Anime Review: WAGNARIA!!

Studio: A-1 Pictures
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Release Date: 03/22/2011

It’s a bit odd than an anime series with an English title back in Japan gets renamed back into Japanese for its English release, but that’s what happened here. Originally titled WORKING!! back in its native Japan, WAGNARIA started off as a webcomic, gained a semi unrelated sister series as a manga, and then was finally transformed into a cartoon using the characters from the manga. Still with me? So it’s been a bit of a journey for WAGNARIA!! and now the series finally has an official English release thanks to Nippon Ichi. I have to admit that from the synopsis of the show, the artwork I had seen, and even a few short clips of the anime, I was really looking forward to this series. It was probably my most anticipated Nippon Ichi anime release since their first in Toradora!. So now that I’ve watched all thirteen episodes, what do I think? Peruse downwards, my readers…

First up, let’s talk about the package you are getting for your hard earned $47.99. Nippon Ichi currently puts out the absolutely best anime packaging I’ve ever seen and WAGNARIA!! is no exception. The two DVDs and the hardcover coffee table sized artbook comes in a super sturdy case, which is a beautiful glossy white. The front cover features Sota and Popura (two of the main characters) and the back features Mahiru (another main character) on the back in an outfit that reminds me of Tom Sawyer and/or Huckleberry Finn. Nippon Ichi cases are as impervious to damage as the original Nintendo DS. It’s twice as long as a normal DVD case and as wide as two generic DVD cases, so storing the package might be a little awkward, but it still manages to look sharp.

Inside the case are two thin pack DVDs. The front of each case features character art from the series while the back gives you an episode listing. Both DVDs fit nicely in the oversized premium case and the artbook goes right next to them for extra protection.

Speaking of the artbook, this is another area where Nippon Ichi never fails to impress me. In fact, this might be my favorite artbook out of all their anime series so far. It is thirty two pages in length (remember the book is coffee table sized) and contains a wide array of pictures and information on the series. The book starts off with a character relationship chart, goes into character biographies (two per page), illustrations of the characters and the restaurant, and then wraps up with rough original sketches of the character and some of the four panel comic strips that inspired the anime. It’s a wonderful package from beginning to end and anime collectors will no doubt be thrilled by the artbook alone.

Now for the anime itself. This thirteen episode series revolves around the staff of the Wagnaria Family Restaurant. Wagnaria is a chain of famiresu (The Japanese word for a family restaurant). These restaurants feature a wide array of Japanese, Chinese and Western dishes to ensure any customer can find something that they would like to eat. The series starts off with the character Popura Taneshima. She is a seventeen year old waitress who is very short for her age, and also looks quite young to boot. She is put in charge of finding a new part-time worker for Wagnaria, but no one seems to want or need a job. Finally she runs into Sota Takanashi on the street. Sota is a sixteen year old boy whose love of cute tiny things (especially children…) makes him accept the job at Wagnaria, just so he can be close to the petite princess Popura. From there Sota goes on to meet the rest of the staff. There’s Mahiru, a young girl with a pathological fear of men that is so pronounced she punches every guy she sees. We also have the never working but always eating manager Kyoko. Kyoko was once a gang member and saved the head waitress Yachiyo from bullies when they were both younger. Now Yachiyo has a lesbian attraction to Kyoko who is completely ignorant to it. Yachiyo also carries a katana around with her everywhere, but the reason for it is passed off in a two line bit around episode four and there’s never any real character development with it. The two cooks are Soma and Sato. Soma is better at espionage and blackmail than he is cooking and Sato is a good natured chain smoker who is in love with Yachiyo, and because he has a penis, well… that’s never going anywhere. The cast is rounded out by the branch manager Otoo (who only shows up in two episodes), a young girl named Yamada who looks like a female Xellos from Slayers (and is as honest to boot), and Sota’s four sisters who occasionally play a minor role in a few episodes. Since the men are all Sota, Sato and Soma, the series might be a bit confusing at first, so the subtitles are a must here, even if you speak or can understand Japanese.

