Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san combines the madness of working in retail with an inside look at the Japanese publishing industry. This week, Andy and Steve explain why this comedy is an underrated gem of the season.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
You can read our weekly coverage of Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san here!
Well Andy, in the wake of yet another Black Friday, I'd like to take some time to thank those unsung heroes of retail: bookstore employees who are also skeletons.
As someone who has similar work experience and also a skeleton, I relate to these brave undead and their quest to survive the day.
I'd also like to thank Honda for fighting the good fight as a manga artist too.
Well, retail isn't all bad. Sometimes you get to make a comic about the experience and that comic then gets animated! At least it will for as long as Honda-san continues to obey the whims of his editors.
In any case, Honda-san's resulting show is definitely a surprise of the season.
Yeah, I can't say anybody expected much of a flash-animated short with the unwieldy title of Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san, but here we are talking about how good it is! I think it's a charming little show, and it probably helps that it's about the near-universal experience of working in retail hell. Personally, on the book-slinging front, I only worked for one summer in a college bookstore, so while there's some things I can relate to, I'm also learning a lot from Honda-san!
As robust as our selection was, I can't say we had anything resembling a BL section.
I think a large part of the charm comes from it being autobiographical. Sure, every person's identity has been literally masked, but the personalities and situations presented to us are incredibly real and honest.
It's so charming that after a fun first episode, the show has to remind us not to make the mistake of forgetting how painful retail can be.
That's not to say it's condemning the idea of selling books for a living! Quite the opposite. All the employees have some love of books and wanting others to be able to find what they want, but the logistics behind this process are mostly invisible to customers and can be extremely hard on the workers involved.
Yeah, it's obvious that Honda loves what he does, but it's also anything but a starry-eyed perspective on the daily happenings behind the scenes or when dealing with customers. That's what makes it so interesting and funny!
It's a little bit Aggretsuko, a little bit American Splendor, a little bit Halloween surplus store's leftovers, and a whole lot of Relatable Skeleton.
It's a goldmine of useful screencaps.
It's incredibly useful for those moments when you remember we're all somewhat dead inside.
In addition to being an efficient source of reaction images, the show also features one of my favorite things in anime: creative yet barely disguised censorship.
wow gee I wonder what this manga could be
I dunno, but it sure seems to have some nice hunting and cooking scenes!
Hmm, sounds like something I'd totally watch if it had a currently-airing anime adaptation. But alas.
You'll just have to ask your local bookseller if they carry the manga. Even if you're only able to give a rough description, that's all these professionals need.
I've definitely seen this one though:
It's a show you've definitely seen if you ever, yanno,
Anyway, being able to pull out this many reaction images in a row while still having plenty left over is another good testament to how strong this show is. The episodes are under 12 minutes and all divided into smaller segments, but every one of them contains at least one high-quality moment.
It's pretty evenly divided between insider anecdotes about the workings of your typical Japanese bookstore and colorful encounters with customers. Both sides of the show are good, although I'm partial to the customer interactions because Honda tends to focus on tourists asking for help, and his struggles and surprises in these scenes are always priceless. A ton of the humor comes from the friction between having social anxiety and needing to interact with strangers on a daily basis, and I feel that so hard. Honda is a champ though! He manages to help people who don't even speak his language, which blows me away. I can only imagine the powderkeg of awkwardness that would explode if me, a shy person with limited knowledge of Japanese, asked him, a skeleton with limited knowledge of English, for help.
Either he comes out of the experience with another funny story, or the universe explodes.
I wish I could properly convey the absolute greatness that is the English dialogue in the show.
I also like that the humor is never at the expense of the customer. It's more rooted in the awkwardness of the situation itself. It's just cool to see such a cosmopolitan cast of characters. I dare you to find another show that contains Swedish fujoshi representation.
Wherever Honda-san works does seem to attract a lot of BL-focused clientele. So it was both nice and a little shocking to see the show call attention to the fact that despite the popularity of BL, there aren't many true "gay comics" on the market.
Yeah, that was probably my favorite episode! A gay American couple comes in looking for gay erotic manga, but it turns into a reflection on the divide between what we would classify as "LGBT" versus something like BL or yuri. It's an interesting example of how the conversation about queer literature in Japan is more complicated and nuanced than people might assume.
Ultimately, the couple is pleased to find BL heaven, so this story at least has a happy ending.
It's a great episode that really brings out the heart of the show. There are some criticisms of the publishing industry, but at the end of the day, Honda-san is too low level to change any of that. His job is to make the customers happy, and he does his best no matter his current level of anxiety or exhaustion.
I love him.
It's a tough job.
Thankfully, he's pure enough to get it done.
As much as he might discourage people from jumping at the chance to work in a bookstore, Honda certainly values bookstores highly. In 2018, you might be seen as kind of weird to shop at a bookstore, and it's much more uncommon to want to work at one, but that's what makes them special.
I must admit that I am one of those weirdos, and this show does make me feel happier about that. The first episode opens with this question:
And while there are still more episodes to go, I think the answer in my head has already changed to:
Keep at it you beautiful bibliophile skeleton man.