SERVANT X SERVICE (Sabanto X Sabisu), by Karino Takatsu. First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2016.
In an ordinary town, within an ordinary public service office lies a Health and Welfare Department that is anything but ordinary. The staff not only have to deal with paperwork, chatty patrons, and slacking on the job, but also with ridiculously long names, angry teenagers, interoffice romance, and a supervisor who works from home via a stuffed rabbit.
There's plenty of comedic potential in office work. Everything from Office Space to The IT Crowd to Dilbert have successfully mined that vein for the sake of a joke. You'd think that the same would apply to the Japanese side of bureaucracy, considering how omnipresent and formalized it is. At the very least, it would promise us a 4-koma cast that ISN'T entirely made up of high school girls. Servant X Service would prove you wrong on everything but the last part, alas.
It's obvious that Takatsu ran out of office-related material fairly quickly. There's truly only so many jokes you can make about coworkers slacking off or chatty old women holding up work. So, she falls back on fleshing out the occupants of the office to pick up the slack. The problem is that she fleshes them out with nothing but tired old otaku-friendly tropes. Thus, the protagonist Lucy gets turned into a oblivious bookworm who has a lot of jokes made at the expense of her obliviousness and her big boobs, the flirty slacker turns out to be a gamer, the temp turns out to be a cosplayer with an obsession with Lucy, and another coworker gets a tyrannical teenaged little sister with an enormous brother complex. At this point, it was clear to me that Takatsu just gave up on originality altogether. Instead she would just pander to the audience, setting be damned. She also clearly gave up on any sense of comedic delivery ages ago, as every single joke falls completely flat.
Now there are plenty of 4-komas that try to tackle more dramatic material along with the jokes. Servant X Service is no exception to this. As the omnibus progresses, Takatsu starts filling up pages upon pages with establishing some romantic sideplots. Again, none of them are bad on principle, but Takatsu is no better at writing romance than she is at comedy. The characters aren't deep enough to make the reader take their relationships seriously. Thus, these subplots become nothing more than endless, pointless filler, there to pad things out to the next chapter. Padding is the last thing that any 4-koma needs, much less one that's already as boring and pointless as this one. Combined with all of the book's other failings, it all adds up to a deeply tedious experience. I would rather go to an actual Health and Welfare Department than read this manga again.
Takatsu's art is no more ambitious than her writing. It's little wonder she went with a 4-koma format then. It's easy to get away with generic character designs and blank expressions when you don't have to draw their lower halves and can default to super-deformed style whenever you need a reaction. It also means you don't have to bother with backgrounds, so these folks might as well be working in a grey gradient limbo with the occasional counter or bookshelf. Like far too many 4-komas, Servant X Servant is just another series of dull talking heads.
Normally I don't object to publishers releasing manga in omnibus form, but I can't imagine a series that merits such treatment LESS than this one. It must purely be a money-saving measure because there's not enough story here to demand that sort of follow-through. If anything, it just aggravates the tediousness of the work! Many a time I found myself glancing at the spine to figure out how far I was into the volume and found myself disappointed every time.
Servant X Service is a boring office comedy that substitutes otaku pandering for actual comedy. Maybe it works slightly better in ebook form, where it's sold by the chapter, but nothing can fix the complete lack of inspiration here.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes available. 1 2-in-1 omnibus has been released and is currently in print. This series is also available digitally through the Yen Press digital app.
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