Anime short double feature: Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san / Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family

I’m back sooner than expected, and with more anime shorts! This time, I’m taking up another set of half-length-episode one-cour series — 12 to 13 minutes times 12 to 13 episodes, again not a massive time commitment for the busy viewer. This post isn’t boob-themed like the previous one, so apologies to the near-ecchi fanservice fans who read this site, but I’ll cover something else soon enough that should make you happy.

As for the series I’m covering today, one is as chaotic as the other is relaxing (and that one is also chaotic in parts) but they’re both worth a look.

Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san

Definitely a strange series, but one that feels like it’s steeped in real-life experiences. Honda-san is an employee in a Japanese bookstore who for some reason is a skeleton, but one who can talk, eat noodles, and drink beer, and his colleagues all wear various sorts of masks. This bunch of overworked employees, along with their section chiefs and managers, have to deal with all the ins and outs of selling manga, western comics, artbooks, novels, and other hard copy media.

I used to frequent bookstores a whole lot (not so much these days, obviously, but it might be nice to go back at some point if any are still left alive after Amazon and COVID.) I always had a sort of idyllic and very probably inaccurate concept of what working at a bookstore would be like — I even tried applying for a couple of jobs at bookstores back in the Great Recession days, though without any luck. Maybe American bookstores aren’t quite so hectic, but I suspect they face at least some of the same challenges we see in Honda-san — customers asking for recommendations or making requests for obscure books that aren’t in stock, or that show up in stock but turn out to be in a box of shipments that haven’t been unpacked yet. Or suppliers sending in stocks of books too late or too early. Or shelves being piled up with books until there’s no room left, forcing hard decisions about which volumes to keep on display and which to send back to the publisher.

Or being asked about BL. I know a bit about GL, but I’m lost regarding BL, and so is skeleton man here

Honda-san himself does his best to take all this in stride, but there are situations he dreads, like being approached by foreign customers who he has to try out his somewhat poor English with, or people looking for hentai manga or doujinshi (the latter of which he makes a point of saying that normal bookstores don’t sell — you have to go to special shops for that stuff apparently. Makes sense.)

But Honda’s not carrying the burden on his skeletal frame alone. His colleagues are all in the same boat, and a lot of the comedy in the series comes from their interactions, juggling urgent problems and complaining about demands from customers and the higher-ups in the company and time pressure caused by supply chain issues.

Shooting the shit in the stock/break room with colleagues

That might not sound like the most exciting stuff, but I really liked the inside look at this bookselling world Honda-san gave me. It’s a kind of surreal comedy, but the real-world grounding it has makes it more interesting. I’ve always heard retail is a rough job no matter what industry you’re in — I had my own sort of semi-retail experience once, so I can relate at least a bit to the pressures we see here. None of that feels sugarcoated here.

But Honda-san isn’t really cynical either; it puts all this hectic energy into a positive context. Honda and his colleagues and superiors work hard, but they seem to mostly enjoy their work, taking the stressful parts as they come.

It’s nice to see happy customers, just don’t tell them Naruto is sold back home too

So that’s still another recommendation, and this time to more or less anyone reading. I’ve liked every work-based anime I’ve watched so far, in fact, including Shirobako and Blend S. Maybe I should pick up more of these.

Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family

It’s hard to imagine a series in the world of games and anime both that has spread as far as Fate has. Starting with the original Fate/stay night visual novel* (which is good, but also 50+ hours with three routes and a ton of branching decision paths, so you’d better have some time if you want to try it) the series has extended out to animated prequels, sequels, and spinoffs, one of which is Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family.

This show is exactly what it looks like from the poster and the title: a cooking-based series. That might seem like a strange choice considering that F/SN and most of the successive works in the series are about massive wars between mages and the heroic spirits they summon to fight over the Holy Grail. But this really is a natural choice considering how much the original VN obsesses over food. Much of the time we spend with protagonist Shirou Emiya in F/SN is in the kitchen and the living room where he and his friends and relations eat.

I can’t say how much exactly, but it could actually be five percent or even more. Original Fate writer Nasu doesn’t edit himself very well, but you could say that’s part of the charm of the original visual novel. I’ll still back it up as worth playing, but just as long as you get the Realta Nua patch first.

And here we learn how a relatively dense guy like Shirou can manage to surround himself with women constantly: by being an amazing cook. Despite still just being in high school, this guy astounds everyone with his cooking skills, from regular human friends to the magical spirits of dead heroes. Everyone, whether friend or foe, is moved by the power of Shirou’s recipes.

