Reviewby Paul Jensen,
Volume 1 Blu-Ray
Given a choice, high school student Daisuke Higashida would prefer to spend his free time studying. Unfortunately, family financial troubles have forced him to seek out a part-time job as a waiter at a local restaurant. The work itself is easy enough, but all of Higashida's coworkers are a little odd and some are downright dangerous. The worst of the lot may be head waitress Hana Miyakoshi, who repeatedly brings Higashida to the brink of death by forcing him to taste-test her inedible homemade chocolate. Can our no-nonsense hero survive in this culinary house of horrors?
WWW.Wagnaria is a spinoff of the long-running workplace comedy Wagnaria, but only in the loosest sense of the word. It's set at another location in the same chain of restaurants, but the story and characters are completely new. In fact, it's safe to say that there's more continuity on the production staff than there is in the narrative; many of the key creative positions on WWW.Wagnaria's staff are filled by veterans of the original series. This new show also retains the core style of its predecessor, following in its footsteps as a goofy, leisurely paced comedy with a quirky cast of characters.
While the style of humor will certainly feel familiar, there's just enough difference in the main characters' personalities to keep this new series from feeling redundant. Higashida is somewhat reminiscent of previous protagonist Takanashi in his role as the comedic straight man, but he distinguishes himself through his more combative personality. This makes him a good match for headstrong heroine Miyakoshi; their quasi-romantic, argument-prone relationship dominates many of this set's early episodes. There's some strong chemistry behind their constant bickering, and the series puts it to good use through a mix of clever dialogue and good comedic timing. An unexpected but welcome addition to this lead duo is the spirit of Saint Valentine, who visits Higashida every time he has a near-death experience with Miyakoshi's home cooking. Valentine's well-intentioned advice freshens up the dynamic between Higashida and Miyakoshi by giving them even more reasons to despise one another.
The rest of the characters fill limited but useful roles in these episodes. Much like the lead couple, the other romantic relationships in WWW.Wagnaria tend to involve more danger and hostility than actual romance. Sadistic rich girl Kamakura only works at the restaurant to torment her childhood friend Shindou, using the debt his family owes to hers as an excuse to make his life a living hell. Head cook Adachi thinks he might have feelings for ghost-whispering waitress Muranushi, but it's hard to know for sure when he has a panic attack every time she smiles. Neither of these couples is quite as entertaining as Higashida and Miyakoshi, but they do have their moments.
As these three relationships start to develop and the rest of the supporting cast is introduced, the core comedic premise of WWW.Wagnaria gradually reveals itself. The big joke here is that all of the relationships at the restaurant involve one character being possessed or haunted by another, either literally or figuratively. Higashida is stuck in a vicious cycle as the only person willing to taste-test Miyakoshi's toxic chocolates. Shindou's debt prevents him from escaping Kamakura, who still holds a grudge over an incident that happened years ago. Muranushi has some kind of supernatural hold on Adachi, even though she herself doesn't believe in the occult. Revealing this pattern doesn't change much in terms of how the story is presented, but it does provide an amusing sense of context for most of the show's comedic routines. It also lends WWW.Wagnaria a kind of thematic cohesion that few comedies are able to achieve.
The biggest issue that the series has is its predictability. It's often too easy to see where a joke is going, which makes for an underwhelming payoff when the punch lines finally arrive. This problem is mitigated to some extent by consistently entertaining dialogue, but even the funniest journey can only do so much to make up for a bland destination. WWW.Wagnaria also suffers from a lack of narrative substance in these seven episodes; the characters' relationships are geared more for comedy than drama, so there's not much to fall back on when the humor comes up short. There are hints of more emotional material to come, but any meaningful progress is put on hold until later in the series.
WWW.Wagnaria is generally solid in the visual department, and its technical merits are above average compared to the inconsistent animation quality that often plagues the comedy genre. The character designs are easy on the eyes, but none are all that memorable aside from the adorable Saint Valentine. Backgrounds are nicely detailed, especially in the restaurant, though the layout and appearance of the place are almost suspiciously similar to the restaurant from the original series. The soundtrack fades unobtrusively into the background, while the peppy opening and closing themes carry on the franchise tradition of being sung by the main vocal cast.
Anyone who bought the Aniplex releases of Wagnaria's third season will have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this set. It's neatly packaged with some attractive box art, and it includes a set of four postcards featuring the main characters. There are no standalone on-disc extras worth mentioning, but each episode does contain a short bonus scene that wasn't included in the broadcast version of the series. These bonus scenes don't necessarily add much to the show, but it's nice that they can be accessed directly from the chapter selection menu.
The first half of WWW.Wagnaria never quite rises to the level of its franchise sibling, but it comes remarkably close considering that it only has one season to do what the original did in three. It arguably fares better when taken on its own merits, as it's a solid entry in the field of leisurely paced, character-focused comedies. Its execution should be good enough to satisfy fans of the original, while the separate cast and story make it accessible to franchise newcomers. In either case, this workplace comedy makes a respectable case for itself in its first seven episodes.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Retains original show's style of humor without feeling redundant, can be very funny when it hits the mark
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