Today’s special: all those fables you loved as a kid plus ones you may never have heard of wrapped in an often generic package and heavily seasoned with modern Japanese otaku clichés- and rather blasé versions of them at that.
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What They Say:
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?
The feature is presented with two audio tracks- a 5.1 English track and a Stereo Japanese one. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it is a mostly solid one. The audio track was found to be free from dropouts or other distortions during playback and it gets its point across for the most part as dialogue is delivered clear. The track also does a very good job of mixing in the background music so that the various elements complement each other without seeming to fight for attention and take away from each other. On occasion though there are some odd changes in the volume of delivered lines that cause the depth/point of view perspective that had been created to be thrown off and which is rather jarring considering the work done to avoid this elsewhere in the series.
Originally starting to air around the middle of the Japanese 2010 Television season, Okami-san and Her Seven Companions is presented in its original 1.78:1 ratio and it comes complete here with an anamorphic encode. The video presented itself is closer to middle of the road than cutting edge when it comes to animation but given the set up it does fine with what it has at hand. The authorization of the disc leads to a few problems including a bit of dot crawl, jaggies, some blocking, a little ghosting, minor banding, and background bleed through foreground characters at times but none of these are present to an overwhelming degree. Luckily these flaws don’t distract from the colors which are rather pleasantly mixed and more of a natural than bold palate and blacks are solid in presentation.
This review is of the DVDs only but the packaging was covered in Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu Ray portion of the releases’ review.
The discs themselves use some rather classy artwork which include a boarder that runs about 1/3 of the disc with a diamond like pattern which contains the disc number on in it while the other 2/3 give some colorful images of a couple of the characters done in a closer to realistic way that sets the images apart from the more cartoon looking versions that are used in the series itself.
The menus are static affairs that use postcard like images of different characters from the series done in such a way that they seem to look like some of the more sophisticated in art style children’s storybooks from years gone by. To this end there is also a solid reddish-gold backdrop that adds hints of adding a higher class look to the images while most of the menus have instrumental accompanying pieces that help solidify the fairy tale atmosphere the images- and series itself- work to portray. The menus themselves are quick to respond to changes and implement selections while the currently selected option is signified by the option appearing in a bright standoff color.
For the release FUNimation manages to include a fairly good balance of extras to please the viewers of either preferred language choice. Included on the release are English voice actor Commentary for Episodes 1 & 6 as well as the Tokyo International Anime Fair Promotional Video and Promotional Video which were used as pitches to sell the show to Japanese television stations as well as Japanese TV DVD Commercials, though a note to English dub fans these are available in Japanese with optional subtitles only. Finally rounding out the mix are the Textless Opening and Closing Song options which are almost a given with releases today.
The world of Japanese animation is kind of like other media formats in other parts of the world. On occasion you find a brilliant piece that just makes one sit up and take notice (which may or may not be based on an original idea), sometimes one finds a work that may be flawed but is at least innovative. And then on a number of occasions you get a work that has been adapted from some other formats successful work with little concern if the material will survive the translation well as it has an existing fan base the production company hopes will show up and support this new endeavor. Sadly, Okami-san is far more in the mold this last example than either of the former.
Based off the novel series by Masashi Okita, the story focuses on a high school girl named Ryoko Okami (Japanese for wolf) who aids students in need with the assistance of an high school approved organization named the Otogi Bank. The Bank is ostensibly student lead though regular progress reports to the chairman of the school show that there is some, though often minimal, adult supervision of their activities. These reports also reveal where they get their money for the lavish headquarters that is hidden under the modest club building they occupy as the Bank charges no fee for their services, they merely expect those who they help to return the favor at some point in the future. As to the main group that works for the Bank there are rumors that those who work for the Bank for three years will be suitable rewarded in a manner that resembles a certain Middle-Eastern Folktale.
The folktales aspect plays a huge role in the series as almost every character in the series is either named after or based off a character from some widely known folktales (well, the Japanese ones aren’t necessarily so well known outside of Japan but then the intended audience for this show is Japanese so it all works out in the end, sort of like a happily ever after) that at times give hints to the character’s personalities or the particular theme for the story that will be played off. For example, Ryoko Okami is best friends with Ringo (apple) Akai who dresses in a red hood and carries a basket almost all the time, Ryoshi Morino uses some rather developed slingshot skills (like the hunter from Little Red Riding Hood), Taro Urashima and Otohime Ryugu are based off characters with the same name from the Japanese fable Urashima Taro and other characters follow this pattern as well. Along this path a number of the people encountered to be helped also have fable or fairy tale connections and some of the episodes wind up playing off this concept to varying degrees of success.
