This week I finished reading through a fan translation of Bartender. Bartender is a manga that started in 2004 by Joh Araki with art by Nagatomo Kenji. I first encountered it as the 11 episode anime show from 2006. I really enjoyed the anime so I jumped at the chance to read the manga. I was very glad I did.
At first it comes across as a slice-of-life story that follows Sasakura Ryu, a young bartender in Tokyo, as he navigates the problems and odd customers that are a part of the service industry. The manga’s true story line emerges slowly as the chapters progress. We see Ryu take on new challenges in order to develop his career as he grows closer to a young woman who is the granddaughter of an elderly hotel chain owner. Ryu is dedicated to developing his skill as a bartender but that is only a means to an end. His true goal is to serve the “glass of the gods”, that is, to use his talents to offer customers a drink that will heal their soul.
The theme of the manga is people connecting with other people in little, seemingly unimportant ways that heal their wounds and improve their lives. Ryu’s father was a famous and ruthless politician that crushed countless opponents. Ryu wants to take the opposite approach to life and heal others through insightful, considerate service. Ryu is a sensitive soul gifted with strong observational skills. He’s the kind of person that notices small gestures and details of his customers and uses the knowledge to select just the right drink and start a conversation that will do them good.
The manga tells a gentle, subtle story that, while not exactly action-packed, is a joy to read. I recommend it to those who want to take a break from high adventure and follow a milder story with appealing characters.