Bartender (バーテンダー) by Araki Joh and Kenji Nagatomo
I swore at some point in time I had written up Bartender as a Manga of the Month. I just can’t find any record of that ever happening. It might have been one of the early Manga of the Month posts that were lost to the mists of time (and maybe an obscure corner of the Wayback Machine) or it just might be that I have REALLY BAD memory. Either way since the current iteration of the blog does not have any such post it is time to correct that oversight no matter how it occurred.
Bartender mainly revolves around Ryu Sasakura a young man who has an uncanny ability to always know exactly what drink a customer needs after a short amount of conversation. Most stories revolve around a certain patron have a problem outside of the bar that is troubling them. It could be anything from a young couple whose marriage is on the rocks to a disgraced politician having to face the media. As the series continues we see the careers of Ryu’s coworkers and their trials tribulations as well.
Bartender is first and foremost a healing manga. There is little to no action. Most of the stories contained within are either inspiring or tear jerkers. Occasionally you will get something that is just an odd little vignette but most of the stories should elicit a sigh and some tears. Sometimes those tears will be happy and other times bitter-sweet. There are some cocktails and some interesting trivia as well.
That makes this distinctly a series for older readers. Since the series is about a fancy bars there are no concessions made for a younger audience. This is pure unadulterated seinen. The cast is all out of school and the regulars all have adult jobs with adult problems.
It is mostly an episodic series with the A plot being a short story that only lasts a few chapters. The B plots in the background last much longer but they are rarely the center of attention. It is a series distinctly meant to just be picked up whenever you just want some comfort. Dedicated readers will get more out of the B plots but the emphasis on the A plot makes it so you could pick up the series at any point in time.
That does not mean that there is nothing that carries over from episode to episode. Being about bars there are some regular customers that appear from time to time and you can see how their careers, love lives, and dreams evolve over time. It is just that any major crisis in their lives will usually have some sort of major crescendo in two or three chapters. Not everything in their lives will be solves by and Old Fashioned or a Tom Collins but a chapter in their story will reach an important enough of a climax that you feel a complete story was told.
If you have only watched the anime (maybe because it was written by Yasuhiro Imagawa) it is easy to assume they are the same story. That would be a mistake. With only 11 episodes the anime trims away a lot of the ongoing plots to the manga. It feels more like a greatest hits compilation than a complete story arc. The anime makes Ryu Sasakura almost like a magical drink dispensing fairy but in the manga he feels more like a fully fleshed out character with his own dreams and desires.
But that is not a horrible thing. In fact I would go as far as to say that the anime is a great sampler to see you might be interested in reading the manga. But the manga itself is much grander and more complex despite being as episodic as the anime.
Bartender is hardly a manga for everyone. This is distinctly a series that would tank if it were put out as a print series in English. Even the more dramatic and action packed Drops of God did not make a huge impact in English so the much more sedate story of Bartender would be financial suicide. But if you’re looking for a more adult story as compared to the more teen friendly fair you usually find in the current market then you might want to pull up a stool at Eden Hall.
For anyone who gets completely addicted to Araki Joh’s writing about alcohol there is always Bartender à Paris, Bartender à Tokyo, Sommelière, Sommelier, and Shin Sommelier: Shun no Wine as well. That might be even enough titles for someone like Ink (and that is no small accomplishment).