So, 5 episodes of Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi have aired, and I’m enjoying it enough to write a more detailed synopsis of what’s all going on. But, this won’t really be what you’d call a well-rounded review, like you would see on most blogs or anime sites. I don’t watch the episodes multiple times, especially not to catch animation details or music or other things. I often pause to look up voice actors. I wasn’t lost during Inception, so I certainly had no trouble following plot. So, what I’m writing about today is about what I notice when watching this show, and why it stands out to me.
In college, I started taking Mandarin Chinese in my second year. It was more or less on a whim; a girl I had a crush on invited me to take it with her, it fit into my schedule, and I have both a soft spot and an affinity for languages, so I thought it’d be fun. Turns out I was right! I really enjoyed learning the language, but I enjoyed just as much learning about the history and culture. The highlight of my college Chinese career was definitely when I took a class called “The Fantastic in East Asia.” Much like your typical US high school English class, we learned about themes and history behind famous books and poems in China and Japan. If you’re an avid anime/manga fan, you’ve no doubt run across many of these fantastical themes already: the yuki-onna, a spirit of snow who seeks warmth from lost travelers in the mountains; the crane wife, who makes beautiful clothing from her own feathers to raise her husband from the depths of poverty; the classic “Journey to the West,” the travels of Tripitaka and his disciples (Sun Wukong the monkey king being the most famous) to bring Buddhist scriptures from India back to China.
Now, at this point, you may be asking what this has to do with Ookami-san and Her Seven Merry Companions. If you’re sharp, you may have picked up on the various European fairy tale influence on the characters of this anime. Ookami Ryouko is the Big Bad Wolf, Akai Ringo is Little Red Riding Hood, and Morino Ryoushi is the hunter who defeats the wolf. Majolica le Fay plays the witch, and her name is an obvious nod to Morgan le Fay. The first episode ends with a huge Cinderella parody. However, after that, some of the references may be lost on those less familiar with Japanese mythology.
Urashima Tarou and Ryuuguu Otohime are a direct reference to the Dragon Palace story, where a fisherman by name of Urashima Tarou is magicked off to the dragon palace and meets a beautiful princess named Otohime. However, I loved how they expanded on the characterization in episode 3 when it was revealed Otohime used to be fat, and her rival is a girl named Usami Mimi. If you didn’t watch the episode, here are some hints: Urashima Tarou was taken to the dragon palace by a sea turtle he saved; fat = slow = “turtlish”; Usami is one syllable (in Japanese) off from “usagi,” which means rabbit. Do you see it yet? The Tortoise and the Hare! What’s more, they even compete, although it’s a popularity contest. FURTHERMORE, they even play on contemporary media, shouting out to another J.C. Staff anime (the first one being Ookami’s uncanny resemblance to a certain tiger).
Even more kah-ray-ziness that isn’t really that crazy since this is also the “J.C. Staff Recycled Seiyuus anime” is that the voice actors of 3 characters being cosplayed have roles in the anime- Ringo is dressed as Louise, voiced by Kugimiya Rie, who voices Usami Mimi; Otohime is dressed as Henrietta, voiced by Kawasumi Ayako, who voices Otsuu; and even Otsuu’s clothes have changed a bit, representing Siesta, voiced by Horie Yui, who voices Alice.
Back to culture, I really enjoy the interwoven fairy tales. Episode two has a nod to the boy who cried wolf, depicting Ryouko as a girl who constantly lied to cover up her own insecurities. Four didn’t have anything obvious, at least not to me, although they did introduce the student council president and secretary (and by the way, Hansel’s VA is Okamoto Nobuhiko, a guy I quite like except he uses the MOST monotone voice possible in Kaichou wa Maid-sama as Usui, and he uses more emotion in his 2-second line than he ever does in 15 episodes of Kaichou). EDIT: Apparently I got sidetracked commenting on Accelerator and forgot my point here, which was that the student council president and secretary are named Hansel and Gretel.
Finally, we get to five, which I just watched today. The reason this episode tipped me off to write this post starts with last week, when the title of this episode was previewed in four. The title is (translated by Mazui) “Ookami-san Goes Oni-slaying with Momo-chan-senpai.” Now, I’m actually going to blame Mazui’s choice of subtitle placement here, because, if the subtitles didn’t cover up the image, I probably would’ve understood the reference before I watched this episode. But, I can also equally blame my inexperience with the Japanese language, meh. Anyway, after seeing this title, I felt something twinge in my brain. Kind of like, “there’s something about the title that reminds me of something…” However, it didn’t immediately surface, so I didn’t think about it more.
But! I watched five and, as soon as this TL note came up, the lightbulb came on.
This is especially fresh in my mind since there was a Kaichou episode just a few weeks ago playing on this folktale. Of course! the story is that of Momotarou, the peach boy who enlisted the help of a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant to defeat the demons of Onigashima (literally “demon island”). And then I went back to episode two and discovered they already made mention of Onigashima High School there. Blah, I should’ve caught on sooner! I mentioned blaming my poor Japanese skills earlier… that’s because I was only tipped off by the sound of the words “oni” and “momo” from the episode preview; if I had though in my head “demon” and “peach,” I would’ve realized the connection last week. It’s what I get for only half-assedly delving into the world of the Japanese.
Anyway, I suppose the takeaway from this is that I like being able to pretend I’m clever and notice these cultural references, even though they’re probably obvious to most people. However, even if they’re obvious, I definitely can’t deny feeling smarter for understanding where the references comes from. To most people, especially those without the knowledge of the folktales, this anime would just have a good voice acting cast with an interesting story and good animation. So, being able to identify exactly why this show is different from others of the same type makes it more worth watching than those other ones.
Last, to speak to the actual plot of the episode a bit, I really like these kinds of stories, where they emphasize a “world within a world” mentality. Index/Railgun uses it, Matrix uses it, Shana uses it, Inception overuses it, and I think it’s great. It really gives a sense of perspective for the characters, but also sets boundaries for the watchers and allows a natural progression of the story. Especially in these objective-based plots, where the characters seek to overcome an obstacle (like a boss or an event), it just naturally allows for either new characters to be introduced to the world, or for the existing characters to leave their current world and find a new zone with leveled up enemies. Learning how there’s some political conspiracy to allow the city to produce exemplary citizens or whatever, and having it all backed up with specific devices (in this case, Otogi Academy is raised on a platform by having the “lower” school of Onigashima take a fall)… I don’t know, I think it just speaks to a much larger plot that we might only get to see a small part of. Stories like these, that can expand forever, are some of the most worthwhile to follow, in my opinion. Sure, it can fail horrendously, but it can also be the cornerstone to a vibrant, interesting world.