A review of Blend S

Have you ever felt misinterpreted by others around you? We’re all taken in ways we don’t intend sometimes, but does it happen to you constantly?

If so, you might relate to this girl. This is Maika Sakuranomiya, the central character in the 2017 comedy anime series Blend S. In the first episode of the show, Maika is desperately hunting for a job. Even though she has the full support of her family, she wants to earn money for herself so she can fund a study-abroad trip and explore other lands.

Unfortunately, Maika has a serious problem: she has an inadvertently frightening expression at times, especially when she’s startled, stressed, or nervous. She’s actually very polite and genuinely nice, but despite all her intentions, she comes off as ice cold and scares the shit out of the new people she meets, including all her interviewers. And the only kind of job she can get as a student is service-related and customer-facing, which makes her prospects even worse.

This is a good out-of-context screenshot to use in any situation

On her way home from another failed interview, Maika is passing by a café when she wonders whether she can work on her expression, so she uses their window as a mirror to test that out. The staff inside just see a girl making weird faces at them, but when the manager sees her he’s instantly struck by her and asks her to come inside. In a very lucky break, it turns out this place, Café Stile, is a coffee shop with a twist: every waitress plays a different character type. So far they have a tsundere and a little sister, but the manager Dino is looking for a totally new and daring sort of character to add to the team: a sadist. And with her stony expression, Maika is perfect for this new position.

Maika isn’t sure she can pull this “sadist waitress” role off, but since she’s at the end of her rope she gratefully accepts the job offer and gets to work.

It turns out that she’s a natural at it. A true natural, because she acts this way without even trying — in fact, while she’s actually trying to be nice and polite to the café patrons. When Maika realizes she’s accidentally said something offensive to her guests or has given them her usual cold glare, she’s mortified, but the manager tells her not to worry: this is exactly what they’re looking for. And the manager is right, because to her surprise, Maika quickly gets a sort of fanbase of masochistic customers who love being verbally abused by girls (not my thing, but sure, I get it.)

This wouldn’t be much of a premise for a 12-episode series, but Blend S does extend beyond this one idea, getting into situations involving all the characters, including two more new employees with their own roles (a constant innuendo-making “big sister/onee-san” type and a self-absorbed aspiring pop idol) in episodes 4 and 8. It’s the kind of show that wouldn’t be too unfamiliar to American TV audiences, at least once you get past all the anime trappings: a comedy about a bunch of misfits working together and getting into and dealing with awkward social situations.

Plenty of sweatdrops in this one, and for good reason

But then, there are all those anime trappings. Or it would be more accurate maybe to say “otaku trappings”, since this is a series that knows it has a pretty niche audience and aims directly at it. Blend S is an adaptation of a long-running four-panel comic series of the same name, and like a lot of anime adaptations of four-panel comics, it contains a lot of quick jokes and short segments worked into the context of longer episodes. I can imagine how that kind of setup could feel clunky, but each episode of Blend S flows along pretty nicely, mostly taking place at Café Stile but also giving us short looks into some of the characters’ personal and home lives.

The possible trouble some people might face with this show is that it really is deep in that otaku territory. A lot of the jokes in Blend S are either directly about or play off of common manga/anime/Japanese game themes and character types. It’s not exactly referential humor, but it does rely on the viewer generally knowing about and probably being into these hobbies.

Like this old visual novel-looking screen between scenes. I like the 90s look Maika has here.

There are a lot of examples of these kinds of jokes, but one of the most obvious turns up in the third episode, when Maika finds one of Stile’s patrons accidentally left a bag behind at their table. When she looks inside the bag, she’s shocked to find a pornographic doujin book (a type of self-published work that’s often, but not always, rated 18+.) And when the patron returns to get the book back, it’s revealed that she’s not just the owner but the author of the work. A beautiful woman no less, who in the next episode joins the café as that ara ara-type big sister character who dotes on her customers and uses the situations she sees between them and her fellow staff to collect “material” for her constantly published new doujinshi. It’s the kind of joke any watcher might sort of get, but might be puzzled by if they don’t know just how popular some of these independent artists are and the crazy schedules they can hold themselves to. And just how weird some of these 18+ doujin works can get.

Doujinshi are really serious business, not even kidding now

Some of the jokes in Blend S rely on a pretty universal “character mismatch” concept, like the polite Maika acting as an accidental sadist or the young-looking “little sister” character Mafuyu actually being a college student and the most mature and grounded in the group. However, many of the show’s bits lean fairly heavily on otaku subculture stuff, to the extent that I’d put Blend S squarely in that niche category.

And since I’m in the anime/game nerd weirdo class that Blend S is targeting, it’s probably not a big surprise that I liked it. There’s always a risk with series like this that it will all come off as cheap pandering, but I think Blend S manages to avoid that, since the main focus is always on these strange misfit characters with all the otaku reference stuff as secondary. All the dirty jokes are so over the top that they also work pretty well, fitting in with the absurd feel. If I’d ever felt pandered to, I would have quit watching, and the fact that I didn’t speaks in the show’s favor. (Though admittedly I did find the whole Dino being in love with Maika thing a bit weird. Seems kind of inappropriate under the circumstances to say the least. As far as the romantic comedy aspect of the show went, I liked the tsundere sort-of-romance between Akizuki and Kaho better anyway.)

Then there’s Hideri, who provides some of the strangest jokes in the show. That idol scene really is something. More good out-of-context screenshots too.

