Playing fast and loose with fairy tales, Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi is a surprising comedy that straddles the line between familiar and fresh, whimsically mashing up elements pluck from its contemporaries. Certainly the protagonist's hair colour and demeanour could have been lifted wholesale from Toradora, her pugilistic attitude and deviant sidekick are another matter. So it is with the rest of the cast, just when the measure of a character seems to be had, a tangential quirk is revealed turning them on their head. The strength of the show then is defying expectation and in three episodes it proves it has the legs and the occasional comedic timing to pull off its crazy take on well loved stories, but whether it will be able to maintain that for a further ten is up for debate.
Otogi High School has its share of interesting clubs, the "bank" though is different and specialises in doing favours for people in times of need. The only catch is that person owes them a favour to be collected at a later time. So it is that Ryouko, the eponymous Ookami, and her diminutive companion Ringo become part of the bank and carry out some of the more physical jobs they have to deal with. Surrounded by other oddballs such as the cross-dressing president, a bespectacled and thoroughly bonkers scientist, and a boy with social anxiety disorder who wields a mean slingshot. Together they deal with the variety of cases that come to the attention of the bank: from a girl who doesn't want her senior in the tennis club to leave to someone who wants desperately to win the school's beauty pageant; regardless of the problem, Ryouko often needs to brandish her iconic cat-shaped boxing gloves to achieve a solution.
Forgettable. Like the stories it chops and blends the individual details of each episode are mostly lost as soon as the cutesy credits roll, the underlying feeling that a good time was had though remains. Instalments are rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious but they don't take themselves too seriously, whether that is the off-the-wall conclusions or the rampant fourth wall breaking of the the narrator, voice by the wonderfully recognisable Satomi Arai who also gave life to the breathless antics of Kuroko from Toaru Kagaku no Railgun. If one isn't privy to the creative freedoms the show takes with classic folk tales prior to watching, it would be easy to entirely miss that angle. The shoe-fitting and bicycle-drawn pumpkin carriage of the first episode are hard to miss but they melt into the wholesale nonsense the show peddles.
Whereas the first episode implies it will be Ryouko and Ringo's helming the stories, the second and third episodes prove just as capable with other characters taking the fore. Certainly Ryoushi's acute dislike of attention is played for laughs more than drama, but brief glimpses into the mindset behind Ryouko's wildcat attitude and peeking into the past of the clingy Otohime demonstrate a more measured hand and give hope for the future of the series. Similarly the decision to defy cliché is sometimes head-slappingly great - the rankings in the Miss Otogi High School contest a brilliant example - and though the outcome is predictable, this is definitely a case where the telling is more important than the ending.
It may have the visual style of an A-1 Pictures production but Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi is quirky, novel and great fun, what other recent show could make a turtle look vicious and angry? All too easy is it nit pick the sly pilfering from other shows, however there's enough energy and self-knowing humour not to write it off as simply derivative. The series certainly has its pick of material to plunder with storytellers like Aesop and Grimm, standing it in good stead for the future, whether it will improve its humour enough to be memorable or simply slide into kooky antics will be its true test.