Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san is an anime about a bookseller named Honda who is also a skeleton. You should watch it.
There, review complete.
In seriousness, I think I need to explain what makes Honda-san a must-watch, at least for me (I don’t see this being an easy recommendation for everyone). Am I seriously recommending a Flash-animated show? Yes, yes I am.
Honda-san revolves around the daily experiences of the titular Honda and his colleagues at a Japanese bookstore: except their heads are rendered as skulls, paper bags, jack-o-lanterns, and the like. Why this particular artistic choice? Well, the source manga was written by none other than a man named Honda. That’s right, these are the real experiences of actual bookstore employees, with their names and appearances changed for privacy’s sake. The result is equal parts painfully funny and painfully relatable.
The latter is particularly true if you have worked in retail before. Annoying customers, clueless sales reps, scary parents of manga-obsessed children: poor Honda has seen it all. Situations escalate to hilarious proportions, made all the more hilarious by the knowledge that something like this actually happened.
My favourite customer interactions have to be the ones involving tourists and other people from abroad, with their general cluelessness coupled with the staff’s inability to speak other languages. A man requesting a lewd G**tama dojin? “SPECIAL YAOI BOOK,” bellows Honda, sending me to tears. A VERY SCARY French man puts Honda through plenty of trouble while trying to get his daughter a copy of the bilingual version of Ch**ayafuru. Ends it all with a VERY FIRM hand on the shoulder and a “merci”. Cue Honda: “I’ve never had such a powerful ‘merci’!” More tears.
Of course, adults who have worked jobs will relate to this far more than others. This is one reason why this isn’t an easy recommendation.
Speaking of G**tama and Ch**ayafuru, you probably recognised those names and are wondering why they’ve been censored. The show namedrops several manga and light novel titles since, you know, it’s a bookstore. Don’t expect just N**uto or At**ck on T**an. Honda-san and his employees have way too much experience in this field. Expect to see some really deep cuts. I was thrilled to see mention of some of my favourites like Go**en Ka*uy or Heart of Th**as. I didn’t expect to see them there!
This is the other factor that reduces the broadness of the show’s appeal. You have to be quite knowledgeable about manga and light novels to fully grasp every last joke. This isn’t the best anime for entry level fans.
For established fans looking for something different though, greatness awaits.
Art: A. Suits the tone of the show perfectly. A varied yet soft colour palette, perfect for a bookstore. The thick line style is another plus. Character designs are fun and unique, especially the heads on the employees.
Animation: B. Again, it suits the tone of the show. But at the end of the day, it’s a Flash animated show.
Music: B+. Not a whole lot of music to talk about; this isn’t the most high-budget show. The opening is unexpectedly great. While I initially thought the ending song was a bit too pleasant for this kind of comedy show, I realised it probably represents Honda’s day winding down after all that workplace craziness. In that aspect, it fits.
Voice acting (Japanese): A+. Every other line had me rolling. Sharp script with perfect distribution of jokes and educational material.
Story: A. The stressful everyday life of bookstore employees, rendered as funny-looking figures. Honda-san has a unique premise, and the short episode length keeps the substories snappy, with good execution and a variety of stories to tell. The realism of it all only enhances the comedy.
Characters: A. These characters are real people. Sometimes a bit too real, as seen with the cameo appearances of actual industry figures like Frederic Toutlemonde.
Am I giving an A to a Flash-animated show? Yes, yes I am.