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Wakaba Girl Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

wakaba-girl-blu-ray-front-coverAll Wakaba wants is to experience the normal things we all take for granted.

What They Say:
Even though her ridiculously wealthy family tries to give her everything, it’s not until the sheltered Wakaba Kohashi fails to get into an upscale school that she finds what she really needed: a group of friends who want to know the real her, and not her status. Her new school mates may not be up to date on haute couture, but Wakaba is enthralled by their knowledge about the outside world, including the flashy “gyaru” fashion. Soon, Wakaba is helping (or TRYING to help) her newfound friends with their newfound high school girl problems. From helping innocent Moeko though gymnastics, standing in for Nao in a beauty contest, and inadvertently helping Mao act like a rich girl, to simply enjoying the joys of girl talk and sharing ice cream, there’s a whole new world of everyday wonders waiting to be discovered in WAKABA*GIRL!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track only and it’s done up in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is pretty straightforward with what it does as it’s a dialogue oriented show without much in the way of antics to bump it up. There are areas of placement at times because of the cast spread out across the screen when they engage with each other but it’s nice and subtle overall rather than something splashy. The show works a clean and simple approach and even the opening song is pretty simple but effective as well. It’s a good mix that serves the material well overall and one that’s clean and problem free which is all we really want in the end.

Originally airing in 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The fourteen episodes at eight minutes each are kept to one disc. Animated by Nexus, the show has a very appealing design about it with great colors that are bright but avoid being too vivid, giving it an alluring kind of look that’s not soft but not too sharp either. The character animation is solid and the design work has a lot of good detail to it that they’re able to put into it because of the shorter running time. The encoding brings it to life wonderfully with a very clean looking and solid blocks of color throughout. Details hold up wonderfully and fans of the show from the streaming side will definitely enjoy having it with such a high bit rate encoding.

The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the single disc inside. The front cover has a great visual of the four main girls in mid-leap together with bright and outgoing expressions that represent them well and having it set against the white background draws more attention to them. The mixing in of some nice colors through the petals adds some good color design elements that reflects the overall tone of the shows animation in the right ways as well. The logo along the bottom is spot on and the mix of greens there and behind it adds a nice touch of weight to it. The back cover works the green and white approach well with character artwork on either side to draw on as well. The shots from the show are done as fun photographs around the central piece of the summary of the premise, which itself is nicely handled since it touches on the girls and the situation without overplaying it. The episode count and extras are clearly listed and the usual production information and easy to read technical grid round things out. No show related inserts are included with this release.

The menu design for this release is really nice as we get something that feels very school themed with one that’s not super wealthy but definitely above average. The right side with the navigation is done with soft golds and browns that breaks down the episode by number and title with some nice orange flower framing that works really well, especially as it almost looks like bricks at first. The navigation is simple and standard for Sentai and it works well as both the main menu piece and as a pop-up menu. The rest of it is a static image that has the four girls out in front of the school with the pastel colors in the background that are really appealing, such as the reddish pinks of the trees, while the character artwork itself stands out very well. Everything has a simple but almost elegant touch about it with a bit of whimsy that just has it clicking so well, particularly thanks to the color palette.

The only extras included is the clean version of the opening sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the four panel manga series of the same name by Yui Hara, Wakaba Girl is a very fun short-form series from studio Nexus With episodes clocking in at about eight minutes each, it originally aired as part of the Ultra Super Anime Time block. The manga itself completed back in 2013 so there’s certainly plenty of material to work through from there, but with it doing the seven minutes per episode concept, it’s something that can handle the overall concepts without going too deep or running gags into the ground in a big way. I’ve grown to really appreciate and love the variety of the short-form series out there and each new one nudges it forward as a whole. Some shows simply shouldn’t be more than this kind of format.

The show revolves around Wakaba, a first year high school student that goes to what looks to be a pretty proper old fashioned school where she meets a good group of friends right from the get go. Wakaba stands out from the others a bit as they realize she comes from a wealthy family but didn’t make it into the rich kids school since she is, as she put it, kind of dumb. They all have odd reasons for coming to this school, such as Mao and Nao coming here because of the cute uniforms. Their quirks come quickly, such as Mao referencing herself in the third person and Nao being into soccer but has a hard time with public speaking. Moeko doesn’t get much overall though beyond just being cute. For Wakaba, it’s a chance to make friends for the first time. And that’s something that she’s excited about more than anything else it seems, as well as being a highschool girl now.

With the basics established with Wakaba adapting to the new school and making friends there, she’s excited by some of what that represents – such as going out for ice cream with her new friends. New experiences are wonderful things and she’s been deprived of them for some time. Since she was always driven to and from school, that kept her from really being a part of things. The others are happy to be a part of these new experiences with her, but they also have to deal with her very outgoing and kind of overactive personality when it comes to all of this.

