The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?Wakako Murusaki has a decent job and decent apartment, but mostly lives to eat and drink. Little in the world seems to excite her as much as a good beer paired with a good meal. In fact, to some the 26 year old's ways might seem a little reclusive.
While she does have friends, she doesn't seem to see them very often, and her odd behaviors, strange habits and patent refusal to meet new people, especially when she's eating, might imply a certain amount of discontent. But this couldn't be further from the truth. Wakako just loves the simple things in life: Especially good food, good sake and a restaurant that meets all her extremely specific criteria. And so,Wakako spends her days bar-hopping and sampling all the delicious delicacies she can find. After all, if one can't find joy in the simple pleasure of good taste, what's the point in being alive?
Wakako Zake is an original manga series by Chie Shinkyu. It retails for $6.99 as a digital only release from Media Do. A live action JDrama adaptation and a 12 episode anime both aired in 2015. Both are streaming on Crunchyroll. A Korean TV version of the series was also released.
Is It Worth Reading?
Wakako Zake definitely made me hungry, which is probably close to the intent. It's a manga for Japanese cuisine and alcohol enthusiasts, however, and though I love food as much as anyone else, I need a deeper narrative hook in order to really connect with a series.
Wakako Zake is probably best read in short, careful bursts. The chapters themselves are only about seven pages long and are structured nigh-identically: Our protagonist wants to eat a certain type of food and so she does so, commenting on the particulars of the food's taste and composition. I'll admit I had a difficult time getting through the book, as the lack of real structural diversity beyond ‘our main character goes to a bar’ one chapter and ‘our main character goes to a festival’ the next meant all of the volume's parts just blurred together. And although I am a huge fan of Japanese food, I found reading about as opposed to eating it myself more jealousy-inducing than entertaining.
The brief spats of characterization we get are Wakako Zake's most fun aspects; like how in the first chapter, a man who tries to start up a conversation with our main character is cut off when she abruptly leaves, saying that she enjoys food more when she's left in peace. Or an extremely funny aside where an attempt to personally sear a fish with a torch ends with the fish splitting in half. These add real personality and humanity to a manga that's mostly just descriptions of food items. Well told descriptions, granted, with very cute art to compliment, but if you're not interested in reading about only food then there's almost no outside appeal to Wakako Zake.
Wakako Zake's love for food is deep and real. How the main character has all kind of bizarre and specific eating habits to savor food, even though they're considered ill-mannered, speaks to a genuine wish to consume every morsel of sumptuous, delectable taste. But without an outside thematic agenda or even that many jokes, I found the series a difficult one to get any lasting enjoyment out of. If you're a foodie it might be worth a shot, but if you need story of any kind it's definitely not the manga for you.
Wakakozake has extremely limited appeal and nothing at all happens within its pages—unless you count enjoying good Japanese food paired with the right alcohol as “something happening.” An argument could be made that iyashikei, relaxing via the feel-good simplicity of something banal, is the point of the series, and that there will be people who like it for that alone. However, there doesn't seem to be much to do other than think, “That food and drink pairing sounds good” or “I've had that before. I wish I had some right now!” For a Western audience, much of which has very limited access to the Japanese izakaya scene, it's going to be thoughts of the former more often than not. Since the manga isn't even about recreating the delights at home, but more about how real places in Japan (or places clearly inspired by the mangaka dining out) serve this great food, there's little for the uninterested reader to do here. Wakako has some fun expressions, but she doesn't crack many jokes and the few biting comments she has are more about being annoyed that other diners unintentionally interrupt her “me time” than anything. All we see is her “me time,” with slight traces of her job and romantic relationship at the edges, but there's little, aside from crummy coworkers, to show what drives the woman to make the frequent drinking excursions so often alone.
Shinkyu's art, though distinctive, is cartoonish and in some ways that serves to the manga's detriment. Wakako looks like a child in a business suit guzzling drinks, and it's hard to convey her haggard frame of mind with such adorable expressions. Backgrounds are extremely limited and repetitive since it's mostly restaurants of the same basic type.
Wakakozake isn't that appealing to people who don't drink, and it offers little to those in the West who might enjoy some alcohol-food pairing tips but have no means to try the pairing themselves. With an utter lack of plot and characterization, it's not supposed to be held to high standards, but it still has to offer something to keep readers eager for even more.
Wakako is a 26-year-old office worker whose only vice in life is good food and drink. Each chapter of Wakako Zake is Wakako enjoying a food with wine, sake, or shōchū. Her passion for food is what gets her through every problem and there's nothing stopping her from eating everything in sight!
Though Wakako Zake's concept begins and ends with “I'm in the mood for this food, so I'm going to eat it,” readers get to experience people watching with Wakako and her internal monologue. Though eating food alone may feel lonely, Wakako never feels that way. Wakako's love for sake is adorable and she's always instantly refreshed as soon as her drink hits her lips.
Besides her character being relatable to food lovers, the art of Wakako Zake is unique and charming! Chie Shinkyu draws Wakako and the rest of the other humans with minimal detail, and Wakako's eyes are a character of their own. Multiple panels show only Wakako's eyes reacting to the flavors of the food she's currently eating. Meanwhile, the food is beautifully detailed and totally appetizing! I found myself looking up certain dishes to see what they looked like in real life, as well as if I could eat them at local Japanese restaurants.
Wakako Zake is the perfect example of a manga that is enjoyable even if there is minimal, if any plot. It's slice of life in the truest form, and makes readers feel as if we're sitting across from Wakako and having a meal with her.
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