Okami-San and Her Seven Companions
Ryoko Okami and her best friend Ringo are members of the Otogi Bank, a high school club that helps people in exchange for favours later down the line. One day a meek young man named Ryoushi proclaims his love for Ryoko but she shoots him down because he is too weak. In an effort to prove his manliness, Ryoushi joins the Otogi Bank but can he win Ryoko's heart and prove that he can be her prince charming?
The Japanese media seems to like fairy tales. Perhaps it is Disney's fault.
My biggest complaint about animé in general is that the makers always seem to have something in mind when they go to make something, there always seems to be an image of something they are referencing or revering in the back of their minds alongside the actual concept of the show. In truth, there is nothing actually wrong with that. Creators will always have inspiration from other sources to draw from; no idea exists in a vacuum. No, the problem is that animé makers have a habit of making it far too obvious. The image of the inspiration transposes itself upon the new show so heavily that I can only see its inspirations and not its own innovations if it even has any. The weight of years hangs heavily on the animé industry and perhaps there aren't many shows that bear that burden as obviously as Okami-san and Her Seven Companions does.
In any case, yes, even from the title Okami-san knows it wants to talk fairy tales. The allusions are rarely subtle: Ringo has a basket and dresses in red, there is a scenario resolved by a large wheeled pumpkin and there is a villain who couldn't be any more wolf-like if he howled. Episode titles and episode themes reference classic stories and even the main thrust of the romance is set around Ryoushi becoming Ryoko's Prince Charming. To be honest, if you're thinking that this sounds like animés take on Shrek then you probably aren't too far off. Most of the characters are sweet little twists on the archetypes that the original stories depicted, usually used to a good effect, and it all comes across very well as an affectionate parody of the tales that inspire it.
The cast consists of Ryoko, herself, is a sheep-in-wolf's-clothing, outwardly cold and strong but kind and cute within. Ringo, her best friend, is the most conniving of all Lolitas and frequently referred to as evil by the dry voiced and witted narrator. Liszt, the head of the Otogi Bank, is clever and laid-back, a master of disguise and generally resourceful though a little too irresponsible for his cousin Alice, who fits her role as secretary to its broadest stereotype. The rest of the Otogi bank consists of Taro and Otohime, who are a playboy and his obsessively jealous girlfriend respectively, Otso, who is their favour-returning obsessed maid, and Majolica, who is the Otogi Bank's resident mad scientist. Finally we have Ryoushi who is a neurotically shy but otherwise daring and heroic boy who joins the Bank to prove his worth to Ryoko who he has fallen in love with. It would spoil half the fun if I told you where to find the inspirations for these characters but they certainly stand somewhat outside the standard archetypes that low-end animé shows bask in and if that is interesting enough for you then Okami-san might be what you're looking for.
In the terms of the stories it tells, Okami-san is also invariably interesting at least. Its take on stories like Cinderella (this show's version of the glass slipper is great) and Snow White and slips them into a (somewhat surreal) Japanese high school setting and quite seamlessly crosses character types from different stories, covering both classic Japanese tales as well as our more familiar European ones - in both cases being quite entertaining. That said, it's certainly not deep by any stretch of the imagination, the writing perhaps not living up to the ambition of the concept, but even if it wasn't blowing my mind it was certainly interesting, fun and even a little inventive.
Even the visuals lend themselves well to the crossbred animé and fairy tale aesthetic. While other shows such as Princess Tutu take a westernised look to compliment their western inspiration, Okami-san chooses to 'animé-up' its inspiration with things like Ryoko's adapted school uniform being the clear example of that. Thanks to it, I find it very difficult to level any complaints against the show's look. If you ignore the fact that Ryoko looks like a grown-up Taiga from Toradora (with the same personality) then the designs come across as varied and interesting. The animation isn't anything special and neither is the music or backgrounds but nothing here takes too much away from the experience.
There are things that do, though, and that was what I was talking about at the beginning. The great 'fairy tale' shows out there (the aforementioned Princess Tutu comes quickly to mind) have had the ability to distance themselves from the stories that helped inspire them and stand up in their own rights as great pieces of fiction. Okami-san doesn't manage that. Case and point: Okami-san highlights (I hope satirically!) the inherent chauvinism of the standard fairy-tale in the relationship of Ryoko and Ryoushi. In the context of the show, Ryoushi is unfit to be Ryoko's Prince Charming because of his social phobia and Ryoko is unfit as a princess because of her rough personality and physical assertiveness. The way the show presses this point would be horrific in this day and age, out of its thematic context, (the fact that Ryoushi is able to fight with and protect Ryoko from afar despite his disability is apparently unworthy) and while shows like Tutu make points relevant outside of the fairy tale context, Okami-san is very difficult to relate to.
To be honest, I'm the last person you should expect to get up on a feministic high horse but with this show, the faint stench of chauvinism is hard to escape. I'll admit that I am a massive advocate of strong female characters - to be honest, I love strong, dynamic and determined characters of any gender and they are the characters I really like to cheer. The problem with Okami-san is the female characters come across as being subordinate in their relationships to men. No matter how 'strong' their personalities are, their men are the leaders and they will ultimately fall in behind 'like proper girls' and their personalities are little more than amusements for the men of their lives. The main examples of this are both Alice and Otohime. Both characters have their male counter-part in Liszt and Taro respectively and in both cases, the girls fall into the pace of the men and are the ones that we see to be the weaker characters that the men protect in one sense or another. The guys can wander around, be very irresponsible but as long as they swoop in and protect their beloveds at the last moment then they are ideal. The fact of the series is that Ryoko and Ryoushi are constantly criticised for NOT being like this and while Ryoko's rejection of Ryoushi is equally unjustified, the idea that they can't possibly have an equal relationship - that woman dominant = bad and man dominant = good when both are equally bad - is quite abhorrent to me. The thing is I'm pretty sure that the show depicts such ideas as a parody or satire of the ethics of the fairy tale stories that inspired each character but the show contains no rebuttal, no twist away or attempt to make mockery of the offending ethics. It's like an anti-war story with no criticism of conflict.
But hey, maybe I'm taking this all too seriously and if I ignore my moral outrage then I'd have to say that in terms of plotting, narrative and general enjoyment value, it could be a lot worse. Generally, its fun, colourful, the scenarios of old stories gain new life in quite interesting ways and the ultimate villain is scenery-chompingly vile in the best possible way - there is terrific satisfaction in seeing him get his comeuppance. So if you don't think about too hard, you could well have some fun with the colourful cast, fun stories and pleasant visuals.
An average score is probably the most fair. As shown above, the show does not hold up well taken seriously but as brainless fun, it does a decent job. Take a star away if you're like me and find it hard to get away from the rather offensive subtext. — Aiden Foote
Recommended Audience: The fight scenes are the worst thing but even they are pretty tame. There are also plenty of references to the chest sizes of the various female cast members but the actual service is fairly light. NOT for feminists!
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Okami-San and Her Seven Companions © 2010 Masashi Okita/ ASCII Media Works/ Wolf Project
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