Anime roundup 12/5/2019: Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san

Your columnist has been travelling this past week and is just now catching up on anime. Normal service will resume next week. In the meantime, here’s a little look at a show all book lovers should check out.

Somewhere in one of Japan’s big cities sits the —— Bookstore. Though it carries all sorts of books, its particular specialty is comics. It serves a cosmopolitan crowd, but the customers aren’t nearly as interesting looking as the staff. There’s a man with a jack-o’-lantern for a head, and another with a rabbit head, and people in all sorts of masks. The manager wears an elaborate armored helmet. And your guide to the bookselling world is an animated skeleton…

Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san is actually the real-life chronicle of a bookstore employee, and all the fancy headgear is the author’s way of hiding his colleagues’ identities. It also serves as a heads-up (so to speak) about the general tone of the series. Even when discussing the driest details of the bookseller’s trade, it finds room to make them entertaining:

The customer stories need no embellishment. Some are peculiar to the place and time (let’s just say there seem to be a lot of foreigners roaming Japan looking for gay porn comics), but some involve people recognizable the world over: clueless parents buying age-inappropriate books, entitled fanboys who don’t want any other human hands touching their new mint-condition purchases, people arriving with weirdly specific requirements for the kind of book they’re looking for.

Honda’s reactions add a great deal to the show. Though he’s able to keep up the competent and professional facade in front of customers, internally or in the staff room, he’s screaming, sweating, or just melting down from nervousness. In one episode, the combination of a particularly obnoxious customer followed by an unbelievably nice one gives him such emotional whiplash that he has to run to the back room to cry for a minute.

Later, Honda has to start dealing with the complications of his manga about bookselling becoming noticed in the industry. At a networking event, a wholesaler starts ranting about its alleged inaccuracies. When he’s informed that the author is sitting right in front of him, his reaction is not what anyone expects. Another time, Honda sees himself caught in the crossfire between stores and publishers, as both an author and a store employee.

Both incredibly entertaining and educational, Honda-san will tell you all about how these magical piles of bound wood pulp make their way to you, while earning your sympathy for what the people at your favorite store go though every day.

Especially right now, during the holiday season.

Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san is available worldwide on Crunchyroll, or you can look for a translation of the source manga. In English, it’s being published by Yen Press.

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