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TFP’s Anime List Project #27: The Worker

5 min read

A couple times a month, the Fandom Post community suggests and votes on a new top five list about something in anime, most often from the current season. It’s our way of highlighting something fun or interesting or strange—or even meaningful—about what’s airing now, or about anime in general.

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You always see them, but often have no idea who they are beyond their job description. Sometimes you notice them when a character you do know wants something from them, like guidance, getting their robot fixed, or a food order: it’s the background, episodic worker! Not quite as obscure as one would think, as our list attests. These aren’t regular characters, even if they can appear in every episode of a series (because it may only be for a few seconds, with little to no dialog) and it’s not a topic for supporting or main characters taking some service job. These are the characters that fill out the world our main characters live: the clerks and mechanics and servers and shop owners and servants who make it all feel at least a little real. And there are several creators over the years who enjoy ennobling them with the same eccentric behavior and character design as any main character, if only for a few brief scenes.

Enjoy. And please tip your server.

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#5: Maki Matsumoto (Cardcaptor Sakura)

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Maki is our lone entrepreneur in the list, the owner of Sakura and friends’ favorite shop of all things cute, Twin Bells. She’s portrayed at first (she appears in several episodes, and the movies) as somewhat inept as a first-time business owner, bumbling and unsure how to run her shop, relying on her first customers to get the place even in order. Of course she’s there, as well, to serve the heroic image of Sakura when Clow Cards find their way into her stock, causing the usual mayhem but also endangering her very business and well being. (Given her longevity in the series, she does recover; where else will Sakura get her stuffed animals?) But pity the small shop owner in anime—Maki survives these crazy kids, but main characters are very often blowing up their store fronts when they’re saving the world.

#4: Totsuki Resort Service Staff (Food Wars!, ep. 13-14)

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Episode 14 of the first season of Food Wars! is one of its most enlivening. It’s the most desperate moment for Souma, who until this point barely struggles through the challenges put before him. But it’s just what makes this (leading in from the second half of episode 13) so exciting. It’s yet another judged cooking competition but the judges this time are all of the people who have served the students’ needs, food, and lodging at Tostsuki Resort, where this intense cooking camp is taking place. (As well as the people and families who produced their ingredients.) Here, the common but exceptionally well-trained employee (and their children!), not the vaunted and domineering chef or critic or restaurateur, is the person most critical to our hero’s success. They also get to eat as well as the elites for once.

#3: Special Vehicles Maintenance Crew (Patlabor)

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Shige’s crew in Patlabor appears in almost every episode, the true unsung heroes keeping Alphonse and the other labors in good repair and always ready to go. While crew chief Shige gets all the attention and thanks, they’re the ones working overtime and late nights making things work. (At the same time, Shige perhaps deserves respect for keeping them in order and on time.) In the mecha genre the maintenance crew is iconic, based partly on the eager post-war factory worker desperate to build a new economy, partly on the disciplined and very often sacrificial crews that manned the warships that ushered in that era. There’s always something identifiable about them, visible in the background, obviously critical to success, but unheralded: for the audience, they, not the heroes, are us. Well, the us that are or want to be mechanics, tinkerers, and engineers, at least.

#2: Maya Matsumoto, (Working!!/Wagnaria!!)

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But now, the poster girls. Even in a show specifically about regular working stiffs there is at least one worker who never gets her due: she never gets to go on some bizarre adventure, she doesn’t get stuck in some bizarre love triangle, she doesn’t have some bizarre eccentricity—a sword, a fear of people, very short stature—that gives her meaning. She just does her work, without word, somewhere there in the background, maybe noticed only in a couple episodes a season. Maybe getting a speaking part a couple times the whole series. The great Maya Matsumoto is for good reason some fans of Working!!’s favorite character: if it wasn’t for her the place probably wouldn’t function. And again, she’s more us than the main characters, keeping our heads down, doing our jobs and not offering opinions that will get us in trouble. (Though it could also be that she’s just the heroine of some other show that doesn’t take place here.)

#1: Saionji (Tanaka-kun is Always Listless)

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The inspiration for this list, we’re unashamed to announce, is the most recent member of the Anime Episodic Worker Hall of Fame: Saionji, the anxious, hardworking, and life-direction-questioning baito worker of the WacDonalds and the public pool that the male heroes of Tanaka-kun is Always Listless decide to frequent. (For a pair of episodes, anyway.) There are many, many fast food workers and baristas and bartenders and servers in anime all of the time, representatives of the consumer and leisure economy in those approximated worlds. Few are gifted by their creators the ability to go beyond the stock muted reactions of a mere extra to become full characters themselves. Saionji (besides getting a name, of course!) is that, if still serving as a foil in this case to the gruff manners of Tanaka and his best friend Ohta, intimated at first by their too-laid back mannerisms and expressions. Somewhat similar to Maya’s rare appearances above Saioji is also a nice expression of the easter egg nature of characters like this, having appeared in a blink-and-miss manner in every episode’s opening before she showed up properly—proving her life’s station.

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Join us next time for swimsuits. To have a say in what makes it on that list, and the next list after that, check out the forum thread, read up on the rules, and join the Fandom Post Anime List Project today!

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