I could write a whole article one day on whether anime characters are stereotypes of the genre, or rather are archetypes that continue to appear because a series can not work right without these types being so prominent. Truly, that is a ramble for another occassion. Why do I bring it up? Because the DVD set from Funimation that we are reviewing today, “Okami-San & Her Seven Companions” really made me start to debate the difference. It was not because it was a predictable or bland series that plays up to these lame characteristics that often present themselves in animes of this type, but because this series took those things and flipped them upside down.
Ryoko Okami, AKA Okami-San AKA the wolf, and her diminutive friend Ringo, AKA the little red riding hood that is able to tame Ryoko, are members of a a high school club known as the Otogi Bank. The club’s purpose is to help classmates with their requests, which they pay back at a later date by doing the club a favor, whenever it is they may ask for it (think “Pay it forward”). One day, Ryoko is confronted by a steatlthy secret admirer, Ryoshi, who has essentially been stalking her, but one day gains the courage to tell her he loves her and wants to prove that he is the right man for her by joining the club. After an interview with the other bank members, Ryoshi eventually shows his merits and becomes a full-fledged teammate, and thus begins the twelve tales that make up this mini-series.
Each episode takes a classic European fairy tale, doctors it up with teenage drama, and adds some Japanese flair to it. In other words, we get familiar stories that we all know and remember from our youth, but modernized and then changed to make them their own stand-alone stories rather than parodies of an old fable, which is part of the charm of this series (that I will delve into more later). After all, if you did not catch on with their obvious little red riding hood, big bad wolf, and hunter gimmicks, you were simply not paying attention to the first episode.
The animation in Okami-San is fluid and colorful, and presents a variety of unique personalities throughout each episode. There are indeed some action scenes in this series, many of which involve the custom-made “Kitty Knuckles” gloves that Ryoko uses to out-box her enemies in the battlefield, and they are just as over-the-top as you would want from an anime.
The voice-over work is also pretty good in both the english and Japanese dubs. I am torn on which one I like more, as each one has it’s pros and cons (ie, Ringo’s voice is super high-pitched and cutesy in the Japanese version, which annoys me to no end, but the english dub has a few other characters that sound lazy when compared to the original voices).
The narrator tells the tale of each episode in a very meta way, usually spending more time making quips about how flat-chested Ryoko and Ringo are (“this is more like fan dis-service”) and offering lines such as, “Getting punched while naked must suck,” than on backstory, and that is fine since the stories practically write themselves. The narrator is more there as back-up then for exposition, the way a good narrator should be.
Special features on this set include commentaries on select episodes, commercials, promotional videos in their original Japanese language, and textless songs.
This whole review I kept bringing up the stereotype VS archetype debate, and the reason being is that the characters in Okami-san are rightfully stereotypes. Upon watching the first episode, I thought this was going to be a run of the mill, high school anime series with love stories and some action sprinkled throughout. It did not take long at all for the show to begin expanding on its characters, and start to add mystery, intrigue and depth to these characters, and break down that these people are often hiding behind a stereotype, or perhaps living in a fairy tale of their own. The show gets very interesting very fast, and very addictive. A lot of shows I watch for these reviews become monotonous or boring, but Okami-san kept me coming back for more, and plays on your expectations for the genre, then tosses them out and gives you something fresh and new.