There might not be many who can say the same, but to me, Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi might be the most hilarious anime I've ever seen. And it's by virtue of Arai Satomi, the Narrator, better known for her role as Shirai Kuroko's seiyuu in To Aru Majutsu no Index and To Aru Kagaku no Railgun. She made this anime. Not literally, of course, but she's responsible for giving this anime a unique character and delivering at least two thirds of all the excellent comedy. Kyon from Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu can't hold a candle to this narrator. If comedy were the only merit of this anime, it'd be a one-woman-show, and it's a woman who technically didn't even get her own character to voice!
But I don't watch pure comedies, humour is always just a side-dish for me. Ookami-san is light-hearted entertainment with only an occasional shade of dark here and there, but its entertainment value to me is almost on par with Kaze no Stigma, and that's high. It's got all the familiar themes of trust between friends and getting stronger, along with a few rarer ones, but the presentation of those themes is so skilled it feels like a crime to group this show along with all the others that you could technically call "its kind". You could sum this story up by calling it a "light-hearted romantic comedy with some delinquent fights", but I feel the necessity to add: "...but it's among the very best of its kind."
Ookami Ryouko, the female lead, is among the best tsundere characters I've ever seen. She actally has a past that explains why she is the kind of person that she is. She's also just on the right level of tsundereness to keep up the comedy and yet not overly mistreat the poor guy who fell for her, occasionally flashing her lovely dere side. She's not just a tsundere, she's a wonderful tsundere comparable to the legendary Palmtop Tiger - and not just because her character design is practically the same apart from the height difference.
Morino Ryoushi, the male lead, is among the most fascinating cases of pathetic coolness. Yes, I said "pathetic coolness". I don't mean his coolness is pathetic, I'm just saying he's both pathetic and cool. He has scopophobia, fear of being seen or stared at (again, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this in his past, though not much explored in the story). He somehow manages to be pathetic is a funny way, embarrassing without, you know, making the viewer feel embarrassed for him. In the first episode I feared it'd take too long for him to man up and the story would suffer from it. I was so wrong. Already in the second episode he totally surprises me with his occasional coolness, and throughout the story he never stops growing, and he never again stoops to the level of patheticness from where he crawled up during the first two episodes. During the story his character isn't deepened quite as much as that of Ryouko's, but the story isn't complete yet. More on that later.
The third most important character, Akai Ringo, Ryouko's closest friend, is probably the second most important source of comedy after the narrator. A lovely Little Red Riding Hood with a black heart. No, she's not really evil, but she's delightfully adept at manipulating people with her cuteness. She's a good friend to both of the main characters, but she does have a mean streak, and that's exactly what makes her so interesting. She gets her share of character deepening, and she totally deserves it.
The other important characters are all lovable (except the villains, of course) with their quirks and interesting relationships, though only two of them get proper character deepening. But, as I said, the story's not complete yet.
I hate the main villain of this story. Not because he's a bad character, but because he's meant to be hated. He's not the kind of villain you're meant to understand and feel sorry for, he's the kind that you're meant to hate and despise, so that when he's finally defeated, you'll rejoice with strong feelings. Just like the villain of a classic fairy tale.
We all know the typical romance between a more or less pathetic guy and a tsundere girl. We know how entertaining it can be, and we know how easily it can become a disaster. To my delight, I found that the romance between Ookami and Morino advances steadily, with expert balance between comedy and cute moments. Ryoushi strives to become a man who can protect the one he loves - cheesy or not, in this story it actally works. Ryouko actually recognizes his efforts and flashes her dere side occasionally, being a tsundere just enough to keep him on his toes without driving him away. It is much thanks to Ringo, though, that things seem to be going so well between them. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, while Ryouko of course fiercely denies having any feelings for Ryoushi, she doesn't treat him as inhumanely as many tsundere do, and she does show some interest, so as a watcher I never once felt like telling Ryoushi, "come on, she's not worth it, go find some other girl who doesn't require you to kill yourself for her". It's a sweet romance with immense potential to bring me to tears at later stages.
The production quality is quite fine. The character designs are standard J.C.Staff work, so if you like their work, as I do, then you'll surely enjoy their work here as well. Animation isn't great, but it's good. The fights are enjoyable, they're well written and occasionally achieve quite a high level of feeling. They - as well as the whole anime - could be improved with a bit more unpredictability and better musics, but they're quite good as they are. The seiyuu cast includes quite a number of names familiar to me, from Kugimiya Rie and Horie Yui to Itou Kanae and Toyosaki Aki - every one of them doing damn fine work, yet every one of them shadowed by Arai Satomi. The OP and ED are good, but not great - I didn't skip them always, but I did sometimes, and I won't bother downloading them. One more thing worth mentioning is the excellent use of sound effects to enhance the comedy.
It feels wrong to call Ookami-san a clichéd show, because that word has such a strong negative echo. The truth is, however, that the show isn't particularly innovative. The narration does give it a unique character, but narration itself is nothing new, it's just the exceedingly hilarious script and Arai's wonderful-beyond-words performance that makes it unique. It's a story parodying fairy tales, and it doesn't even try to be particularly innovative about it, it concentrates on having fun with them. But that, it does damn well.
It also feels wrong to call Ookami-san a shallow story, because it can touch the audience deeply. It's a wasted effort to try and find something truly profound from among the themes of the story... yet, there is a respectable variety of decently interesting themes worth giving thought. I'd imagine any girl who's ever found herself betrayed by her boyfriend would identify with Ryouko. Similarly, any guy who's ever felt himself pathetic and done something about it would probably identify with Ryoushi. Then there are those countless dieters who'll find themselves in Otohime. And this story, it might actually help some of them deal with their past. Yes, it's definitely wrong to call Ookami-san a shallow story.
There's one big problem, though: the story is totally incomplete. The first season doesn't even try to be conclusive, it assumes that there will be a second season. That is good if there really will be a second season - and I pray to the gods, even though I don't believe in any of them, that there will be one - but if this is the end of it, it's a damn unfulfilling end. I'm forgiving some minor flaws, such as the lack of proper character deepening for many of the secondary characters, because the story is obviously incomplete.
Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi shines by the virtue of its wonderful narrator and narration script, lovable and - in the case of the three main characters - deep and multi-dimensional characters, and simply doing damn well what it's trying to do. A simple plot, good dialogue, steady romance, truckloads of hilarity and overall good storytelling, drawing from the well of famous fairy tales and spiced with occasional references to other anime, those are the other elements that this anime is built of. It doesn't try to break away from conventions, it doesn't try to confound us with a complex plot, and it doesn't try to teach us the Wisdom of the Ancients. It concentrates on being a damn entertaining story. And that it is. It truly is.