The show itself starts with a request from a student who was being stalked as her stalker now finds he is in the role of being pursued. As he runs into a dead end Ryoko and Ringo both walk out of the shadows with photos of his criminal actions and inform him that he is to cease his actions at once or the materials will be turned over to his parents and the police. In a desperate gamble the youth charges Ryoko with a knife, though it is knocked out of his hand before he gets to her which takes away his minimal hope of beating her as Ryoko has spent many hours training in the gym in the art of boxing and while the youth is distracted she delivers a knockout blow using her special designed (and seriously cute) boxing gloves.
It turns out that the rock was launched by an insanely shy young man who can’t tolerate being stared at yet who has come to be infatuated with the strong fighter named Ryoshi. The lad then impresses Ringo when he mentions that he has seen through Ryoko’s tough act to the insecurities and frailty that lie within which earns him her respect and services in helping him connect with Ryoko, though this part Ringo keeps (mostly) secret. Ryoshi then manages to find himself brought into the Otogi Bank as he has developed the ability to practically erase any sense of his presence which Ringo figures will make him invaluable in requests where they need to follow someone secretly.
As the group pursues various requests the skills and limitations of the various cast are shown as the stories often playoff the fable aspect that the series chooses to focus on to a greater or lesser extent, such as the first episodes pumpkin carriage pulled by a bike and shoe fitting quest. Along the way a few of the characters will get their backgrounds discovered most notably among them is Ryoko’s past which at times almost threatens to bring a coherent and sustained plot to the series (which the series skillfully avoids by and large) and a couple get a little character growth, prominent among them being Ryoshi who attempts to become someone who can stand next to and support Ryoko.
Largely though the series is story of the week flavored and more than a little lacking in really adding an interesting spin to the fables it is playing off. Most of the time the elements the story infuses are almost of the lower levels of some of the cheap and pandering clichés that has taken root in a number of otaku aimed series- and not even some of the more high paced or interesting ones at that. This alone isn’t damning to me as some of those clichés I can enjoy when skillfully delivered, but little about this series involves skill when it comes to writing as much of it just comes off as mediocre or tired and the few bright spots are quickly covered with the generic nature of the rest of the material.
On top of it all the series might as well be named “Okami-san and her two companions of note, two others who grab some screen time with their antics, two who vanish and one that is a visual standout but almost nothing is ever done with her” which would be a very long but much more accurate title. For the most part the series is just disposable fluff which kind of hurts as I like the character designs so much I was working hard to try to find a reason to like the characters they were created for but with the exception of the part of the stories that cover Ryoko’s past the majority of the series just gave me little reason to.
Maybe in recognition of this failure for the stories to carry themselves the stories make heavy use of a narrator to carry events, which given the fable nature might work for set up but the series has the narrator go farther and stick around the whole episode. Often her dialogue infuses a good deal of snark into the events and it is also often used to grant some of the characters- particularly Ryoko and Ringo- the ability to break the fourth wall at times in response to some of her comments-many of which revolve around the two’s lack of development in a particular area of their bodies. While the concept of the narrator helping out the story isn’t bad by itself a flaw, that the narrator is often talking over events on the screen as other characters are talking about the plot (such as it is) adds a chaotic mix to a series that desperately doesn’t need another negative factor going against it.
Okami-san and Her Seven Companions is the kind of show that seems to exist to give the otaku fandom a boring lightning rod show to watch as it indulges in many of the stereotypes and clichés that appear in such series but does so in such a poorly constructed manner which often lacks meaning or even much of interest that there are few ways to defend the series. While some people might get a kick out of the reinterpretation of some classic fables, the series often lacks a sense of direction or purpose other than to move on to the next joke or fable and as such it really fails to build up much momentum. The series is somewhat saved by the presence of some episodes that actually attempt to delve into Okami-san’s past and what has made her who she is today and while there is also some growth to a pair of characters, for the most part it is a series that starts and ends in much the same place for the majority of its characters. The biggest issue the series faces is that if the major concept of playing off of fables doesn’t catch the viewer there is little else for them to find to grab onto to hold their interest in the show.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Commentary for Episodes 1 & 6, Tokyo International Anime Fair Promotional Video, Promotional Video, Japanese TV Commercials, U.S. Trailer, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 3rd, 2012
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.