Lately, I’ve been re-watching a lot of anime from back in my “heyday.” The times where anime was all the rage in my impressionable mind and no amount of sexual fan service could have me drop a title. Those were the days… Nearly eight years later, I’ve come around to Ookami-san, a series I affectionately referred to as “kind of looks like Toradora, I guess” in my “Anime Due for a Re-watch” list on my MAL profile. With such high expectations (originally given a 6/10), how does it fare now that I’m older, wiser, and (hopefully) more tolerant?
I dropped it after five episodes. Tolerance ended up working against it.
As the title of this post would imply, a large portion of this entry will focus on what I perceive to be rampant sexism as part of this anime’s focus. If that is not something you are interested in, I would recommend skipping down to the last couple paragraphs in this post, as by that point all of my SJW-lensed findings will be exhausted.
With that clear, here’s an early example:
For context, Ookami-san involves a school-based organization called the Otogi Bank, which operates as a sort of favor system for those who seek aid in their lives. These things range from simple to outright dangerous, as the above screenshot conveys. It’s taken fairly seriously, despite the odd club of characters and the “parody” moniker it is provided in most anime databases. In it includes our star (one of them): Ryouko, a Taiga Aisaka look-alike with tsundere tendencies and a “badass” temperament. She, for all intents and purposes, serves as the “muscle” of the group, taking on violent assignments and resolving things with her fists, because she can. Of course, this is a bit of an issue, as girls cannot do this as reliably as men can. After all, they are the weaker sex and cannot take care of themselves, nor can they handle the tasks of taking down well-built, yakuza-like men from rival schools. Thus arrives Ryoushi, the male lead.
To its credit, Ookami-san does something kind of interesting with the arrival of the male lead. Their introduction is that of being in the shadows, instead of being front and center. Secondly, our true introduction to him involves him confessing his love for Ryouko. A confession in the very first episode? Neat! At least that absolves the viewer of playing the “will they/won’t they” game. However, with this confession comes yet another example of today’s touchy subject. Ryouko, at one point, asks what Ryoushi likes about her. This is (most) of what he says:
Okay, cool and strong and brave. Yes, not conventionally things said to women that serve as compliments, though the sentiment is there. And speaking personally, I find all of those things to be great qualities in any person, regardless of gender. I wouldn’t call my own mother “cool,” but she’s definitely strong and brave. She had to raise me. Jokes aside, this is (almost) immediately following his comments:
The statement shown above was quoted by the series’s “narrator,” which serves as a sort of tag-along for the viewer to get acquainted with the general odds and ends of the series. She elaborates on little details and makes jokes, and is frequently interrupting conversation to do so. A satire-tinged ode to the “narrators” in fairy tale stories, indeed, she comes off as obnoxious and entirely unnecessary, mostly from the timing of her appearances. One thing she also does is serve as an omniscient voice to act as the moral compass (I guess?) of the series. Comments like the one shown above are plentiful and certainly help my case a lot, so I have that to thank her for (it’s the only thing).
Now, comments like this in anime, especially many years prior (this debuted in 2012), are not new. The idea that women should be feminine and caretakers while men are the ones that are supposed to provide and protect and “be cool” is a staple in not just anime, but many other mainstream media, even if subtle. If these comments were the only things worth mentioning in this series, I wouldn’t have much more of a case here as I would in many other series featuring women with “manly” qualities. I may as well just write “Anime is Sexist: A 400-Anime Journey” and be done with it. The decision to frame this post on its inherent sexism was not done lightly, as it only grows more interesting as the early episodes (curiously) continue.
In the second episode, Ryoushi reinforces his affections towards Ryouko to Ringo, Ryouko’s best friend and comrade:
Not quite the same wording, but it once again reinforces the idea of an attraction to a woman with “manly” qualities. Ringo responds immediately:
Parroting what the narrator had stated the episode before, it provides the idea that women cannot be good at boxing or have “call of the wild” qualities, as that would be demeaning and terrible. Though as the conversation continues, Ryoushi further contemplates exactly what it is he likes about her and begins to delve into some psychological mumbo-jumbo:
As I will argue later on, this is a reference to the fact that Ryouko is just pretending to be strong and cool, and that her true demeanor is that of a weak and hopeful girl who wants someone to depend on. How fairy tale-esque: an important character may be a hero on the outside, but on the inside they’re a princess in need of rescuing. Get it?
If you thought this couldn’t get any more transparent, this series ensures that this is the canon headspace to believe. Later in the episode, after being knocked unconscious, Ryouko ends up in an ambiguous place as her “inner self” (I guess) speaks to her in a dream:
I’m sure more experienced (and motivated) writers could have a field day with this comment, pertaining to female solidarity and all that, but for the sake of keeping things simple, this could be construed in a number of ways. Being “alone” does not necessarily correlate to having a man take care of you, nor should my arguing imply that you need to be alone to fulfill yourselves as a woman. I firmly believe that people shouldn’t be alone, and that friends and partners are an incredible way of getting a better perspective of the world and oneself. It’s how the conversation (and episode) continues that makes it a little harder to leave as anything but reinforced gender roles:
Taking all that I’ve noted into consideration thus far, the phrase “someone you can depend on” is pretty loaded here. A task force made up of women feels “dangerous”; women shouldn’t be made up of “manly” qualities such as being strong or brave; Ryouko is actually lonely and wants someone to “depend on.” All things, including the slow initiation of Ryoushi into Otogi Bank, indicate that he will become said pillar to “depend on”: a man who, ironically, does not have the “cool” qualities that men s h o u l d have. (Note: I do not think I am cool or strong or brave. I am a failure of a man.) Ryouko cannot have the qualities that Ryoushi is entitled to simply because of his sex. The series does what it can to make this right.
