For the most part, Wakako-zake is about as warm and lighthearted a show as you can watch. Wakako enjoys something to eat and something to drink. That’s … pretty much it. Between taking a seat at a local izakaya and leaving said seat for another customer, there’s usually at least one Pshuuu—the moment of taste euphoria. When Wakako’s palate gets overwhelmed with flavor, the background turns to static swirls of bright watercolor, Wakako’s pupils dilate (probably aided by her libation of choice), and sheer awe knocks the wind out of her like so much a squeeze toy. She’s an unassuming woman won over by the simple pleasures in life. Of course there are workplace and personal histories that lend context to this escapism, but such motivations are usually not invasive—nothing too dark. That’s what makes a certain moment in the ninth episode, “9th Night: Kani Miso,” so deliciously devilish.
While dining on a dainty dish, a delicacy consisting of the vital organs of a crab (many crabs, it’s postulated, since only so little can come from each), Wakako openly admits to herself that gulping down the dish, despite its small quantity, doesn’t feel wrong. She then takes an incredibly tiny morsel in her chopsticks, and something comes over her when she ingests it. The background is a deeper hue than usual. Wakako’s typically full, round, googly eyes become half-closed and sinister looking. The implication is, of course, that she’s enjoying the experience for its exacted toll.
Although portrayed as nothing else throughout the entire series, Wakako is suddenly painted as a carnivore for her gaping maw and moment of clarity wherein she notes how something that was once so vital to another living creature is so delicious to her. Even her pshuuu, delivered with haunting echo, is in a minor key. Lookers-on will also be wise to note the very unusual “N” preceding the pshuu proper. Clearly we are in the Negaverse, and this is Nega-Wakako.
This contrast, this stark (albeit playful and ultimately redeemed) twist, is a good bit of hilarity given that it comes eight and a half episodes into a series involving such a strictly held to formula. The joke inverts the show’s main draw, the cuteness and warmth, on its head. It’s the only time the joke is used throughout the entirety of the show’s thirteen-episode run and very effective for it.
Wakako-zake is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.