Reviewby Tim Henderson, Oct 31st 2012
Ōkami-san & Her Seven Companions
Ryoko Okami, the "wolf," and her BFF Ringo, also known as Little Red Riding Hood, are members of Otogi Bank - a high school club that helps classmates out of grim situations. One day, a meek young man proclaims his love to Ryoko, who does nothing but bite him in return. "You're much too weak for me," she huffs. So the boy joins Otogi Bank to prove he has the stuff to protect his beloved - even if it means taking a blow to the head with a lead pipe. He's no Prince Charming, but will Ryoko allow herself to have her own happily ever after?
Once upon a time, there was an anime studio in love with fairytales, who had a desire to cram as many of them into an airy high school drama as possible. Well, maybe it wasn't that long ago, but it does at least make for a romantic opening to it all.
Voiced over by an elderly woman with a sly lilt to her voice and a perverted bent to her observations, Okami-san and Her Seven Companions is that very anime. Pulling in at a svelte twelve episodes, it's at once modest and a bit over-ambitious, somewhat straightforward but also reasonably clever. At least the bespoke cleverness comes through when it comes to cramming in all of this 'once upon a time' stuff.
Despite the number in the title, Okami-san is really at its core a show of three characters. This makes perfect sense, especially considering the limited number of episodes with which to achieve an overall story arch; as three has shown time and again to be the magic number of leads that audiences can become familiar with and keep track of. All other bodies typically have to be painted in broader strokes, or at least stand out in a strong and unique way.
In Okami-san's case, these broad strokes fall to cliché character types, right down to a flirtatious lady's man, a girl dressed as a French maid, and a zany magic experimentalist. In theory of function, this is a smart move that opens up possibilities for the extended cast to perform various roles without causing the plot to become muddled, or the audience over-worked. In practice however, Okami-san's extended cast falls limp, barely able to become familiarised even by the final episode, in spite of filling the most established and stereotypical of roles.
Which is a shame, because there are clever moments built around winks towards slices of folklore hidden amid these underdeveloped ruffians. Okami-san rides a wave of fairytale narratives and ideals, both obvious and Western and somewhat more obscure and Japanese, and intertwines them into its eccentric school yard shenanigans with apparent ease. All of Okami's seven companions seem to receive a slice of this embellishment, but it's the core conceit of Little Red Riding Hood that is most thoroughly threaded through the show.
Unsurprisingly, this conceit is constructed around the three central characters: Okami herself, pun-tastically know as the sheep in wolf's clothing, her petite friend, Ringo, a red-haired girl who's always wearing an even redder cape, and Ryoshi, a boy from the sticks with a crush on the flat-chested Omaki, who just so happens to be a hunter. As for Okami (and Ringo, for that matter) being flat-chested, it wouldn't bear mentioning were the narration itself not so fixated on it. Bosoms make for a running joke throughout, and both the Japanese and English narrators seem to revel in the cheeky nature of their faceless, sleazy character.
Sometimes this gets pushed too far, but the narration's presence does allow for Okami-san to walk a nice tight-rope of compromise when explaining its themes, or even highlighting what the various characters are observing around them. As is frequently the case in all but the most skilfully written works, there are moments here where the show seems unsure as to if its message has been effectively communicated, or if a character needs to hit the viewer over the head by bluntly stating what's going on. This role gets filled by the narrator, often in a tongue-in-cheek manor. While still somewhat patronising, it's a sufficiently tolerable way of getting around characters themselves spouting unnatural exposition dialogue.
Dialogue that would usually be born from the outcome of requests. Okami-san's plot focuses on the Otogi High School Bank, a never-fully-explained school club that deals in fulfilling favours in return for borrowing 'one's strength' at some point when it might be needed in the future. The economics behind this never really add up, but they're probably not supposed to be thought about: the premise here acts more as a scaffold to hang a tale of awkward love and numerous fairytale references upon. There is a sense of an overarching plot, but it should be entirely possible to enjoy most episodes in isolated conditions, divorced from any context at large.
In a way, this is both a strength and a weakness. For all the early promises of hyper-coloured fun and running ideas in the first episode when Okami pulls out a pair of adorable boxing gloves that go on to seldom be seen again, Okami-san lacks sufficient build of presence to really develop any kind of sticky longevity. But with that said, aside from a slightly misguided attempt to dip into more serious territory mid-season, this is a show that is easy to kick back and enjoy, an ideal time-sink for a stagnant Sunday afternoon.
This is an ironic quality. Okami-san requires minimal investment, but its fixation with working with fairytale tropes may well reward greater efforts should anybody who is sufficiently learned in the correct direction choose to pay close attention and really probe the references. If nothing else, each episode looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-Ray. The straightforward, bubblegum-bright colour keys pop and fizz across the screen and, in spite of this indulgent vibrancy, the image is never anything less than sharp. Animation may not be of the highest calibre, but – much like the show overall – it gets the job done with little moments of flare here and there; some of the fight scenes are a pleasant surprise in how little they rely upon still frames and cutaways.
Fitting the entire season, slim as it might be, onto two discs has resulted in equally slim extra content. There are a few drips and drabs here, as well as one of the nicer reversible covers seen in a while, but this isn't exactly going to go down as a show for the ages, and it's been treated as such.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Animation : B-
+ Easy entertainment with some clever references that may beyond surface depth
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