Manga Review: Wanko Number One

I am not a dog person, and never will be either. That also seems to translate over to the entertainment medium as well. When you watch something like Air Bud or Beethoven, they are arguably serviceable at best. Fun rides for people who enjoy animals, but they do nothing for me because I find their story and characters quite boring. It seems to be my luck that most animal centered stories I’ve watched have never been great. Then I come across Wanko Number One, to which I have never seen something so uniquely awkward. This is a romcom about a dog that is anthropomorphic whenever it and its owner are alone together. I’m not sugarcoating this, it sounds like fan service up the wazoo. The premise alone brings up questions about the owner, Kouichi’s, psychological state. It is addressed that Wanko, becomes anthropomorphic when her owner desires companionship. Yup this is going to be a wild ride of just awkward moments! Despite all of my negativity, how does Wanko Number One hold up?

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Wanko Number One quickly gets into the problem at the start of the manga, Kouichi gets dumped while buying a dog. He is then left to wallow with said dog who turns into a high school girl when alone together. He sees the dog…as a high school girl. This premise is already putting up warning signs. The story then revolves around how our hero deals with his job, his love life with multiple potential girls, and how to handle the situation with Wanko. There is a lot to take in, and surprisingly it handles itself really well. Yeah, Wanko Number One is actually pretty good.

There is a decent amount of fan service, don’t be mistaken, but the elements accompanying with said fan service make this a worthwhile venture. This is a story about a man going through what could akin to his midlife crisis and how he finds the best friend he could ever have in the world. The dynamic between the awkward Kouichi and the energetic Wanko manages to draw you in with scarce, but expertly done, scenes of compassion. You really care about where these two will end off, and you never want the hero to end up with anyone because that means Wanko will never talk again. There is this weird desire that grows within you while reading, to the point that you root for Wanko over all the other potential relationships.

A lot of the supporting cast are really standard fair when regarding a romance plot. The only truly remarkable characters are the main duo, as most of the other characters are either stagnant in progression or lack any sense of depth. That being said, did the supporting cast detract from the overall enjoyment of the series? Not really, they were more points of progression for the numerous subplots running through Wanko Number One. Wanko and Kouichi are really all that is necessary to carry this story, as both have layers to how they perceive both the world and each other.

Story-wise this is a bit of a mess with some of its chapters being dedicated to just fanservice with little development in any romance subplot. You are watching him get closer to the shy pet shop owner and then all of a sudden fan service! It is jarring at times, sifting through the badly placed fan service, to pay attention to the page. That being said when it tries to execute emotional scenes, they are handled with a level of tenderness that really seems to hit you. It does dance around a lot of romance subplots though and at times those subplots will remain pretty stagnant. The ending, while poignant and sums up all the feelings the series is trying to present with the duo, feels lackluster in comparison to so many other potential endings.

Let’s talk about one of the interesting aspects surrounding Wanko Number One, the anthropomorphic dog. This is one of the best executed elements in the story as it subtly shows the mindset of the main hero. We see how close he is to people in whether or not Wanko retains her form, as the closer he grows towards people in a romantic context Wanko doesn’t transform into an anthropomorphic dog. This is like the crutch the main character is faulted with, yes this is a fault. He loves Wanko, but rejects others for a sense of isolation. He wants to close people out more so than letting them in, and this is all shown through Wanko and his relationship. This makes the bland characterizations develop into complex and well-rounded characters.

Wanko Number One suffers from its very premise as Wanko’s appearance and the perception of said appearance is created by a male who is down on his luck in love. This will lead to awkward fanservice moments galore, but just as easily lead to some surprisingly somber and emotional moments. Also when that cat enters the scene, just skip over it as nothing but more fanservice is awaiting you. Easily one of the worst characters in the manga, but I digress. Wanko Number One may remain stagnant for many of the romantic subplots more often than not, but it still manages to have compassionate scenes spread out which easily even it out. When I originally thought this would be a throwaway romance manga with a dog, it turned into a heartwarming tale of a man in his somewhat early midlife crisis coming to terms with his inability to take action or want to take action. Wanko Number One is a surprisingly effective romance story which, despite all the fanservice, manages to be a heartwarming tale about a man and his best friend in the world.

Rating: B+

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