I mentioned before that Ryouko was knocked unconscious—that is because she took on a request to fight off some goons, and they overpowered her through numbers. When she awakes, she is in an old warehouse, where the goon boss comes up and essentially holds her hostage because plot. As it happens, the rest of Otogi Bank comes through to save her and a big battle ensues. General high school stuff, y’know. Ryouko is freed and quickly given an upgrade to her patented fluffy boxing gloves (not noted before because it wasn’t important) as the narrator throws this in:
As the fight continues, Ryoushi is shown as a sniper-like figure who attacks people from afar with a slingshot. Ryouko is the one who gets up front and pummels the shit out of people. This eventually leads to a fight with the big boss, whom Ryouko eventually defeats with a blow to the face… for a few moments. Turns out, big boss has a second form (not literally) and quickly takes advantage. But wait! Ryoushi appears! With his cowardly nature suddenly behind him, he challenges the bulky dude to a fight. As he avoids every hit, he eventually gathers all the great strength within him and punches him in the exact spot Ryouko did before, rendering him actually defeated. He celebrates with this line:
I believe it’s Ringo that comments on how cool Ryoushi is in that moment. Indeed, very cool of him to claim ownership over Ryouko in the spur of the moment, as men should. After all, he will be the one that Ryouko will depend on, thus allowing her to finally be free of the sin of being “strong and brave” and conforming to behavior more appropriate for her sex. Ho-hum. I remember in Beastars when the male lead says something similar in the middle of a frenzied rage, only to immediately realize what came out of his mouth and stand stunned at how awful it sounded. Not quite the same context, but wow was it way more interesting.
And this is just through two episodes. I only got through five, which is not even halfway, but I have to admit that the sexism is toned down somewhat (big emphasis on “somewhat”) as it continues. There’s episode three, which focuses on a female character within the group who tries to prove her worth to the man she loves by winning a beauty pageant. Her past involves her being “fat and dumb,” in which she goes through a physical transformation upon her love interest telling her that she’d be “a lot cuter if she were thin” (holy shit). And episode five involves a character in said beauty pageant who has a fan club of men who just love her for her tits. Awesome characterization.
That’s about as much as I felt necessary to provide. Ookami-san definitely feels like a product of its times. General traditions take hold while it pokes fun at little more than very simple narrative plots from centuries ago, rather than the very medium it takes place in (it’s heavily self-indulgent). I once heard that people enjoy shitting on J.C. Staff nowadays thanks to their heavy reliance on bowing to trends and implementing a lot of sexual fan service. If Ookami-san is an example to use, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. But of course, it’s just one series.
Despite all that I’ve said thus far, there are certain positives to Ookami-san that I did enjoy. Despite the constant identity beatdowns, Ryouko is a fairly interesting character. Had the series done a similar scenario where, on the outside, she remained tough and standoffish but deep down wished for companionship, that could’ve worked in the overall narrative’s favor. Wait, didn’t I just combat that before? Indeed, though the issue there was what I saw as the whim of gender conformity; companionship doesn’t have to be romantically tied or treated as exclusivity. Maybe Ryouko wanted to just rely on Ryoushi without the series heavily implying that he would be the man and protect her from the evils of strong women. Support is wonderful, just not in a way that inhibits the other.
Other characters don’t receive nearly the same amount of treatment, at least outside their respective episodes. From what I got through (and what little I remember), Ryouko is given a considerable amount of important screentime while others are relegated to random one-off episodes. The unmentioned fourth episode deals with a maid character (shown in image underneath cover) who has, as the series describes, “a fetish for favors.” Basically, she needs to pay back favors or else she goes insane or something. It’s played for laughs until that episode, when it turns out something traumatic happened to her in her youth (because of course it did). While enjoyable to some extent, it felt like a filler OVA episode while the true plot was focusing on Ryouko and Ryoushi’s relationship (and Ryouko’s past).
As a final note, I will re-address the only thing I felt worth mentioning upon completing the series in 2013: the narrator. Many reviews on MyAnimeList regard the narrator as an annoying, overexplaining force that adds nothing to the general experience and usually makes things worse. I wholeheartedly agree. Aside from the whole reinforcing gender norms thing, her conversations do one of two things: point out the obvious or try to be funny. Neither tend to work well for the focused viewer. Sure, she explains people’s backgrounds upon arrival, but who’s to say the series can’t just show these things happening? Why have a narrator say that a character is stupid when we can plainly see that they’re stupid? Above that, she tends to interrupt conversations, and with subs, I’m trying to read two different sets of dialogue at one time. With the proverbial cherry on top being that she makes bust size jokes, she’s practically the bane of my existence.
Suffice it to say that my Ookami-san revisit did not prove enjoyable. Insightful, indeed, as this was an interesting foray into something a little more focused for the blog. Although, part of me wonders if I’m looking too much into it, as the “parody” moniker is staring me straight in the face. Nevertheless, I’ve said just recently that that can be a rather cheap way of exploiting what’s being teased with a fallback excuse. Here, it doesn’t feel as nefarious; a subject based in the culture that is expected. As a freedom-loving ‘Merican, I don’t like this, so I wrote this up. Hope you enjoyed it.
The rating for this series and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
For other articles on anime, check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.