I'm genuinely surprised to find that this and its parent show are based on manga by the same author. (Working!! ran from 2005-2014, then Web-ban Working!! started its print run in 2015. That said, though, wikipedia claims that the web-ban version actually came first, being an old web comic from years ago that's simply being reprinted. That makes sense to me. Personally I'd say Working!! is better.)
Theoretically they're almost identical, mind you. They're both workplace comedies set at a branch of the Wagnaria family restaurant chain, with crazy employees. What's different is the tone. Working!! is light and charming. This show, in contrast, is far more mean-spirited... while also being light and occasionally charming. Everything's being played for laughs, but it's still hard to ignore the fact that there's a lot of genuinely nasty behaviour here. It's bleak enough that the happy endings in the final episode didn't all feel earned to me. I won't say I didn't believe in it, but I thought there was something unsatisfying about it. It felt dishonest for these stories to end in romantic partnerships, rather than, say, mental breakdowns, murder attempts, trauma and despair.
There's also a gender split. The female characters are horrible, evil, callous, scary, terrifyingly insensitive, rich bitches and/or idiots. The men are doormats, stoics, victims, poverty-afflicted and/or idiots. Our anti-heroes include:
HIGASHIDA (male, protagonist) - has to work at the restaurant because he needs the money. He's bullied into eating Miyakoshi's chocolates in ep.1 and the resulting near-death experience turns him into a cold cynic who'll tell Miyakoshi to her face that he hates her and that she's an insensitive moron.
MIYAKOSHI (female) - fated love partner of Higashida and an insensitive moron. She doesn't actually hate him, but she's loud, violent, bone-crushingly stupid and incapable of thinking of other people or being considerate in any way. She's without empathy. She's appalling. I think it's implied that her cooking repeatedly kills Higashida, but he survives because he keeps being sent back from the afterlife by St Valentine. She's uninterested in this and is only interested in him as a culinary guinea pig. That said, though, they're actually funny together, thanks to their subversion of genre conventions. Put them together in a romantic situation and Higashida will tell Miyakoshi to drop dead while Miyakoshi fails to get any reality whatsoever through her rock-hard head.
SHINDOU (male) - in crippling debt to a local loan shark. Will be pathetically grateful for being given spare change or for being allowed to eat discarded food. And in case you thought that wasn't enough black comedy, wait until you meet his father.
KAMAKURA (female) - loan shark's daughter and brutal sadist. She's filthy rich and doesn't need to work at Wagnaria, but she goes there every day anyway because she lives to torture Shindou! She'll make him eat dog food, drop bowling balls on his hands and so on. She's been doing this for years. She's even worse with people than Miyakoshi, who doesn't actually mean any harm. Kamakura is evil. She'll sneer at you and laugh. However she's doing all this because she's always been in love with Shindou, but he rejected her when they were about four years old. You may or may not think that a sufficient justification for her actions.
SAKAKI (male) - restaurant manager and even more stupid than Miyakoshi, but also a doormat.
SAIKI (male) - boy who's lived his entire life abroad and can't speak Japanese. Sakaki hires him anyway.
KONDOU (female) - lazy sponger who refuses to do any work. Also a grim-faced harridan who never smiles or says anything nice. Exploits Sakaki and Saiki.
ADACHI (male) - nervous and easily frightened, so of course the show pairs him up with Muranushi.
MURANUSHI (female) - she's basically walked in from a horror movie. On the upside, she's the restaurant's only female employee who's not incapable of human empathy. On the downside, she's apparently emotionless and can see dead people. She'll talk to them in front of you. If she takes the day off work, they'll get upset and write messages in letters of blood.
KOUNO (male) - never gets partnered with anyone. He's a bit of a spare wheel and a doofus.
So you've got all those healthy, positive role models and their splendid life choices! (Spoiler: joke.) Just to make everything even more disquieting, though, there's also the occasional potential love triangle if you look at customers, friends and other non-employees. There's a girl called Nagata, for instance, who likes Higashida. She becomes a regular at the restaurant and she's a nice, normal girl. However when Miyakoshi asks out Higashida (long story) and she's too stupid and self-centred to be able to hear the word "no", Higashida never realises that he could have surely got his message across by dating someone else instead. In other words, the show's anti-romantic comedy choices are being underlined by other characters in the background who might have their own unrequited feelings.
This is funny. I like Working!! and I like this too. However it's in part a comedy of cruelty and extreme anti-romance, whereas Working!! was lovable and never meant any harm to anyone. Some of this show's best jokes involve setting up a stereotypical romantic situation and then letting these cynics and misanthropes loose on it.
That said, though, you might guess that this is an earlier work given how quickly it forgets character traits from the first few episodes. Higashida's family, Miyakoshi's violence, Kondou's intellectual challenges and Muranushi's ghosts all drift into the background as the show works out where its jokes are. You could almost see Working!!'s Daisuke and Mahiru as second attempts at Higashida and Miyakoshi, with those forgotten original traits brought back and reinforced with funnier ideas.
I don't think the show works, ultimately. When it's on form, mind you, it's pretty startling. There's some fairly unique comedy here and it's clearly a bolder, more extreme show than Working!!. I enjoyed it. However I think it all goes "poof" in the end, with slightly forced happy endings for everyone when a more honest show would have stuck to its guns. I wanted to see them follow through on that callousness and abuse. I certainly don't hate the cast or anything, but that's clearly what the show's about and I think it's weakened itself by trying to end nicely.
That said, though, a general audience might have hated that. I could imagine the show being divisive as it is, with people like Miyakoshi and especially Kamakura looking likely to attract a fair amount of hatred. Personally I think the show succeeds with them, though.
"It looks like you're using your non-existent brain."