The anime that shocked the internet in the Winter of 2017 by being the “Show that could with the little bit it had”. Question is whether it was worth the attention it got, ESPECIALLY in Japan. Let us find out as we take a look at Kemono Friends.
Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Educational, Mystery
Themes: Kemonomimi, Animal Girls
Number of episodes: 12+1 Bonus short (12.1)
Plot Summary: The story takes place in Japari Park, an amusement park whose main attractions are the various anthropomorphic animal girls (kemonomimi) who are referred to as Friends. A girl known only as Kaban wakes up in Japari Park with no recollection of who she is or how she got there and encounters a Serval Friend. Together, they set out on an adventure to find out what kind of animal Kaban is, passing through multiple regions of Japari Park and meeting new Friends along the way.
I mentioned this during my weekly coverage of the show and it bears repeating because it is an essential barrier to overcome in order to see whether the show is worth viewers’ time or not: This anime’s characters are all CG. Not Pixar quality CG but average to below average depending on who one asks. As the above gif shows the anime, in video game terms, runs at about 30-40 FPS give or take. Readers who cannot handle TV anime CG long before this show’s existence will most likely have skipped it long ago, which is a shame but understandable. For everyone else who willing to up with this I can vouch that it may take two episodes to get used to but I assure readers that the longer the show is watched the less of an issue the CG becomes to the point that the it can be overlooked.
Should viewers be willing to put up with it long enough they will discover an anime that has A LOT TO OFFER than is initially expected. Admittedly the first (and possibly second) episodes come off as average but should the viewer pay very close attention to what is being said and the various clues scattered throughout the park and the conversations between Kaban, Serval and the other Friends reveal a much greater mystery than simply Kaban’s search to find out what the viewer can already tell. What animal Kaban is small potatoes compared to the mysteries of Japari Park, the Friends, the mysterious one-eyed creatures known as Cerulean and much more.
Moose and Armadillo, two of several unique animal girls on the show.
All of this intrigue is hidden behind a show that is about two girls visiting various different wildlife environments meeting lots of animal girls, helping them solve amusing puzzles and undergoing varying degrees of adventures ranging from Non Non Biyori to Indiana Jones level of intensity, culminating in what I personally consider one of the most epic climaxes I have ever seen in my anime viewing career. I am not joking. Basically the show can be seen as “National Geographic/Animal Planet meets a certain very popular modern Cartoon Network show that takes place in an unusual setting“. Another reasonable comparison is “Wild Thornberrys meets the aforementioned Cartoon Network show“.
A basic explanation for most of the episode’s progression is the following:
- Kaban and Serval come to a new “Area”.
- They meet some of the Area’s unique Friends.
- They hear out the Friends’ problems.
- Kaban uses her intellect to figure out a solution.
- Everyone works together to solve the problem.
- Happy times.
- Our heroines get more information to help them in their quest.
- They head to the next area.
That is the basic setup for most of the episodes but of course that is only scratching the surface as I have already explained.
As the above image shows another of the show’s many highlights is the abundance of unique animal girls, Friends rarely seen in other anime. Examples include the Moose, Armadillo, Prairie Dog and Shoebill among others. Oh the Shoebill and her popularity after she debuted…my goodness. Of course there are the more common ones like wolves and foxes but even they have a uniqueness to them. Each Friend is diverse and has their own special charm be it an anime character archetype or something different. Each of them form part of the various “Areas” in Japari Park such as the Savannah, Mountain or Desert Areas that each stand out. All this gives the subpar animation its own special charm that gives the show its own brand of uniqueness. Speaking of budget the music is surprisingly excellent. Not only are the OP and ED wonderful but the soundtrack fits the wildlife adventure the show is going for perfectly. Amusingly my favorite tune in the show is the commercial theme, the one that plays every time there is a recording of experts describing animals and their unique traits in zoos. Maybe it is the “wa wa wa wa” but I love that little commercial jingle.
As far as the yuri goes let me put it as simply as possible, besides the obvious Serval X Kaban, almost every single duo can be paired up with each other. The most prominent pairing are Beaver X Prairie Dog. Those two might as well be a couple.
Overall, as much praise as I have given Kemono Friends and the fact it is THE surprise juggernaut hit of 2017 it is also not for everyone. Some are driven away by the subpar, others just do not like Girls Club shows or shows with an all-female cast. I cannot see my best friend getting this anime at all for example. Even so it is definitely in my top 10 favs list of 2017: The large cast of unique, cute and charming animal girls, the compelling mysteries behind the world and its inhabitants along with the clues scattered that made it fun theorizing what was going on/happened, a great presentation despite its subpar quality that gave the show its unique charm. Again not for everyone but the interested can apply the “3 episode rule” and see for themselves.
PS: My theory to its popularity, after reading some interesting articles discussing that very subject, is that it aired at the perfect time in Earth’s history. Japan has been going through a big economic crisis from what I have heard and Kemono Friends is both special and an excellent “feel good” show. That is why it became a juggernaut, whether Western audiences and even some Asian critics like it or not.