Okami-san and Her Seven Companions Review
This short 12 episode anime series follows the exploits of Okami-san (The Wolf), a sixteen year old girl who lets her fists do the talking as she rights the wrongs of bullies in the schoolyard and whose heart is locked beneath a tough, icy exterior. Where others see aloofness, Ryoshi - always gazing from afar - sees the girl of his dreams, and one day he confesses his love to a very taken aback Okami-san. Seeking to gain her favour Ryoshi sets about joining the Otogi Bank, a school club Okami-san is a member of which performs requests for clients with the understanding they will someday ask for a favour in return. After passing a trial job Ryoshi becomes a part of Otogi Bank and Okami-san's everyday life and, well, you get the story...
Fun aspects of the show include a fourth-wall breaking narration which frames each episode like a fairytale, setting the scene but also butting into the conversation to make sly observations about the characters and their current situation. This runs throughout but never feels intrusive, delivering not only well written gags but also some physical humour from the dirty looks the narrator garners from those she's talking about. Parody is also high on the agenda, at least initially with the first episode expending the best material early on. Okami-san aka The Wolf and her best friend Akai Ringo aka Little Red Riding Hood are the first of many fairytale nods, but beyond namedrops and very basic references there's no real substance to this strand of humour. Elsewhere in the narration there are fun lines about fan-disservice owing to the dubious voyeuristic shots of Okami and Ringo at a bath, which ties in to a series spanning gag about their 'flat' physiques. These elements prove entertaining and there are some fun quirks in the other characters also, while the familiar but always amusing girl-on-boy physical violence that is common in anime rom-coms is very much present here (Okami's reaction to any growing feeling she has toward Ryoshi is to knock him out). Some of the gags are overused, even here in the span of 12 episodes, such as the jealous relationship between two of the side characters in the show. It crops up numerous times with rapidly diminishing returns and is not helped by the uninteresting nature of the characters involved.
These side characters are introduced at a frantic rate, cramming not only the seven companions of the title into these 12 episodes but also various clients of Otogi Bank and a whole storyline involving a rival school gang which Otogi Bank and specifically Okami find themselves on the wrong side of. This introduces a dark undercurrent to a couple of episodes, hinting at some awful trauma Okami suffered in her past, but like the companions who aren't Ryoshi or Ringo this feels horribly underwritten and the plotline is left without a satisfactory conclusion. In this instance and others the show feels tonally unbalanced, mixing light rom-com antics and humour with infrequent violence and suggestions of a tragic past which never amount to anything. In one instance Okami suffers a verbal beating relating to her past which leaves her sobbing on the street, only for the perpetrator to close with "I made it all up". The writing can be incredibly frustrating when they're trying to build the central character, and often at odds with what we are shown. Okami-san appears both physically able and strong of mind but we're told on a few occasions that she merely wears 'the wolf' as a disguise while she waits for someone she can trust to protect her. The very specific language used here and in other parts of the show occasionally left me rolling my eyes as it's prone to insult, not for the overall message as such but the wording used to convey it. This criticism is reliant heavily on the subtitle translation, something I have no reason to doubt the quality of, but it's worth pointing out the English dub goes some way to smoothing out these rough edges. In the case of Okami-san and the theme of how the protector is looking for someone in her life to watch over her, the Japanese dialogue focuses on how the wolf is actually "a lonely, sweet, feminine girl", frequently playing up the 'feminine' part which personally I found to detract from the character a great deal. The English dub smoothes the translation out a little, not changing the heart of the matter but losing the references to 'sweet' and 'feminine'. It's just a minor rewrite but one that I found helped my enjoyment immensely as no longer was I being dragged out of the story by something that not only went against Okami's character but is also moderately offensive. Elsewhere the English dub also does some fine-tuning in this area, with the most prominent example found in a flashback where a young version of one of the seven companions is told (in the Japanese) if she loses a little weight she'll be very beautiful. In the context of the relationship she's in with the person who says this the line is just staggeringly insensitive and paints a very poor picture indeed. For the dub it's a simple change again - "when you lose your baby fat you'll be even more beautiful" - but it helps no end.
When used for some light comedy however the sexual attitudes present in the writing can be very amusing, with one female character using her sizeable assets to command a trio of doting fools during the fight against a rival school. Her advances on Okami-san also invite some wonderful responses as the wolf - so confident usually and always ready to fend off the advances of men - simply doesn't know what to do with the compliments she's being paid. In another episode we follow the Otogi Bank members as they search for a suitor for a young scion whose butler has some outspoken thoughts on the female body and the effects of gravity over the years. The reactions from the female characters are priceless. It's simple but effective humour, much like Ryoshi's Scopophobia (fear of being stared at) which often sees him shriek and cower in fear at the most inopportune moments.. In fact the show on the whole works best when it keeps things light and fluffy, something there's plenty of with episodes featuring Okami suffering from amnesia, the gang at the beach (yes, a beach episode, swimsuits ahoy!), the gang playing maid-for-a-day (yes, a maid episode!). It may not make for the most riveting of content but when the series attempts bigger story arcs or tries to tap into character histories it tends to fall short and even worse cause offence. The majority of episodes do fortunately fall into the preferred light category as we watch Okami and the Otogi Bank carry out their club duties, and on the whole it ticks over at a decent pace but like so many of the secondary characters it's rarely memorable.
Released by Manga UK on DVD only this set contains all 12 episodes given an even split across 2 discs. That's roughly 2hrs 15mins per disc and thanks to a proper PAL transfer and good quality encoding the series looks splendid. There's really little to fault it on the video end aside from a few jagged lines, while audio is equally good with Japanese DD2.0 and English DD5.1 options. As always for my first sitting I viewed the series in Japanese with English subtitles (white font, literal translation, generally excellent quality as far I can tell) but as mentioned in the main review I also viewed the series in its entirety with the English dub and have to say it's first-rate and by far the best way to watch the series. The main characters are well cast and put in decent performances, with top marks to the narrator who is just as spirited as the Japanese rendition. The translation is close to the Japanese but as already pointed out it makes some adjustments which manage to improve on the original script. These changes aren't limited to the more insensitive parts of the original either, as the English dub also has some additional fun to add with far more references to fairytale characters over the course of the series.
Extras are slim and very standard for an anime release, with just some trailers (original Japanese promos, Japanese TV spots and a US trailer) and clean opening and close. The only real fault I have with the disc production is the chaptering, which is limited to a chapter point at the start and mid-way points of each episodes. This means you'll have to manually fast-forward not only the opening animation, but also the closing animation as each episode has a post end-credits sequence that you will miss if you simply chapter skip to the next episode.
Based on a light novel series, Okami-san and Her Seven Companions is probably best described as light viewing. Equal parts funny and frustrating, there is some enjoyment to be had but other than the often brilliant narration it's instantly forgettable. Unless you want something new you're better off with an old classic like Love Hina if you want to see a boy getting punched constantly by the girl of his dreams (and who doesn't?!). If it's Okami-san or nothing then this Manga UK release - chaptering aside - ticks all the boxes.