The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide A Centaur's Life
How would you rate episode 1 of
Centaur's Life ?
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How was the first episode?
Of all the things I was expecting from the show about centaur schoolgirls, "political commentary" was not one of them. Of course, that might not have been fair of me. Basically every monster girl anime has attempted to address the politics of personal identity in some small way, from Monster Musume acknowledging the prevalence of discrimination, to Interviews with Monster Girls exploring ways to combat that discrimination and give minorities better opportunities for success, to Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid discussing the culture shock faced by both immigrants and natives to a country like Japan. Maybe the reason I like monster girl shows over other types of niche fetish anime is that they have such a propensity to become political.
Still, none of those examples compare to the volume of worldbuilding and political commentary that A Centaur's Life is already attempting one episode in. Beginning with a cutting remark about how discrimination totally wouldn't exist in a world where humans were only separated by skin color (spoilers: it does) and ending with the ominous implication that it's illegal to talk about their world's history of enslaving centaurs, A Centaur's Life is bursting at the seams with unexpected thematic digressions about what "equality" really means in a world overflowing with diversity. (For a simple example, no one acknowledges Hime's heavier centaur body when she's cast as the princess in the school play, to avoid accusations of discrimination, which is considered illegal. But this lack of consideration for what makes her different results in her princess tower collapsing onstage! Superficial "equality" without special allowance for differences will naturally disadvantage anyone who needs special circumstances to thrive, making it not all that different from a system of active oppression.) It's a fascinating subject that you don't see tackled in many anime (since Japan is a more racially homogeneous nation than most), and I'm extremely interested to find out how this author will use monster girls to comment on real-world discrimination, since his thoughts on the matter are clearly more complicated than the typical demi-human analogues to racism we get in lazier works of fantasy.
So if this material is so intriguing, why isn't my score higher? Well unfortunately, A Centaur's Life is a Chinese coproduction from Haoliners Animation. It's a little different from the Creators in Pack stuff in that it wasn't made for a Chinese audience and redubbed in Japanese; the animation is just heavily outsourced to China and Korea. But my point is that the execution of this episode is kinda confusing and the animation mostly looks shabby. The pacing is uneven throughout, various scenes and characters aren't set up very well, and the whole thing just feels "off" for lack of a better word. It's nowhere near as breezy and enjoyable as its three monster girl anime predecessors, even if it might end up having the meatiest material. I'd still give it a strong recommendation for story content alone, but I totally might be betting on the wrong horse if this show's visual execution gets much worse.
There's something to be said about a good, casual hangout show. When well executed, a slice-of-life comedy can be the perfect kind of refresher in between bouts of world-saving spectacle and life-or-death romantic angst. However, once you've got a hundred thousand different shows about teenagers hanging around at school, a show has to find a way to differentiate itself. Some shows focus on different school clubs, and others give their take on unique hobbies or professions. A Centaur's Life chooses the Interviews with Monster Girls route and flips the entire world on its head, giving us a modern-day Earth that just so happens to be populated by angels, demons, fauns, lizard people, and of course, centaurs.
I was hoping this show would be fun when I first heard the title, and I wasn't disappointed by this episode. It's both a successful hangout show and a good example of a “monster girl” series done well. Some series, such as Monster Musume, push the fanservice angle a bit too far for my taste, but A Centaur's Life keeps the fanservice minimal and relatively tasteful. The character designs for the humanoid characters are clean and visually interesting (I like how the halos of the angels are just extensions of their hair), and even characters like the titular Hime are drawn in such a way as to make them relatable and funny, when missteps in the art or animation could have easily pushed them into the realm of putting.
I wasn't necessarily expecting this to be a series focused on romance, but the first sketch of the episode and the OP seem to be emphasizing the potential connections between our almost entirely female cast. Whether or not this is something the show will take seriously, or is just there as teasing fanservice, only time will tell. Still, A Centaur's Life nailed the most important aspect of any slice-of-life show, which is the relationships. Hime, Nozomi, and Kyouko have an immediately amicable rapport that's just a lot of fun to watch. If the show does end up focusing on Hime and Nozomi, I wouldn't complain, because both girls are admittedly quite cute on stage together.
Really, my only complaints about the episode would be the awkwardness of some of the world building, and even then, I can't say I wasn't interested in how this land of fantastically mundane beasts worked. I liked seeing how racial tensions are actually a huge deal in this world, and especially the mentions of subtly dystopian correctional facilities for people who even discuss discrimination. I hope we get more of that going into the future. I can't say I was ever all that interested in knowing how a teenage centaur girl wiped herself after using the bathroom, but I guess that's knowledge I'll have to live with. Even if the script had a couple of dud gags like this, I still enjoyed just spending time with these characters and this world. That alone makes me look forward to following this series for the rest of the season.
