Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san
Episodes 1-2

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san ?

A workplace comedy that's both delightfully over-the-top and relatably down-to-earth, Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san offers up big laughs while illustrating the tribulations of working in a high-traffic bookstore. The series chronicles the day-to-day misadventures of the titular Honda-san (an anthropomorphic skeleton) and his eccentric coworkers as they manage a busy bookstore that specializes in manga and light novels. In addition to catering to wacky patrons, the gang consistently deals with minor retail emergencies—many of which should be instantly relatable to viewers who have worked in the service industry.

Of course, this isn't to say that retail experience is a prerequisite for enjoying the show. Even if you've never worked a job like Honda's, the series' humor should still resonate—and provide an educational (albeit comically inflated) roadmap to a career as a Japanese bookseller. The first episode finds Honda locating obscure manga and making book recommendations to an increasingly bizarre (but realistic) gaggle of customers. From the English-speaking father looking to buy an obscure Gintama doujinshi for his daughter to the enthusiastic Westerner purchasing complete sets of Gundam and Slam Dunk, each patron puts the eager-to-please bone-bag through his paces. Things get even more awkward for Honda in the second half, when he's pressed to make BL recommendations to foreigners despite knowing next to nothing about the genre. Nearly every exchange in this episode is equal parts uncomfortable and hilarious, and viewers can practically feel the secondhand embarrassment radiating off the screen. For his part, Honda makes the perfect comic foil for the customers' eccentricities. In addition to wanting the patrons to leave happy, he goes to great lengths to minimize the awkwardness of each encounter.

Whereas Honda himself largely carries the premiere, the second episode paints him as part of an ensemble and gives more focus to his coworkers, all of whom have their faces hidden. In this episode, we're given a proper introduction to the aptly-named Gas Mask (a muscular man in a gas mask), the Stocking Boys (two facemask-clad young men who stock the store), Kamibukuro (an energetic young man whose face is covered by a paper bag), Houkai (a put-upon woman whose face is covered in bandages), Armor (a woman whose face is covered by a knight's helmet), Koomote (a woman wearing a ko-omote Noh mask), Okitsune (a laidback woman wearing a fox mask), Full Face (a muscular man wearing a motorcycle helmet), Rabbit Head (a young woman wearing a rabbit mask), and Lantern (a woman wearing a jack-o-lantern over her head). In the first segment, the gang struggles to sort and stock an enormous shipment of new merchandise right before a holiday weekend, while the second segment finds Honda and Rabbit Head taking charge of Kamibukuro's section while he's away on vacation. A short third segment reveals that the show's parent manga (and by extension, the show itself) are a semi-autobiographical account of the author's time working in a bookstore.

The unique visuals are among the show's most impactful elements, with the thick lines and cartoony art nicely emphasizing the series' manga origins. Though the animation is fairly minimal, this approach complements the aesthetics and overall tone of the series. No in-universe explanation is given regarding the bookstore staff's obscured faces, but as we get to know these characters better, their respective headgear choices will likely make more sense. If nothing else, the various masks and helmets provide a helpful visual shorthand to an audience that's still becoming acquainted with a fairly large cast. They also lend a surreal feel to an otherwise realistic setting. Since the parent manga is based on the author's time as a bookseller, it's entirely possible that these characters are all based on real people and the eccentric headwear is a means to protect their identities.

Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san is able to amuse without being overly antagonistic toward its main characters or the customers they serve. Although certain patrons are painted in a comedic light, the show at no point comes across as cynical or mean-spirited, making it something of an oddity among workplace sitcoms. While not nearly as outlandish as its visual style suggests, the show offers a humorous and consistently fascinating look behind the curtain of a favorite haunt for many otaku.

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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