Even so, if you’re not part of that same audience this series is targeting, a lot of these bits will probably pass you by, and they might not do anything for you at all. All this is a really roundabout way of saying that I liked Blend S but that, unlike the last few anime series I’ve written about, I can’t recommend it unconditionally.

But that’s also not really a judgment against the show, even if it might sound like one. It’s just not for everyone. But then, not everything has to be. Wouldn’t it be boring if that were the case? On the whole, I found Blend S a nice light comedy to pick me up when I was feeling shitty, and that’s always appreciated. Even if it had one of those irritating non-endings, but since the comic is still being published, that’s to be expected.

The Episode 1 anime dice roll (rolls 1 – 3)

So I’ve recently been digging through the anime watchlists I’ve created on VRV (a service that combines the Crunchyroll and Hi-Dive catalogues — a nice one to have, though their streaming player could not possibly be more garbage) and Funimation (which somehow has an even worse player, but they have licensed some series I know I want to watch, so not much choice there) and I felt like writing about some first impressions of series I’ve gotten based on their first episodes alone so far. I have to give the credit for this idea to pix1001 over at Shoot the Rookie, however, and also my apologies for borrowing (i.e. stealing) it. But please head over there for better posts about anime than you’ll ever read here.

In numerical/alphabetical order for once:

22/7

This series aired just last year, but it totally passed me by. However, a post about it on another WP blog that I now can’t find got me interested in it (but if I do find that post, I’ll link to it here later.) In its first episode, the musically talented but angst-filled and unsociable high school student Miu Takigawa is approached by a major studio and offered a chance to join a new idol group. But she and her seven new idol colleagues are confused when they’re told they don’t have to audition for their roles. They’re even more confused when they’re taken to the massive state-of-the-art headquarters built specifically for their training, which includes an entity simply called “the Wall” that issues orders to the studio that, for some reason, they absolutely have to follow to the letter — starting with the strange name for their new idol group, 22/7.

I like weird stuff like this, and this first episode was definitely intriguing. On the other hand, I’ve been burned by anime series before that promise a whole lot and then write themselves into corners that they can’t get out of without making a mess of everything. I hope that’s not the case this time. If it isn’t, I’m even willing to put up with some more angst and extra-anime-style speeches about how humanity is full of scum and liars etc. that we got from Miu in this first episode. To be fair, I’ve heard how screwed up the idol scene can be, so maybe this show is going to be a take on that. In any case, 22/7 has my attention, and I’ll keep going with it to see where it takes me.

Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!

Shifting over to something very different in tone, a currently airing very short comedy based on a four-panel comic series based on a fanservice-filled mobile game. I might have mentioned here that I’ve played Azur Lane during my time in gacha hell, the latter of two mobile games that take World War II-era warships and turn them all into cute girls. I know, big surprise. To its credit, the game’s rates aren’t as bad as other gacha games’ from what I can tell, but it’s still the work of Satan like all gachas are.

There’s a more dramatic-looking main series featured over on Funimation (because yeah, the game does have a plot to it) but Slow Ahead! is just a comedy, also filled with fanservice if that’s not obvious from looking at the poster. This is really just dessert for Azur Lane players who want to see the four starter destroyer girls getting into crazy situations along with their many shipgirl friends and colleagues. Each episode is only seven or eight minutes long so far, so it’s a quick watch, but I’d say not worth it unless you’re into this game already since none of the references will make sense otherwise. If I keep watching this, I probably won’t have anything else to write about it, so that’s the review I guess. It seems all right for what it is. (Edit: I just checked out the 4koma, specifically Chapter 49 that came up at random, and hooh. Akagi and Kaga in a public bath and that’s all I need to say. I’m a fan of those busty fox ladies. Maybe I’ll just read the comic.)

Blend S

Oh look, another anime series filled with cute girls, what a surprise AK is watching it. Yeah yeah I know. But I feel like I’m automatically extra-critical of stuff like this for that very reason. You can’t just throw some girls in frilly maid costumes at me and expect my brain to shut down, you know?

Fortunately, Blend S is actually good, or at least the first episode is. Maika Sakuranomiya (the protagonist, holding the cake, left) is a student who’s desperate for a part-time job so she can finance her own study-abroad trip without relying on her family. However, she’s turned down everywhere because of the inadvertently scary look in her eyes she gets when she’s stressed or worried; not exactly ideal for any customer service job. But there’s one place where she fits right in: a café that employs waitresses based on character type themes like tsundere and little sister — and the manager thinks Maika is perfect to fill the new “sadist” role.

This is a wacky, fast-paced comedy based on another four-panel comic. I’m not always a fan of that kind of stuff; when it’s done wrong it can just turn into an irritating mess for me, but thankfully I’m really liking Blend S so far. It’s pretty amusing to see the extremely polite, demure Maika doing her best to give her customers what they want by treating them like shit against her every instinct. The manager Dino seems like he might get kind of annoying in the future (is it a stereotype in Japan that Italian guys are crazy and overly emotional? I guess that is a stereotype here in the US too somewhat) but so far I really like how the characters fit together, and I’ll definitely be continuing this series.

And that’s it for now. The fact that I only went in alphanumeric order from 22 to B is probably just a coincidence, but I still do have a very long list of anime series to check out, and more recommendations are always appreciated. Or maybe you think the title I gave this feature is bad or clunky, in which case please let me know about that too and I might try to think of a better one.

In any case, I hope you liked this break from the usual. Maybe I’ll write more of these in the future. Next up, though, I’ll be taking a look at a series I actually finished watching. Until then!