Well, hello there to 2018 and to another year of anime reviews. We are starting things off with an anime that at first glance a lot of people ignore, dismissing it as a joke. But slowly and surely, it grew into a cult anime phenomenon the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while. Also, it helps that I couldn’t really come up with something else to cover but figured hey why not talk about this…..
Kemono Friends (2017)
Director and Script: Tatsuki
Now, Kemono Friends was something I jumped into after its initial release back in Winter 2017 season. Granted I had other shows to watch and at first quietly dismissed it. But then I heard people in the community (mostly and some blogs I followed) mentioning it and I decided to check it out. To say it was a pleasant surprise sums up my initial feelings after watching the first few episodes.
Kemono Friends stars Kanban-chan, so named for the backpack she carries around. She found herself in the middle of an African savanna with no memories at all. She encounters Serval-chan, a wild cat girl who at first wants to eat her but they quickly become friends. It turns out she ended up in Japari Park, a giant zoo park where due to some strange crystal Sandstone, the animals have transformed into anthromorphic girls. Anyway, Serval and Kanban along Lucky-san a little critter guide set out to find out who Kanban is and what her place is in this new world. Along they run into other ‘Friends’ and also fight off some Ceruleans, weird otherworldy beings who are quite dangerous. The adventure is on!
Now Kemono Friends has an interesting way of narrative structure. It starts off being episodic in nature, with Kanban and Serval going to various areas (Jungle, Mountain, Forest, etc) and meeting Friends who have a problem/issue that Kanban works through and solves or fixes the problem. I half expected David Attenborough to pipe in some narration ala his MANY nature documentaries. But then they included a brief subplot involving a Raccoon and Fennec Fox chasing our two heroines for some reason. I can get behind that as one of my favorite narratives are journey narratives, full of fun exploration and adventure. And the Friends they meet are various and different, though taking obvious cues from their real life counterparts. Each episode even have brief segments where they interview zoo professionals from around the world, giving out some information about the animals featured in each episode.
But then it becomes clear there is a wider story at play from the start, which took me for a loop. Granted the revelation that Kanban is a human is quite obvious. But some of the other revelations (nature of the Sandstar or how Kanban got here) play out quite well and really add to the story. The only drawback to the story and characters is that its simple but within that simplicity a hidden depth can be found. Kanban is a great heroine in that she is able to think things through and plan out ways to solve problems, which stands in contrast to most of the Friends who would just do things without thinking through. This ties into another narrative idea I am fascinated in, the notion of overcoming adversity. Granted that doesn’t really come into play until the last two episodes when the Cerulean becomes a legitimate threat that must be dealt. In the end, Kanban win out by planning and teaming up together to defeat it. And yes, it leaves us wanting more at the end which I find to be a mark of a great show.
Now, that isn’t to say Kemono Friends isn’t perfect, especially with the production. It is extremely low rent CGI, which the last time I saw something like that was with Arpeggio of Blue Steel which worked out so well for that clearly considering how forgettable that show became. That was partly what led me to dismiss this show right off. The show looks incredibly cheap, but there’s a reason for that: The director and writer Tatsuki only had a small crew and a small time frame for production. While that shows, I find it quite endearing that they try their best in spite of that, rather than just doing that due to laziness. That endearment likely led to Kemono Friends’ popularity with the internet anime community. Though that success and acclaim turned into a double edged blade as news came out that while yes we would get a second season at some point, the creative staff for the first season wouldn’t be involved in it at all.
I am bit bummed, just not for the original creators (though Tatsuki will likely have something else out this year, good on him for that) but because I fear they will get a new crew who will likely not get what made the show endearing and might just do an ‘auto-pilot’ job with the second season. That’s all speculation at this point, but it is worth considering.
But anyway, Kemono Friends is ‘The Little Engine That Could’ of anime in 2017. It shows that even with everything going against them, one can still turn out something special. It combines a journey narrative with a theme of overcoming adversity and differences and discovering self in a setting that while seeming familiar is still quite wholesome and fun. Kemono Friends is well worth a watch, its available on Crunchyroll which is how I was able to watch this show and do this review.
Anyway, the next review is a show focuses on romance, as for February it has been tradition for me the past 6 years. Only hint I’ll say is that its a series created by Kosuke Fujishima….
Til next time, dear readers