Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer 2010: Ôkami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi

Every culture and society has its handful of fairy tales and their famous storytellers. Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, Aesop, Hans Christian Anderson, Uncle Remus—whether the folktale creators were real or as fictional as their stories, we've all been intrigued by the concept of anthropomorphic characters dealing with their concerns through the use of human emotions and perception.

With all of the exposure to Western stories and Disney films, Japan has received many versions of these fairy tales. The old-school anime fans in Japan probably have knowledge of the Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics (グリム名作劇場 Gurimu Meisaku Gekijou) show that ran in the 1980s. Of course, Japan has offered its own plethora of otogibanashi (fairy tales)—everyone and their sibling has heard of Momotarô and his quest to destroy all oni.

Here's the interesting twist to all those fables and adventures that the new anime Ôkami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi ("Ôkami-san and Her Seven Companions") poses: what if the direction was reversed? Instead of animals gaining human qualities to them, what if the human characters adopted zoomorphic qualities to them in order to tell the stories?

The general concept of the Ôkami-san light-novel series and the current show directed by Yoshiaki Iwasaki (Love Hina, Zero no Tsukaima) revolves around the city of Otogibana-shi and its citizens, most of them derived from various fairy tales. The episodic plot centers on the actions of the "Otogi Bank", a school organization that works to "fix" the sticky situations the main academy's students get into. Our main heroine, Ryôko Ôkami, is the tomboyish muscle for the Bank, a tall "Yankee" delinquent who boxes with gloves that look like cats. While she often works with her friend Ringo Akai, a derivation from Little Red Riding Hood with a blackmailing streak, the Bank itself has various characters from Aesop's fables ("The Grasshopper and the Ant") and Japanese folklore (Urashima Tarô, Tsuru no Ongaeshi).

It's Ryôko's rough lupine nature that links her to her wolfish image and the eventual first meeting with Ryôshi Morino, a soft-speaking boy from her class. Raised as a hunter outside of the city, he is tested by the Bank for admission, although his reason for tagging along is more due to his confession to Ryôko and admiration for her tsundere nature. While Ryôko is more disgusted by his weak nature and his immense phobia of being stared at, Ryôshi appears to be braver than he looks, but is Ryôko also "crying wolf" about her true self?

Possibly the best thing that Ôkami-san has going for it is the various overlapping interpretations of the tales. After all, while we know how Cinderella and the Prince are united and how the Tortoise beats the Hare, it's actually fun to see how the characters interact in this modern retelling of past stories. While there is nothing too special about the character designs and the shows may border on episodic natures, the characters themselves benefit from the numerous past tales—the Otogi Bank's members overlap into other stories gives each character secondary characteristics. The Wolf not only worked with Red Riding Hood, but was involved with the Three Pigs and various hunters (which is what ryôshi ends up translating into). Even the narrator (Satomi Arai) seems to be having fun with snide comments on Ryôko's lack of a chest and acting as the censoring "bleep".

Ôkami-san's use of common anime devices actually gives the show a fresh look at both the older otogibanashi and general anime plots. Normally, the tsundere Ryôko, conniving Ringo, and wimpy Ryôshi would be cardboard characters in their own show, but the situations makes Ôkami-san worth it for now. The story likely will never reach the epic outreach of the likes of the fairy tales it is comprised of, but why not just live for the enjoyment of today? Ôkami-san is silly in its story, but memorable in its presentation.

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