Versus: Chie Shinkyu’s Wakakozake

The idea of going out alone, whether it’s shopping for manga or clothes, watching a movie or eating out, felt like such an “adult” type thing to do when I was in high school. But as someone in their twenty-somethings, I grew to appreciate doing things by myself, going at my own pace without having to worry about pleasing others or thinking about what they wanted to do. These moments are refreshing because they give me time for introspection and lets me explore things in a more intimate way.

I think the reason I missed out on Chie Shinkyu’s Wakakozake when it was airing back in 2015 was because it didn’t pique my attention, even if the anime was of the slice-of-life genre. The series follows a young woman who enjoys eating and drinking out on her own.

Opening Sequence, Wakakozake, Crunchyroll.

Watching it now and being the same age as the protagonist, Murasaki Wakako, made me think about how nice it is to de-stress over a great meal and a nice drink.

In an interview with Sena Kondo for Pixivision, Chie Shinkyu became a fan of drinking alone ever since she was in her mid-twenties. After gaining the courage to enter a retro Japanese bar from drinking at a party she’d left just moments before, she fell hard for the private enjoyable experience of drinking alone. Shinkyu says that her love for alcohol was the reason why she decided to write Wakakozake.

After watching the anime and learning that there are four seasons of the live action version made, I knew that I had to at least check out the first season to create this post.

Wakakozake, Episode 2: 2nd Night – Fried Chicken, Crunchyroll.

At their core, the anime and live action versions of Wakakozake really shine in how they establish an overall relaxed and lighthearted mood through soft background music, the eargasmic and Wakako’s quiet musings on the delicious foods and drinks she consumes as she leads us to different izakayas (Japanese bars) in every episode.

The formula for the episodes remains relatively the same in both versions where the focus is on a particular dish and complementary drink. Wakako carefully shares her impressions of a dish and the drink she chooses or a chef recommends, explains the process of creating the dish, happily sighs her iconic “pshuuu” after a bite and ties in a personal anecdote to the food.

Between the two, the anime adaptation doesn’t choose to expand the world of Wakakozake in the way that the live action does. The anime never reveals a lot of details about Wakako, but drops little hints and shares tiny snippets of what her office life and personal life is like. In following with the original source, the anime stays firmly in the realm of sharing Wakako’s private gastronomic experiences.

Same protein, different preparations. Looks so yummy…! (Wakakozake, Crunchyroll.)

Concentrating on the food and drink pairings in each episode, the anime gives insight to the kinds of Japanese cuisine available at izakayas existing outside the realm of the images that come to mind when we typically think of Japanese food like: sushi, bento, omurice, onigiri and ramen. For example, Wakako eats a lot of seafood dishes containing saumon, sea urchin and monkfish liver.

The live action version uses the original source as a reference. The first season’s first five episodes loosely use the same stories found in the anime. With the difference in the episode’s length between both versions, the live action version gives the supporting characters a larger role in the story. They help create a clearer picture of Wakako’s life and shape her personality, but also give information about the foods and drinks she orders. The live action version features two meals in one episode rather than focusing on a single experience.

I only reached the half-way point in the first season but can see how the screen writers Shinji Kuma, Toshimitsu Chimura and Hiroaki Yuasa (who also directed the live action) deviate from what I’ve seen in the anime to create their take based off the original manga.

To give an idea of how an episode from the anime is transformed and becomes a new story in the live action, I’ll compare the last episode of the anime, “12th Night: Roasted Gingko Nuts” to my favourite episode (thus far) in the live action, “Episode 5: Manta Ray Fins.”

The comments made about the gingko nuts are the same in “12th Night: Roasted Gingko Nuts” and in the fifth episode of the live action.

Wakakozake, Episode 12: 12th Night – Roasted Gingko Nuts, Crunchyroll.

“12th Night: Roasted Gingko Nuts” features a supporting character named Naga-san who decided to drink while eating roasted gingko nuts. The other clients at the bar note that he was pretty drunk because he was trying to relax from the thought that his daughter was going to introduce her fiancรฉ to him the next day. De-shelling gingko nuts takes effort from the person eating them and doesn’t require thinking to do so, which is why Naga-san chose to order them.

Wakakozake, Episode 5: Manta Ray Fins, Crunchyroll.

