with restocking popular titles, dealing with energetic foreigners, overseeing the visit of a famous author, and mulling over questions of censorship. True to character, each scenario finds Honda bending over backwards to minimize any awkwardness or discomfort and send customers home happy. Despite his frequent bouts of panic, Honda is able to muddle through every encounter without raising too many eyebrows or making his patrons feel like a burden. After spending an episode outside of the main setting, episode 5 reinforces the fact that this show is strongest when the action is confined to the bookstore.

With so many foreign customers eager to learn more about Japanese manga, the show does venture dangerously into repetitive territory, but so far, each interaction has been unique enough to warrant its inclusion. Although high energy levels are a common condition of overseas patrons, the dilemma each one presents puts Honda through his paces in a new way, often leading to the show's most memorable moments. Honda's latest encounters with customers from abroad come across just a tad more cynical than the ones from previous episodes, but never does the show veer into outright meanness. At this point, it's become pretty clear that interacting with foreigners left a big impact on the real-life Honda.

The author signing story may have benefited from a little more time being devoted to it, as the segment was so focused on the prep work that we didn't get to see what took place during the signing. Seeing the staff scramble to accommodate an enormous crowd while staying on top of their regular responsibilities could have made for an entertaining watch. This isn't to say that the actual segment wasn't funny, but a popular mangaka visiting the store seems like a well of untapped narrative and joke potential. Then again, it's possible that this wasn't a traditional book signing, and the author autographing copies in the stockroom may have been the extent of the event.

In addition to containing some of the episode's best moments, the final segment features a plethora of insightful information on obscenity laws that affect Japanese booksellers. It's interesting and perhaps prohibitive that the booksellers and municipal governments decide what's age-appropriate instead of the publishers using a voluntary ratings system. The phone call Honda takes from a concerned weirdo (who didn't even read the offending manga at his store) is equal parts hilarious, cringe-worthy, and wholly relatable to anyone who's spent time in retail. Even after it becomes apparent that the caller has taken offense at the wrong thing, Honda does his best to make the man feel as if his “concerns” are valid.

A rapid-fire, packed-to-the-gills installment, episode 5 is Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, with so much content in such a limited runtime, not every segment is given sufficient breathing room, resulting in a lot of unrealized potential. Still, if awkward customer encounters and other retail shenanigans are what you're here for, you'll probably walk away entertained.

Rating: B

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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