Skull-face Bookseller Honda-San is a quirky, comedic slice-of-life anime that focuses on the real-world experiences of its creator Honda, who worked as a clerk in the manga department of a Japanese bookstore. The mangaka uses a series of different masks to protect the identities of her co-workers.
However, these masks are not simply used for a practical purpose, but are instead implemented to symbolically represent each characters’ personality, hobbies or reflect elements of Japanese culture.
Rabbit Head is one of Honda’s junior colleagues at the bookstore, who looks after the gaming section. The rabbit (usagi) mask that she wears has likely been employed to represent her young age. Within numerous cultures and traditions, rabbits have been associated with youth and fertility.
Furthermore, the Usagi has often been used as a symbol of selflessness. The Moon Rabbit is a well-known mythological story contained within the Japanese anthology Konjaku Monogatarish, which portrays deeds of great kindness.
The fable presents acts of charity by a monkey, fox, and rabbit after they witness a passing beggar. In an effort to help quell the stranger’s hunger the fox collects fish, while the monkey gathers fruits. However, since the rabbit is not as resourceful as the others, they decide to burn the grass that they’ve collected and throw themselves into the flames as an offering. Impressed by the rabbit’s self-sacrifice, the beggar reveals himself as the Emperor and sends them to the Moon to be their guardian.
Within traditional Japanese working culture, it’s often expected that younger employees will sacrifice a greater amount of their time to build up experience and help out their respective companies and senpai. As a junior within Honda’s bookstore, it’s likely that Rabbit Head would attempt to help her older and more experienced colleagues as frequently as possible to pay her respect and impress. The Usagi mask that Honda has used to represent her, is likely a reflection of these beliefs.
Okitsune is one of Honda’s senior colleagues who are in charge of the comics section and has a specific focus on books published by Kondansha. Okitsune shows a genuine appreciation for her co-workers and will likely be the first to defend them when they are treated poorly. However, she can be rather abrasive, unprofessional and often uses profanity.
Honda’s use of a fox (kitsune) mask to hide her identity has been used to reflect both her caring and edgy personality. Within Japanese folklore, kitsune are often portrayed as creatures that possess paranormal abilities and live in harmony with humans.
They are commonly classified as either benevolent beings who are faithful friends and guardians (zenko) or mischievous creatures that cannot be trusted (yako). Okitsune’s character seemingly bridges the gap between this duality and has been employed by Honda to symbolically highlight both her charm and fiery temperament.
Ko-mote is another junior at Honda’s bookstore who looks after the boys’ love and teen love manga shelves. The Ko-omote (“small face”) mask that she wears is a piece of traditional Japanese head wear that is typically used in Noh, a form of classical dance-drama that has been performed since the 14th century.
While these masks can represent a wide-range of emotions, values and ideas, the Ko-mote mask that this employee wears has likely been chosen by Honda-san to represent beauty and innocence. It appears that Honda recognized this particular co-worker for her charming appearance, cuteness, and youth and decided that this mask was the perfect representation of these personality traits.
Armor and Kendo
Two of Honda’s colleagues wear masks related to fighting and swordsmanship. While Kendo-san is soft-spoken, Honda notes that he is incredibly strong and capable of lifting lots of heavy books with minimal effort. Compared to many of the masks that are employed throughout the show, the Kendo mask (Bōgu) that this character wears is less cryptic or clouded in mythology.
Honda’s use of this mask to represent this character is almost certainly a reflection of the hobby that this person pursued outside their time at work. Since Kendo requires practicing dedication to master, they likely spent a great deal of their free time this skill.
Armor’s mask deviates from Japanese traditions and instead is largely based on a western medieval knight. She is one of Honda’s superiors and is in charge of the boys’ love comics section. Armor is a complete fan-girl when it comes to male idols and BL, and even takes some of her coworkers to see shows featuring the boys that she admires. The knight’s helmet, is probably a reference to the classical ideal of the heroes, who she spends her time fawning over.
Azarashi (seal) is Honda’s editor at Kadokawa and is represented after the animal she is named after. While this character is voiced by a man, her gender was subverted for the show.
Unlike many of the other characters within the series, Azarashi requested that she was drawn as a baby harp seal. This is likely because it’s her favorite animal and because it provides a visual pun. As an editor, it’s her duty to review Honda’s work and provide her seal of approval to green light the project.
The meaning behind some other characters’ masks are either for more simplified or personal reasons. Yōsetsu Mask appearance is possibly due to him being a former mechanic or engineering hobbyist, while Full-Face’s look is likely because of his love for motorbikes.
Other masks have been chosen to emphasize the persons’ disposition. Gas Mask is a perfect example of this, in which his stoic and cynical nature are accentuated by the appropriately tight-fitting mask that Honda has picked-out.
The choice of a paper bag for Kamibukuro is a little more tricky to decipher. Typically, at least in western-media, when a brown paper bag is placed over someone’s head it means that they are ugly. Although, this interpretation would be rather strange when considering that paper-bag kun is one of Honda’s closest friends and senior colleagues.
Having said this, Honda-san has a strangely dark sense of humor, so this might be a possible explanation. However, Kamibukuro has been shown to be rather exuberant and often prone to panicking. It’s therefore more likely that the paper bag is a reference to their heavy breathing, which they might often be seen doing to calm themselves down.