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Bartender – Joh Araki and Nagamoto Kenji

And Araki Joh’s obsession with all things alcoholic continues…bartender

In this manga, a bar is never just a bar – it is a field hospital for the soul, (let us ignore any dubious implications for the mean time).  People who walk into Sasakura Ryuu’s bar have their own problems and, whether they realise it or not, they are seeking “the glass of the gods.” This is where genius bartender Sasakura  comes in. He’s a chirpy, wise young Yoda of a barman that always knows the precise cocktail to use as a metaphor for the life of the customer in front of him and how that self-same cocktail will provide the answer for the customer’s problems. As well as learning about life, love and family, we as the reading public also have our knowledge of liqueurs, cocktails, history and culture taken up a level or five.

This is a really lovely seinen that knows how to avoid being too episodic in what is, let’s face it, quite an episodic format. Nagamoto Kenji’s artwork is precise, but dynamic and whilst it does change over time I don’t have as big a problem with that as other people have. (Although some of the over the top “wow!” reaction panels after people have sipped various cocktails make me smile for the wrong reasons). Eventually, a sort of plot and some regular characters do emerge, although for better or worse they don’t really infringe on the “drink of the week” plot unless it’s necessary – mind you the plot-integration does improve as it goes on. We’re currently on chapter 91 as far as updates go and I’m still looking forward to the next one, which surely has to be a good sign.The stories themselves are nicely-told vignettes that ring true with real life, and aren’t generally as exaggerated or bitter as traditional bar-stool, slice-of-life confessionals; Sasakura himself is really well done, he could have been so monumentally annoying and smug as a character – but thankfully he’s done as a modest, likable, know-it-all man-child of sorts.

The idea of cocktails being quite literally the answer to everything is more than a little disturbing at first; through repetition you gradually get numb to it, but I personally still have this lingering sense of unease. Maybe that’s because I’m from the U.K, a nation not famed for its quiet and civilized drinking manner, and am as a result slightly over-aware of this angle. I know that Araki Joh isn’t seriously suggesting that alcohol is the solution to all of life’s problems, but I can’t help but feel he might think it in his heart of hearts. Don’t believe me? Bartender has a sister series called Sommeliere, which does a similar thing with wine but with a female wine-waiter and more of a running plot.

With the alcoholic elephant in the room out of the way, I can say that is a genuinely educational and interesting series in places. If nothing else it does wonders for your pub quiz knowledge of alcohol; did you know that mead is the oldest liqueur in the world? And that we get the word “honeymoon” from the mead (which is honey-based) that newly-weds were meant to drink whilst they were having sex? And my cocktail recipe database has infinitely improved, which can only be a good thing (if even as a student I don’t necessarily have the funds to try half these things out).

I’ll give it a 3.5 out of of 5, on account of minor issues, i.e. hints of alcoholism, plot and OTT reactions but it is a lovely, but insightful and interesting series. Go and read it!

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