Three episodes in, the marvel of an anime led by a skeleton will never waver.
Let’s make something clear: Skeletons are awesome. Skeletons, no matter the context, will make a fictional setting three-hundred times better. Throw in some talking skeletons in Blade Runner 2049 and it’d go from my favorite movie ever to the only movie I would ever watch. It doesn’t matter.
With that shot of personal preference filtering my biased opinion, I can now go on to say that Honda-san is a very average show.
Its first strike is each episode being only ten-ish minutes, technically categorizing it as an anime short. With half the time to do anything plot-wise as other regular shows, it’s already handicapped by limited content. With a planned one-cour, this is basically a six-episode series of normal episode lengths. As if the episodic impression of the show’s synopsis wasn’t transparent enough, the “anime short” vibe it gives off makes it all the more obvious.
Now, to some, this isn’t so much of an issue. Episodic comedies surrounding exaggerated real-life situations is something that’s been done countless times to varying effect. To me, this immediately becomes a red flag, as the series I tend to find more invigorating, immersive, or lovable are ones with intense character focus, delving into their personalities, mindsets, relationships, or motivations. I am sensing very little (if any) of this through three episodes, as the direction seems to be the typical “Look at how kooky it can be to be a [blank]!” scenario. Y’know, those titles that take a niche topic, focuses on it and little else, and then the situations that arise directly from said niche topic.
Such is easy to see with Honda-san, where every scene within an episode focuses on Honda and his co-workers dealing with haughty, eccentric, or ignorant customers that make up the more entertaining parts of their meager job. That, or the behind-the-scenes look at the inner operations of running a bookstore, which typically highlights the ineptitude of management or outside companies getting things prepared/done according to plan. Does the viewer know much about Honda or his co-workers outside of their base personalities and major departments in the bookstore? No. Do they know that it’s hilarious to sympathize with retail workers as they face unfavorable situations on a near-daily basis? If not, they aren’t paying attention.
For the record, I currently work in a retail environment. I know the pros and cons of working in such conditions and the various horror stories that come with it. On some personal level, I can relate to the experiences within this anime, and can confirm that various persons are, in fact, this much of a hassle to deal with—especially in a situation where the customer feels they are in control and entitled to the worker’s best behavior
(aka taking advantage of them). With this, I can better understand the almost cruel humor attributed to the misery of these bookkeepers, whom can never catch a break in such a fast-paced industry full of overzealous fans.
There is, however, another issue with Honda-san I think should be addressed in some way. These characters who run this bookstore—skeletons, bunnies, women in suits of armor and otherwise—are not natural. They are abnormal and, appropriate for the time, notably Halloween-y. Why not do anything with this? Why not make Honda rattle in his bones (he kind of does due to his nature, but regardless)? Why not use these characters’ distinct looks to make a more humorous interpretation of character? The way they use it now, I can only assume it’s more symbolic of the co-workers’ isolation from the real world, where they’re seen as these foreign creatures who protect this place full of valuable, er, treasure. From a comedic standpoint, it’s a bit of a letdown. From a symbolic perspective, they don’t do anything with it anyway. Honda-san doesn’t really do anything except the obvious, which is a vast disappointment.
If nothing else, Honda-san is spirited, exhibiting all that one would expect from an over-the-top exaggeration of real-life starring a skeleton. Very reactionary, very high-pitched with its vocal performances, and the artistic direction is simplistic and flat, which makes it seem more panel-like and whimsical. While it does basically nothing to engross the viewer on a personal level (except us retail workers), it does come off as a passable comedy, dependent on how much one really expects from such a niche anime short. It’s worth a shot for how short it is (and skeletons), though it’s hard to convince many that they’ll be thrilled by it. I’m still gung-ho about the skeletons and even that barely helps when all is said and done.