The group as a whole are still pretty much ciphers early on and in some ways that doesn’t change as it’s kind of part of the formula for shows like this, but we do get some of the usual “girly” sniping we see in anime shows as one calls out another on breast size only for Wakaba to think they’re talking about ice cream cups and cones. Wakaba’s innocence is rather fun to watch overall, but her overacting gets to be a little grating at times. Her eager interactions with things she’s never tried before is definitely a big plus though since she’s going through so many firsts without any hesitation or trepidation. And she’s getting plenty of support from her new friends, though it’s easy to imagine they may tire of her a bit before too long.

What is fun even if it’s kind of standard and general fare is watching them continuing to grow the bond between them. Part of it is to further the narrative of just how disconnected Wakaba is from things, especially as they’re talking about a boy that one of them is interested in and how there’s so many barriers without even trying. That gives us our requisite broken heart, but it is all just teenage drama in the end. Which is cute by fluffy.

Where it turns is that instead of just mending said heart, Mao opts to becoming a rich girl in order to win over her supposed true love. The challenge is how to be like one in order to pull it off. That has them watching Wakaba like a hawk so she can act just like her. Which is a smart plan in a basic kind of way, but Wakaba is so disconnected for other reasons beyond being the daughter of wealth that it offers up little in the way of really useful information for her. Mao is cute in how she does try to pick up some of the elements of Wakaba, but mostly we get a lot of moments where she just can’t believe how off Wakaba is about so many things – including falling asleep while standing up in class to recite some material.

Spending some time with the girls for summer vacation the last time around with one episode was a lot of fun and it worked well to give Wakaba a bit more time doing normal things, which is all she really craves. Her friends realized though just what kind of sheltered life Wakaba really leads and that gets them wanting to do more for her during the summer so she has fun. Of course, figuring out how to deal with that isn’t an easy thing since the residence is a bit imposing. A little luck comes their way though and they get their in. We’ve seen how the bonds between the girls have strengthened in the first half of the series and getting a little more of that without Wakaba around helps to show just how important she’s become to them, and in the end to themselves as well.

The effort they go through to try and get Wakaba’s family to allow her to stay out past her 6pm curfew may not seem like a lot, but there’s a good bit of below the surface issue to it by getting involved in another family’s affairs. But the girls are honest and having a chance for everyone to get all dressed up in yukatas and head out for the fireworks show is definitely nice. Wakaba’s able to take it all in like a child, innocent and simple, and while you may want something more out of someone her age, it’s reflective of her upbringing. And that innocence is enjoyable to watch because she does enjoy the world she lives in as best as she can and without any anger or hate. it’s refreshing in its own way to see this approach.

Like most school based shows, we do get some familiar events going on, such as the school festival known as the Clover Festival. It’s fun to see Wakaba being so innocent about it and wanting to experience every aspect of it as it gets closer, but now that the festival is underway, she has to deal with the reality of it. And that means crowds. The prologue piece is cute with her excitement being crushed under the weight of so many close by her, something that she’s not exactly used to for obvious reasons – especially at school where personal space is definitely an important thing in general.

This episode gives us some decent time with some of the usual areas, such as the cafe, haunted classroom and even the concert performance, but it also gives us some weird things – alien butt! Where things get serious though is that amid the festival they realize that Shiba didn’t make it to school, figuring that it was because she caught a cold with the bucket of water last time. That she does finally arrive reinforces the way she will go the distance no matter the cost, especially when it comes to doing things for friends. This gets Wakaba to take over Shiba’s place in the beauty contest and she ends up looking like the perfect daughter of wealth that could easily win the contest. It’s cute with its costume changes and Wakaba’s movements throughout it all, especially since she takes it in the obviously expected weird directions. Having her family show up just in time for the contest and judging only adds to the silliness since it’s not what they expected from Wakaba.

As you can imagine, the show also gives us some challenges toward the end to up the drama and “emotional” investment and that comes in the form of Wakaba overhearing a conversation about her father being transferred and that means she’s likely going to be moving. She ends up just retreating from everyone and that works to show once again how close these girls have gotten and what they’ll do to help each other out, even if Wakaba is staying away. It’s standard end-series kind of material for properties like this but the charm of Wakaba and the others makes it work. Hell, even the home video only episode at the end here avoids doing the usual things as it’s setup for them to go to a hot spring but instead has them working their first job to earn money for it instead. There’s a lot of humor to it to be sure but you really expected a big fanservice episode and, if not that, time at the hot springs themselves. It’s such a fun little twist that operates like so much of the series that it charms in mildly defying expectations.

In Summary:
Wakaba Girl charmed the heck out of me when it aired previously as it had the right running time so that it wasn’t rushed and could breathe nicely. The cast may not have engaging lives beyond their interactions or feel fully fleshed out in some ways, but there’s such a great group dynamic, enjoyable humor and sense of pleasantness and weirdness mixed together that it just delighted me. I’m a huge fan of many short-form shows out there these days and this is one that really reinforced my enjoyment of it and in wanting more. I do wish that it had merited a dub since it’s the equivalent of just four episodes or so overall, but I’m just thrilled that Sentai Filmworks licensed it and gave us a great looking release. Very recommended as a wonderful hidden gem.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 20th, 2016
MSRP: $34.99
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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