Yes, even his enemies: Today’s Menu takes place in a nice alternate-universe Fate setting where the Holy Grail War isn’t happening and all the Servants are just hanging out with their Masters. If this were Unlimited Blade Works, a lot of these characters would be killing the shit out of each other, but this spinoff is all about relaxing, cooking, and eating good food.

I was always more of a Rin guy, but this show makes Saber so god damn cute that I’m examining my feelings now.

Each episode of Today’s Menu involves a particular dish, usually prepared by Shirou. These dishes are varied in style and taste — they’re variously Japanese, Chinese, and western in origin, and some suited for cold or warm weather. The recipe is also detailed in each episode for those who want to try it, with ingredient lists and instructions. The best I can do is making grilled cheese without burning it, so I’m not really in that demographic, but if you like cooking, this show might be specially made for you.

But speaking as a non-cook, I’d say Today’s Menu is also made for me. Or for anyone who likes food, which is just about everyone. This show manages to present food in a way that makes me wish I were eating it. Which is good because it says a lot for the quality of the animation and the care put into the show, but also bad because I don’t need to get a craving for baked salmon when I clearly don’t have the motivation to make it myself. Then again, maybe this anime can work as a tool to get people to learn to cook?

Yeah, no way can I make this myself. But now I want to visit the ramen bar nearby and see if this is on their menu (though again, when it’s safe. Nuts.)

The only possible issue with watching Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is that you’ll have no idea who any of these characters are if you haven’t at least seen one of the Fate series or played the VN. Ufotable’s Unlimited Blade Works is probably your best bet, at least from what I hear — I haven’t seen it, but I understand it’s a much more thorough and adequate adaptation of the original UBW route than Studio Deen’s.

So it might be worth checking out first and saving Today’s Menu for dessert. Part of the appeal of this show to me is seeing all these characters I enjoyed when they were brutally killing each other in magical combat just take it easy and eat and drink together. That’s obviously not a benefit you’ll get if you haven’t seen or played any of the core F/SN works. Finally, you’ll also miss out on the basics of character relationships and some references that don’t come through unless you already know this story and setting.

This year I might try to start that Illya magical girl spinoff too. May as well since I’ve already done my homework.

But then it’s not like you’ll get arrested for starting your Fate journey with this show if you really feel like it. There isn’t an anime police, not last I’ve heard, anyway. And if there is, I’m probably going to be in trouble for some dumb thing I’ve written about anime here. I’ve never seen or read One Piece — there, that should be enough to get me banned from ever mentioning anime again.

Unless or until that ban goes into effect, I’ll be back with more anime soon, both shorts and full-length. Until then!

 

* I know Tsukihime came before F/SN and that it’s connected to Fate in some kind of weird meta-universe way — at least both sets of characters are present in Carnival Phantasm, though that’s a completely wacky comedy spinoff series to be fair. In any case, none of those older characters show up here, so no need to go back that far.

It seems like Type-Moon has forgotten about Tsukihime anyway. Where’s that fucking remake that keeps getting promised? At least make a proper anime adaptation. Life is hard for us Akiha fans, I tell you.

6 thoughts on “Anime short double feature: Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san / Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family

  1. Honest thoughts. I tried to watch Skull Face Bookseller Honda san but I couldn’t get into it because of how barebones I felt the animation was (Even though such a series does not need fantastic animation). It is pretty solid and insightful as you mentioned though. I might give it another go again

    • That’s fair; I can see how the minimal animation could be an issue with Honda-san. I probably should have brought that up, in fact. Maybe the fact that the episodes are so short helped me overlook that, because I think I’d probably have the same issue with a normal-length series that was animated this way (though I did like what I saw of Archer and it looks kind of similar, so maybe not?)

    • I hear you. I’m always impressed by the amount of care put into the food in anime — even if the rest of the show looks cheap (which Today’s Menu doesn’t, thankfully.) Shrimp tempura is an old favorite too, can’t wait to have it again.

  2. I enjoyed Skull face bookseller honda san as well, it felt pretty comedic and gave a nice insight into what it might be like to work in a Japanese bookstore or maybe even be a relatable to someone working in retail( even though I haven’t I could still understand his perspective).
    I haven’t seen the cooking spinoff of Fate, but heard about the video game on Switch! I didnt know there was also an anime, I may check it out if I can find it somewhere to stream.

    • Same, and I can certainly relate to the hectic feel of a busy workplace, as I guess a lot of us can.

      I haven’t played the game at all, but I’ve heard about it. Sounds like it would be a good time for sure. As for the anime, you can get it on Crunchyroll I think. I use VRV, which contains both that service and Hi-Dive, but the Hi-Dive shows have some kind of weird issue with the subtitles that I didn’t face with Today’s Menu.

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