In the live action, the name of the supporting character is changed from Naga-san to Kuma-san. The episode focuses on Wakako’s relationship with her father and parallels this daughter-father relationship with Kuma-san’s relationship with his daughter. The episode is split into two perspectives, one in Wakako’s and the other in Kuma-san’s, with re-used footage. It is the first episode in the live action where Wakako not only focuses on her delicious meal but about her relationship with her father, expressing a range of emotions other than happiness or sadness, and where she interacts with another patron at the izakaya. In the same way that cracking open gingko nuts doesn’t need much thinking to perform, it’s a repetitive task that allows your thoughts to drift away from reality to reflect on other things. Wakako feels a lot more fleshed out as a daughter living away from home who feels ashamed that she doesn’t try harder to talk to her father.

Wakakozake, Episode 3: Monkfish Liver in Ponzu, Crunchyroll.

From a viewer’s perspective, it’s more difficult watching the live action version of a meal-centric slice-of-life story because you’re salivating over dishes that you can’t have in front of you. I was hella envious of Wakako’s actress getting paid to eat mouthwatering Japanese cuisine for twelve episodes.

I do admit that watching the first episode of the live action version after the anime made me feel like I was intruding on a private moment with Wakako enjoying her food, especially with the different camera angles closing in on food shots and her expressions. Afterward, I decided to treat the series like I was watching a mukbang . It didn’t make me feel less hungry but the uncomfortable awkwardness I was feeling went away.

As someone who’s never been to Japan (yet), the script for the live action version taught me a lot of things about the culture, for example:

  • It was interesting to see the hospitality culture in izakayas in Japan. For instance, Wakako is given an oshibori (hot towel) to clean her hands before her meal.
  • I noticed that sake will be served in a glass cup but within a small wooden box called masu. The server would pour the sake, allowing it to overflow and fill the masu. According to an article on rikumo dot com, the reason why this is done is because it symbolizes generosity and is a ceremonial show of thanks to the customer for their business.
  • Episode Three, “Monkfish Liver in Ponzu” taught me that the glass in a masu is called mokkiri. The term comes from the Japanese word “morikiri” meaning selling one shot. There’s no “correct” way to drink mokkiri. If the sake spills out into the masu, then you can pour it back into the glass and drink it, or down it straight from the masu.

Wakakozake, Episode 3: Monkfish Liver in Ponzu, Crunchyroll.

I enjoyed the live action version because they featured real restaurants and took time to explain the drinks accompanying the dishes in a little more detail than the anime. After each episode, there’s a small segment introducing the restaurant of the day and its location with the featured drinks of the day.

The depiction of Wakako in both versions honour Shinkyu’s artwork. Wakako’s character design as a young twenty-six year old OL (office lady) in an accounting firm is simplistic. She wears her hair in a low side ponytail and dresses in pastel coloured outfits. With a simplistic art style, Shinkyu drew Wakako with large wide round cat-like eyes, making her cute and comical at the same time while adding a bit more youthfulness to her design.

In the anime, I felt that Wakako didn’t feel like a fellow twenty-something year old, but someone older than her age. I was surprised that Wakako wasnโ€™t given a higher range girlish voice to match her features. Her voice actor, Miyuki Sawashiro, brings a mature vibe to Wakako with a soft lower tone voice that switches to a higher pitch when she gets excited or happy. Paired with her cartoonish character design, I think that Sawashiroโ€™s approach made Wakako charming as a cute young woman who can act like an endearing old man enjoying the simple pleasures in life.

In the live action, Rina Takeda’s portrayal of Wakako was what I imagined the character to sound like with a soft voice that was pitched a bit higher than Sawashiro’s. For me, Sawashiro’s version of Wakako felt like a seasoned veteran who takes pleasure in drinking alone. Takeda’s version and the live action’s script established in the beginning of the series that Wakako’s gastronomic experience was a reward for working hard everyday at work. Soon after the first episode, the nature of her outings develops into prioritizing time to indulge herself in eating and drinking alone but also sometimes sharing that experience with friends.

With that being said, the anime follows the idea of how young women can have fun drinking and eating on their own, staying true to the original manga. The live action takes this concept and creates situations to compare the experience of going out to an izakaya alone to organizing a girl’s night out with friends to staying in the comfort of your home to enjoy a drink. I liked how the live action added content and built upon the original source’s concept to make their own story, which is why I prefer the live action to the anime.

What’s your favourite Japanese dish? Let me know down below!

3 thoughts on “Versus: Chie Shinkyu’s Wakakozake

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