A movie about a department store that caters exclusively to a clientele of extinct, anthropomorphic animals sounds like — and should feel like — a magical experience. So it’s surprising that despite its unique setting and inviting visuals, The Concierge feels rather ho-hum.
The titular concierge of the movie is Akino (Natsumi Kawaida), a probationary addition to the Hokkyoku Department Store who is as bumbling as she is determined. The newcomer initially annoys the ever-watching, ever-lurking Floor Manager Todo (Nobuo Tobita) — who steals the film with his uncanny ability to pop up from unexpected places, including the underside of a cooking pot that’s in use — captures the interest of the department store’s avian owner Elulu (Takeo Ootsuka), and eventually forms bonds with various Hokkyoku patrons through her determination to be of service.
The prevailing impression I got from Akino is that her character type feels very, very familiar. This isn’t helped by the lack of an interesting arc, motive, or trait that would allow her to stand out better as a protagonist. She’s simply alright, with most of her charm coming from the delightfully energetic animation that powers her movements and body language and synergizes nicely with the attractively simple and malleable human character designs.
Akino’s foray into hospitality is depicted across a series of situations, mostly with her lending assistance to a troubled customer and winning their goodwill. The manga that inspired the movie is described by The Japan Media Arts Festival as a “series of short stories,” and that description fits the majority of the film well, although there’s no formal segmentation between the mini-plots. The 70-minute runtime feels considerably longer and fatiguing with Akino endlessly stumbling from one scenario to another.
The situations in The Concierge are decent enough to sit through, and the movie elicits a chuckle every now and then (the amusing sight of Jun Fukuyama‘s deflated maître d’hôtel in one scene lingers in my mind). But similar to Akino, these scenarios lack any gripping surprises or elements, and so the quantity is the quality that stands out most. Their relative brevity prevents them from having the depth or extended focus to be truly heart-warming, or to provide a novel hook. The movie is meant to be feel-good fare, but the stories are too light on the palate to properly deliver that feeling.
I also couldn’t fully embrace the fuzzy endings of a couple of vignettes as the need to highlight the Hokkyoku staff’s level of service slightly diminishes them. There’s the story of a perfume hunt that leads to the formation of a teen lion-lioness couple, but the outcome doesn’t feel that charming when it’s the miraculous procurement of the out-of-production product rather than the lion’s earnest search that’s the catalyst for the relationship. (The clarification that the girl wants the perfume for sentimental rather than materialistic reasons softens the issue only marginally.)
In another vignette, Akino — upon realizing that two separate customers are secretly buying each other a gift — scrambles to rectify her initial recommendations and to stop the customers from crossing paths. Although not entirely baseless, her frantic actions ultimately felt like much ado about nothing. Akino’s efforts also don’t feel all that connected to the story’s happy conclusion, which involves the customers bumping into each other anyway, but only out of her sight.
Of the animals that Akino encounters, the most memorable (aside from the mammoth blessed with Kenichirou Tsuda’s voice) are the troublemakers. These come in the form of a rankling Karen-like walrus and a recurring pair of haughty peacocks who have to frequently be stopped from mating in public. The former is dealt with in a satisfying, passive-aggressive manner, while the peacocks only ever get polite entreaties to stop. At the end of the day, all these patrons are free to return to the Hokkyoku without having to reform themselves — I was surprised that the walrus is even awarded a place in a happy montage of the department store’s patrons near the end. I mentioned earlier that The Concierge was a feel-good-fare-type film, but the fact that the Hokkyoku Department Store leaves its doors open to customers like that dims the brightness of its lights.
If The Concierge were a department store, I’d say that it’s an acceptable place to kill some time in. However, its wares are unexciting and don’t match up to the lustre or attractiveness of the location’s design, making it a little disappointing to venture into. I really liked the animation and visuals — be it in terms of the human/animal designs or the bright, but comfortable colors — as well as the comfortable embrace of Myuk’s ending theme song, but I wish The Concierge’s stories had more to offer to make them as interesting as the presentation.
• Director: Yoshimi Itazu (Welcome to the Ballroom)
• Scriptwriter: Satomi Ooshima (Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko, Raven of the Inner Palace series composer)
• Character designer and chief animation director: Chie Morita (Run With The End Ep 17, 21, and 23 co-animation director)
• Concept color designer: Izumi Hirose (Tengoku Daimakyou color designer)
• Art director: Studio Fuuga’s Ichirou Tatsuta (Haikyu!!)
• Compositing director: Kouji Tanaka (The Deer King)
• Music composer: tofubeats
• Animation production: Production I.G
• Natsumi Kawaida as Akino
• Takeo Ootsuka as Elulu
• Nobuo Tobita as Todo
• Megumi Han as Mori
• Natsumi Fujiwara as Iwase
• Eiji Yoshitomi as Maruki
• Jun Fukuyama as the maître d’hôtel
• Yuuichi Nakamura as Tokiwa