Up for some more monster girls? Though monster girls have been a recurring thing for many years in anime, it seems practically obligatory of late to have at least one series each season which features them, and this title fully fits that bill; in fact, not a single character in the series is what we would call an ordinary human, so that means we also get monster boys. However, it's already quite clear that the emphasis is going to be on the girls, as the only male characters to come up to date have minor roles. The other difference here is that the lack of a male viewpoint character suggests that this series will purely play as mostly-ordinary slice-of-life stories rather than as anything that will even remotely resemble a harem. In a sense that's refreshing.
The one danger here is that this series will play out too ordinary and thus become mundane. That was a common complaint made about the Winter season's Interviews with Monster Girls (although not one I agree with) and I could easily see it coming up in this series, too. The first episode, at least, avoids this by smoothly mixing in details about how being a centaur can affect those everyday events, such as a stage prop that she needs to climb needing additional reinforcement because centaurs are so much heavier than other races, or how centaurs have to really watch their weight because if they get fat then they can't wipe their own rears. That Hime commonly has to sit down to see most other students eye-to-eye is also a nice little touch, as was one scene where we got to see how she sits at a desk. For now these details are plenty interesting. So is the description of evolution in this world and how conflict between the four man subcategories of human over obvious racial differences has necessitated very stringent rules about equality. I'd love to see the series do more with that, as the only real taste of it that we get in the first episode is that riding on a centaur's back is considered a huge no-no because of implications resulting from centaurs having once been enslaved for that purpose.
I'm not expecting anything too deep from this series based on its format, though. Its first episode is split into two half-episode vignettes, with the opener curiously placed in between them. Presumably this was done because the production staff wanted to emphasize from the outset that this is just a bunch of ordinary school activities carried out by individuals who aren't humans in the sense that we understand them. I'm also not expecting anything stellar on technical merits, though the first episode doesn't look bad. Overall this looks like it could be a fairly fun, if also largely innocuous, view.
A Centaur's Life's first episode offers a whole bunch to dig into for any slice of life fan, mixing staples of the genre with interesting reflections on life in a monster world, as well as a light sprinkling of romance. Those ultimately seem to be its central goals: great slice of life fundamentals, intriguing and actually consequential worldbuilding, and a whole bunch of main girls Hime and Nozomi crushing on each other. If any of those priorities sound fun to you, A Centaur's Life is worth a watch - if they all fall within your wheelhouse, get on this right now.
The show opens with centaur Hime and her classmates putting on a school play, some off-brand version of Romeo and Juliet where Hime is a princess and Nozomi her dashing prince. The play conceit offers a great venue for A Centaur's Life to demonstrate its tonal priorities, constantly undercutting the fanciful nature of its “everyone is a kind of monster” premise with concerns like making sure the play scaffolding can support Hime's weight. There's a tiny bit of fanservice, but these scenes mostly exist to create a strong sense of lived reality here, as well as affection for the show's main cast. Main girl Hime is a bit of an airhead, but demonstrates both a variety of insecurities and a clear concern for her friends. Her two friends Nozomi and Kyoko are more brash and snarky, and the three of them have already developed a strong, friendly rapport. Even side characters like their class representative Tama get solid material, demonstrating both the go-getter attitude you expect from a class rep character, but also a sensitivity to the feelings of her friends.
After the play ends in dramatic fashion, this episode's second half then works to weave in some of the stranger assumptions of this world. In a not-exactly-graceful but likely necessary class lecture, we learn that six-legged organisms evolved into all the creatures classified as “humans” in this world, including centaurs, angels, and merfolk. The vast physical differences in the different kinds of humans has made this world's history one defined by discrimination, and it's clear both in the teacher's behavior and her students' later conversations that discrimination still defines their culture.
There's a sense that this country's response to the sins of the past was to both enforce harsh cultural laws and also rely heavily on a general, race-superseding spirit of nationalism. Conversations about how being carried by a centaur is totally unacceptable reflect the living nature of discrimination, how its physical manifestations won't always be immediately obvious, and how our attempts to construct a truly just society will always be imperfect measures. There's a whole lot to dig into in this world, and the fact that A Centaur's Life manages to integrate such heavy conversations without betraying its slice of life appeal is a serious mark in its favor.
