The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide Kemono Friends
How would you rate episode 1 of
Kemono Friends ?
What is this?
In Japari Park, all sorts of wonderful animals can be found. Each lives in her own territory and gets along with her other animal friends. One day, a strange new animal appears in the Savanna area of the park. She doesn't have ears, a tail, or wings, and she can't fly or swim or run fast. Even she doesn't know what she is! The first friend she meets is Serval, who tells her to go to the Library beyond the Jungle. Serval agrees to take her new friend, who she calls “Bag” after her strange accessory, to the gate between Jungle and Savanna. What new friends will Bag and Serval meet on their journey? Kemono Friends is based on a mobile game and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Tuesdays at 2:05 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Rating: 1.5 (for adults) or 3 (for children)
Kemono Friends looks and feels all the world like a kid-oriented series, but actually it's apparently inspired by a (now-defunct?) smartphone game. Looked at that way, one can easily see the game mechanics operating in the background as the heroine nicknamed Bag-chan explores what will apparently be a variety of different natural settings and encounters animal girls native to each setting. And yes, that does mean that this series has the somewhat clunky execution that such a description implies.
Actually, it's fair to classify this as at least a kids-friendly series, as I could easily see my nieces getting into this show when they were 7 or 8. The content shown so far has a feel to it somewhat reminiscent of a Dora the Explorer and the level of sophistication present in the storytelling isn't high. The animals shown so far are hardly intimidating, with Serval being much more playful than predatory and Hippo being outright motherly in attitude, to the point of it being a light joke, and even the alien-looking Ceruleans which are the apparent bad guys aren't that scary. It even has an informative segment about Serval cats about where the commercial break would normally be for a live broadcast. On the level of kids' entertainment, I think the series should work just fine, as younger viewers aren't going to get hung up on things like how stiff the animation sometimes is.
Whether or not this series will work as entertainment for adult otaku is another story. Such fare intended for older crowds typically depends heavily on cute factor for its appeal, and while there is definitely some cuteness to the animal girls shown so far (and perhaps a slight air of sexiness to the clearly-older Hippo, which seems weird to say given that hippos in nature are far from good-looking creatures), it's not concentrated enough for normal otaku interests. The behaviors of the characters are also designed more to reflect animal traits than aim for cutesiness and/or moe appeal. There are some hints of a bigger story; how did the human girl end up where she is, for instance? Why does she have amnesia? And why do the two animal girls shown at the end seem to think that she might be a threat to the park? I just don't see those as being compelling enough to muddle through the rest of the inanity, though.
So a mild thumbs-up for the series as a show for kids but a thumbs-down for the series for older audiences.
There's not really much I can actively recommend about Kemono Friends. Though it's based on a free-to-play game, the show seems to be a children's production aimed at fostering interest in exotic animals by anthropomorphizing them as a variety of cute, friendly girls. Because of its presumed target audience of very young kids, there's basically nothing about this episode's tone or storytelling that comes off as particularly interesting. The human newcomer Bag-chan spends most of it wandering through the savannah of “Japari Park” with her new friend Serval, trying to find out what kind of animal she is. There are some extremely mild jokes at the various characters' expense, and ultimately Bag-chan realizes she's maybe not so useless after all. It's all fairly low tier sunday morning fare.
The show also isn't compelling in an aesthetic sense. Kemono Friends relies on some extremely low-rent CG for its character models, meaning everyone looks like a late-era Playstation 2 model throughout, complete with jagged polygons wherever their features connect. These models aren't expressive in either an overall physical or character-acting way, putting them far below the standards set by shows like Bubuki Buranki. And the ways these characters interact with their environment is even worse - by placing simplistic CG characters over classic painted backgrounds, it never feels like the show's two planes are actually interacting. Characters essentially “skate over” the background instead of traversing and interacting with it.
Still, for all those negatives, there's nothing actively terrible about this show. It's an upbeat and mostly harmless children's show - nowhere near the highest tier of children's entertainment, but also nothing you'd mind having your kid watch. Kemono Friends might be narratively bland and visually disappointing, but its characters are pleasant enough and its heart seems to be in the right place. That's not such a bad thing.
Kemono Friends is a show about animal girls that is almost completely free of sexualization and sexy antics. That's because it's a show for little kids who like animals – nothing more and nothing less. It's the kind of program that would air on PBS in the United States: cute, with a nice lesson and some teaching aspects, but still exciting enough and with enough of a plot to keep children engaged. Honestly, it's got most of the kids’ shows I've seen recently beat by a mile in terms of not being cloying or preachy, as well as by looking much better than most non-Disney TV. (Confession: Peppa Pig’s art terrifies me.) From the ending theme song, it looks like the series will be heavy on the cat family, but there's also what looks like a Fennec Fox and a North American raccoon showing up next week, and this week we also meet Hippo while getting glimpses of Zebra and Thomson's Gazelle, neither of whom want to approach the Serval who is the main animal girl character so far.
The story follows a very basic quest format. One day in the Savanna a human girl appears, but she doesn't know what kind of animal she is. The helpful Serval, being a feline, offers to take her to where she can find out before ultimately being unable to resist her own curiosity about her new friend and sticking with her. It's set up so that each week Bag (what Serval names the human) and Serval will meet new types of animals in their specific habitats, with informative little lectures by zookeepers as eye-catches. While it is a little odd to see the animals represented as animal girls, it largely works. Serval and Hippo have noticeable cleavage and Hippo wears a low-cut bodysuit, but it isn't sexualized, and the argument could be made that Hippo's outfit is more of a wetsuit due to her aquatic habits. There's not a jiggle in sight.
Of course, that's partly due to the fact that this is not great looking CG. The characters don't interact with their backgrounds at all, even when climbing a tree or getting out of the water, and faces are irritatingly static. Bag has a perpetually derpy look on her face and there's a real missed opportunity with Serval's ears, which really only move once over the course of the half-hour. The Ceruleans, odd blobby blue slime monsters who appear to be the only actual predators, feel better suited for a game version of the story, but given that there is a tendency to format children's shows like video games (Jake and the Neverland Pirates is an especially good example of this), it is still in line with the target audience, as is Lucky Beast, the robotic boss of the Park.
Kemono Friends is a surprisingly fun little show. As long as you realize that it's for the kiddies, it's a nice way to get an animal girl fix without it being a slave to fanservice. For totally innocent girls with ears, this is the place to be.
Kemono Friends is based on a free-to-play game that apparently went offline a month ago, which probably tells you all you need to know about this show. It's the kind of low-rent CG “things as anime girls” fare that's usually relegated to 5-minute short territory, except it's a full-length series. Character movements are stiff and stilted, and it looks like their mouths don't even move when they're talking outside of close-up shots. This episode is full of the sorts of quality dips and animation shortcuts that would be vaguely acceptable in a short format, but they really stand out when you have half an hour to take it all in.
The story sounds like something straight out of an innocent kids’ show: a human ends up in a giant wildlife park and has to meet and learn about animals in order to get out. It'd make for a fine public television title if it weren't for the constant reminders that it's secretly trying to sell you a defunct video game. The writing is consistently weak, and most of the voice actors sound bored by their roles. Every shot and scene seems to last longer than it needs to, perhaps in an attempt to stretch a dearth of content out across an abundance of screen time.
There's no compelling reason to watch Kemono Friends, nor is there much of a reason for it to exist in the first place. If you're looking to waste time with videos of wild animals, just watch a nature documentary with your friends and make up goofy dialogue for the animals on screen. I guarantee you'll come up with something more entertaining than this.
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