From many years of observation, it often appears that the anime that connects the most with Western audiences tend to have a more fantastical bent, be it the inventive worlds crafted by the minds of Studio Ghibli or the sci-fi tinged action of Ghost in the Shell or Akira. The medium itself is a wonderful way to speak to core human emotions through larger-than-life storytelling. Yet, there are plenty of stories out there that keep the narrative grounded in reality without the need for a big hook. These stories often fail to get the necessary spotlight to connect with anyone outside of the most avid anime devotees. When Bartender crossed my path for this new collection celebrating its 15th anniversary, I was very excited to dig into a property that was previously nowhere on my radar. Based on a Japanese manga series of the same name written by Araki Joh and illustrated by Kenji Nagatomo, Bartender is an extremely gentle slice-of-life anime that uses the act of bartending as a way to delve deep into the lives of these patrons. This quietly enveloping series is a refreshing reminder of how versatile and lovely animation is as a means of storytelling. 

Ryū Sasakura (voiced by Takahiro Mizushima) has a reputation for being the best bartender in all of Japan. Many probably think they know how to make a fine cocktail, but it is something else entirely to be known as the “Glass of the Gods,” always knowing exactly what his customers need before they know themselves. He hones his craft at Eden Hall, the type of out-of-the-way place that people want to keep a secret all to themselves. Over the course of these eleven episodes, we get a sense of what is important to Ryū – helping the mentally and spiritually burdened patrons who find themselves on a path that leads them right through the heavy front door of Eden Hall. These can range from someone holding on to a long-ago humiliation to those dealing with grief and regret from a staggering loss. Each story is of paramount importance to Ryū, and it is through his knowledge of libations that he will analyze and offer comfort to the distressed souls in his presence. 

 

As someone who has never once had a desire for alcohol, rarely has a show made the concept of having a cocktail seem so appealing. Ryū has such reverence for the art of making the perfect drink, and the way he weaves the specific details and ingredients of his drinks with the specific problems that plague his customers is simply masterful. The show is a grounded, character-driven drama, but the way the animation is used to showcase these drinks is a journey unto itself that justifies the medium. The show mostly consists of standalone episodes with certain characters occasionally popping up in multiple episodes. This is the exact type of plotting that suits the show perfectly, as you get to the raw emotions of a new character every time out and it is always fulfilling. I love a big, raucous journey in my anime as much as the next person, but the measured pace of Bartender offers something just as engrossing as the more flashy stories previously mentioned. At only eleven half-hour episodes, the show never overstays its welcome. There is something new to appreciate in every episode of this incredible discovery. 

Video Quality

Bartender comes to Blu-Ray courtesy of Shout! Factory and Anime Limited with an enjoyable 1080p transfer. The colors present in this transfer are quite pleasing if not a bit washed out even outside of the darker setting of the bar. Delineation is pleasing overall, but not incredibly crisp. The textures, from the character designs to the environments, are impressive and give the series a nice sense of depth. One of the areas where the series really shines is the fluidity of the character designs. Black levels are strong, but the transfer does contend a bit with some unfortunate banding. The live action elements in the end credits sequence look a bit rough overall. There are a few minor compression issues, but this Blu-Ray provides a solid presentation for fans of the show. 

Audio Quality

This Blu-Ray comes with an LPCM 2.0 mono track in the original Japanese (with optional English subtitles). Dialogue sounds perfectly clear without sound effects or the score trouncing on important information. The bar provides a very inviting, warm atmosphere courtesy of a simmering jazzy score that melts right into the surroundings. The track handles atmospheric effects well such as general room tone and certain weather sounds. This is not a particularly dynamic presentation, but it presents everything accurately without much in the way of damage or other unwanted issues. 

Special Features

  • Clean Opening Credits: The complete opening credits are presented without any text so you can see all of the animation clearly. 
  • Clean Closing Credits: Seventeen minutes of closing credits are presented without any text so you can see all of the live action and animated visuals clearly. 
  • Bumpers: Two minutes of animated bumpers are included here which feature some nice animation. 
  • Packaging: This nicely presented package comes with nine Cocktail Recipe Cards and four Drink Coasters.

 

Final Thoughts

Bartender is not often discussed as one of the most notable anime series to have ever existed, but it certainly deserves more praise than it gets. Through the simple mixture of gorgeous animation and effective character-driven stories, you are exposed to something truly memorable. These eleven episodes are brought together for the first time on Blu-Ray with an enjoyable A/V presentation and some very classy packaging. If you appreciate gentle slice-of-life tales, this one will surely warm your heart. Recommended 

Bartender (15th Anniversary Collector’s Edition) is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Shout! Factory has supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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