So far, I'm a big fan of everything A Centaur's Life is offering. My only complaints with the show are light ones related mostly to execution. I felt the show's conversational and comedic pacing could occasionally get a little stiff, with some moments dragging for awkward lengths of time. Additionally, the show's aesthetic merits are pretty middle-of-the-road - the background art is basic, and the animation is middling, meaning it's up to the writing to bring this world to life. But the writing is doing a fine job of that so far, so I'm on board for whatever's next.
Maybe I'm just suffering from a case of monster girl burnout, but the first episode of A Centaur's Life didn't seem all that compelling to me. Other shows have set the bar reasonably high for this niche in previous seasons, so this relatively ordinary premiere definitely suffers by comparison. It hasn't yet shown off anything like the exuberant self-indulgence of Monster Musume or the strong storytelling of Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, instead aiming more towards the low-key charm of Interviews with Monster Girls. However, where that series managed to jump quickly and effectively into its fictional world, this one has a harder time putting all of the pieces together.
The big problem for me is that this episode appears to rush straight into the middle of the story. Instead of pacing the character introductions out over time, we essentially meet centaur girl Hime's entire high school class all at once. While this is probably less of an issue for folks who've read the original manga, I found myself scrambling to differentiate the core cast from the supporting characters. The busy introduction also creates uncertainty about some key relationships. Are there romantic feelings between Hime and Nozomi, or is the whole kiss situation just a one-off joke for the initial storyline? Is the angel-winged class rep supposed to be a bossy pain in the butt, or is she actually friends with the main trio? The characters may have all of this figured out, but the audience is left to put the pieces together on the fly.
The backstory info-dump about six-limbed evolution and government equality laws is also unnecessarily clunky. There have been enough shows featuring demi-humans in recent seasons that I think most viewers are now willing to accept the occasional pair of wings or goat horns at face value; we don't really need an elaborate scientific justification. Having a pair of shady-looking government goons standing around during the lecture complicates the matter even further. Unless this series is going to take a deep dive into the balance between liberty and equality, having the thought police hang around implies a dystopian atmosphere that's largely absent from the rest of the episode. Again, forcing the viewer to puzzle through all of these distractions makes it much harder to focus on the more important parts of the episode.
It's a shame that this is an underwhelming start, since the main trio of Hime, Nozomi, and Kyoko all seem like a likable bunch. If A Centaur's Life can settle down and let the characters do their thing, then it has the potential to grow into a good show. For now, however, it looks like less of a sure thing than I expected it to be.
Okay, I admit it: my first thought when I heard that A Centaur's Life was getting an anime was, “Will they leave in the vagina chapter?” I suppose it could still turn up as an OVA, but thankfully the bit about Hime and her friends comparing genitals is not present in this first episode, although it does seem interested in upping the fanservice content from the manga, opening with a girl/girl kiss scene that puts a lot of emphasis on soft, shiny lips and an unsubtle tail-stiffening. There's nothing wrong with the scene itself, but it does let us know what direction this slice-of-life story may take when it isn't emphasizing its political aspects.
I have very mixed feelings about that. In early volumes of the manga, there are certainly chapters and extras that explain the history of this alternate version of the world, how evolution took a different turn, resulting in six-legged animals and humans' evolution from different species, resulting in angelfolk, goatfolk, draconids, centaurs, and merfolk, but that information here is presented in a school lesson given to us verbatim before we see that the teacher is being watched by what appear to be government officials, who nod in approval before the class launches into the national anthem. Not only is it a very abrupt shift from the first half of the show, where the class all works well together to put on a play and the only real indication that anyone is different comes in the set builders forgetting to account for the fact that a centaur is going to weigh more than a two-legged person. Then we're hearing about government correctional facilities where people who do things like ride on a centaur's back are sent for reeducation and things get politically creepy quickly. (I'm also not thrilled with the “if we all just had different skin colors, racism wouldn't be as prevalent” statement, but that's a whole different rant.)
All of this leaves the episode feeling very uneven. It seems torn between cute animal girls being besties and heavy-handed political statements, while throwing in some jokes about Hime worrying about her weight because she's so much bigger than her draconid and goatfolk friends. Tossing in the bit about centaurs having to stay centaur-slim so they can wipe their behinds doesn't seem necessary when it could simply have been explained that centaurs like to run or something similar, and the comment seems like an attempt to work in some cheap humor in the guise of worldbuilding. Basically A Centaur's Life feels like a combination of too much and too little, with the former being the world and politics and the latter being actual plot. It isn't terrible, but if the concept intrigues you, I'd suggest checking out the original manga instead.
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