There really isn’t a lot of plot development or even character development in the series. Although it starts off focusing on Popura and Sota and the potential for romance there, Popura (who is also the mascot character BTW) is quickly shunted off to a very small supporting role so the series can focus on the love-hate relationship between Sota and the manphobic Mahiru. This would be fine, as well as a nice twist, in a better written series, but both of the main characters are so unlikeable, I found myself happiest when ever minor characters got their minor moments in the sun. Sota is pretty much an asshole who not only thinks he is better than the rest of the staff (especially the women), but he tells them as much, while also harping on everyone’s worst qualities. There’s nothing in the series that remotely makes the guy likeable and it appears his minor misogyny stems from the fact his father and sisters made him consistently dress like a girl when he was younger. Meanwhile Mahiru’s father has purposely developed a severe phobia in his daughter since she was a toddler. So the crux of the comedy in the series is the standby anime cliché of “female lead assaults the male lead and slapstick is funny.” However, because the series goes at great lengths to point out Mahiru is mentally ill every chance it gets, it’s not really funny at all. Instead, it’s rather uncomfortable at times. Instead of being The Three Stooges style slapstick, it was just a physically abusive relationship and that’s a pretty hard thing to laugh at.

Let’s take Love Hina as an example. The violence Naru does to Keitaro is so over the top that realism is chucked out the door every time. As well, the violence is akin to what you would see in a Road Runner cartoon. Keitaro is Wile E. Coyote, as he never suffers any ill effects, and he’s instantly better in the next scene. In WAGNARIA, the violence is pretty realistic. Sota bleeds, shows bruises and is in regular pain from Mahiru. The majority of the series just ends up revolving around Mahiru physically assaulting Sota and the two of them forming some weird masochistic relationship as Mahiru tries to break her seventeen year phobia (and she never does). Because the series tries to be a “realistic” show rather than rely on fantasy or over the top elements, it’s hard to care about either main character or even root for them to get together. There’s even a scene where Sota (in drag) berates Mahiru’s father for the severe mental abuse he has inflicted on her all his life, and the dad agrees and leaves Wagnaria with his tale tucked between his leg. But you know what? AT NO TIME IN THE SERIES does anyone think of actually getting Mahiru help. This disturbed me a lot. Now if the series didn’t spend every five minutes saying “Mahiru is Androphobic, she punches out guys constantly, she is very mentally ill,” and had instead made this in more of a “wacky high school comedy” vein, I’d probably have enjoyed this more. Instead this was just uncomfortable at times to see the crux of the comedy being around someone with a phobia so severe they’d be committed here in the states constantly assaulting the man she has feelings for.

There really isn’t much more to the series unfortunately. It’s all very dull and there’s never any real plot progression save for, “How will they try to keep Mahiru from being violent today?” There’s occasionally a mention of the Sato/Kyoko/Yachiyo love triangle, but other than that, there is no real substance to the series. Because the series not only decided to focus on the two most unlikeable characters in the series and then shoe horn them into a romance of sort at the expense of any and all other plot points, the whole product suffers greatly and you can see why it only lasted for thirteen episodes instead of the more common twenty-six that anime series tend to have. If the series had decided to focus on Popura (who is the mascot character, yet somehow has a minor supporting role) or even the love triangle, it would have been a far more accessible and enjoyable series. Instead, I just found myself wanting it to be over.

So unfortunately, the series I was most looking forward to from Nippon Ichi became my least favorite overall and the first I really can’t recommend. The story never goes anywhere, and each episode pretty much hinges on the Mahiru’s attacks on Sota, with the occasional bit of Sota cross dressing, Sota pissing someone off, or the obligatory hot spring trip where Mahiru still attacks Sota. If you’re looking for a more realistic comedy-drama series, pick up the first volume of Toradora! instead. It’s better in every way possible and if you find you like it, you can snag the second volume from Nippon Ichi as well.

You can learn more about WAGNARIA!! by visiting the official website for the series. You can also purchase it directly from Nippon Ichi for $47.99. and should also have it in stock as well.



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2 responses to “Anime Review: WAGNARIA!!”

  1. Bellicose Avatar

    Nobody thinks of getting Mahiru help because it’s Japan. Psychologists are comparatively rare in Japan and it’s almost unheard of for people to be left in their care for any kind of problem. It’s generally accepted that the people around the person in question will help them to work through whatever the problem is, what is exactly what’s happening in Wagnaria/Working.

    Far from being an uncomfortable, unrealistic approach, what’s presented is very much the norm.

    1. Alex Lucard Avatar

      Bellicose – That would be true if it was a self-contained mental illness, but when it’s one that causes a person to lash out physically at strangers, customers and peers, even in Japan that brings the authorities and/or mental health professionals. If Mahiru was hikiomori or had a slight phobia, that would be one thing. Random violence is another and Japan is actually pretty strict about that depending on the specifics.

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