[Review] BLEND-S – episode 1

Maika Sakuranomiya is a regular high school student who dreams of studying abroad, though she has one problem. Despite being a naturally sweet and friendly girl, she tends to look scary and imposing whenever she smiles. Having failed to find a job anywhere else, Maika eventually finds work at Café Stile, where the employees all play specific character types when they interact with the customers, such as the playful little sister or the tsundere. Despite her misgivings, our heroine must adopt the dominant and aggressive role of a sadist. Together with the rest of Café Stile’s wacky crew, Maika will work to make new friends and fulfill her dream!

Source: Anime News Network

In the foreground is a girl in a maid uniform with a bottle of squeezed ketchup gripped in one hand. Behind her are two boys sitting at a table with omelette rice in front of them. Their faces are covered in red splotches.

How much you enjoy Blend-S will depend on your tolerance for moe comedy, full-stop. People who enjoy moe or have a decent tolerance for it may enjoy its slightly off-kilter character-driven comedy. If you have a low tolerance though, look elsewhere. While it may do some fun things with the formula, Blend-S takes no pains to conceal its moe outlook and iyashikei (healing/soothing) atmosphere.

The first thing I noticed is that this is a damn fine looking show. The colors are bright, the lines crisp, the motion fluid and detailed… but the next thing I noticed was how tiny the girls are compared to the male characters. I’ve always been somewhat weirded out by series where the female characters look significantly younger than their male counterparts, and Blend-S is one such show. I’m okay with stylized, youthful-looking characters, but major gaps in style just draw attention to how much moe characters look like small children.

Five girls in multicolored maid uniforms are flanked by two significantly taller young men in waiter uniforms. They all stand with one arm outstretched, as if posing in a dance. To the right stands a fluffy golden dog wearing a neckerchief.

But maybe the gap is part of the appeal, because “gap moe” is the name of the game here. Much of the comedy comes from recognizing the artificiality of the stereotypes the characters are forced to adhere to, and the difference between the acts they must put on versus their actual personalities.

Maika’s sweet nature makes acting like a sadist difficult, while a grumpy college student named Mafuyu pretends to be a peppy imouto because she looks young for her age. None of them seem especially put out by it, and some moments will be particularly relatable for people with experience in the service industry. Who among us hasn’t had to hide their enthusiasm for a topic when they overhear customers discussing it?

In the foreground, the back of a young man wearing glasses as he clenches a fist. In the bakground, a girl in a maid outfit looking uncertain, hands clasped in front of her chest. Subtitle: "Please sit down, shut up,and don't get in the way."

There are still some moments that, as a feminist, made me roll my eyes or cringe. There’s some leering framing and camera angles from time to time, a few jokes about Kaho’s breast size, and her clothes are drawn specifically to emphasize her bust. She and Maika are also still in high school, which adds an uncomfortable element to them performing moe traits for the enjoyment of male clientele.

This is made worse by Dino, the 26-year-old Italian cafe manager who openly crushes on 16-year-old Maika. It’s inappropriate on so many levels, and sweet, sheltered, eager-to-please Maika, who so desperately wants to study abroad… Well, suffice to say it’s a situation with a lot of potential for abuse. It won’t actually happen, probably, because this is a lackadaisical slice-of-life comedy and nothing of actual consequence happens, but it’s creepy.

A young man in a waiter uniform bows slightly and extends a hand to be shaken. Across from him is a pigtailed girl in a pink school uniform, looking startled. Subtitle: "Won't you work here as a precursor to going out with me?"

In the end, it’s really hard to make a call on Blend-S. Its sense of humor and relaxed workplace comedy offer something for more than just hardcore moe fans to enjoy, but there’s still some elements that could make viewers uncomfortable. No red flags—just a couple of yellow cards.

 

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