The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
I never watched more than a few minutes of Kemono Friends back when director TATSUKI and Studio Yaoyorozu were at the helm, because I knew their duct-tape-and-bubble-gum approach to CG animation would be more distracting to me than anything else. Kemurikusa doesn't make a much better impression – if anything, this show is a few steps down from Kemono Friends visually. Not only are the expressionless characters too rigid and doll-like to elicit any immediate connection, but the drab apocalyptic scenery makes everything look about ten times worse. I get the moody, decaying atmosphere that this aesthetic is going for, but it's all just such a bore to look at.
The poor direction does the show no favors, either. Conversations are framed at seemingly random angles and awkwardly choreographed. In the first scene where Rin takes on a Red Bug, the monster itself is introduced with almost no fanfare, and the subsequent battle is choppily edited and lacking in physical weight; When characters leap into the air, it looks like they're being dragged along by an invisible mouse cursor. As I understand it, these technical shortcomings are part of the charm of a Yaoyorozu production for some viewers, but I can't count myself among them.
My usual motto is that, even when a show fails in its visuals and direction, a good script can still make the project salvageable; unfortunately, Kemurikusa drops the ball in that regard too. We're unceremoniously dropped into the story with Rin and one of the Rina's, two ostensibly human girls who are scouring the wasteland for water and doing battle with Red Bugs. We're given virtually no exposition regarding who any of these characters are, what these Bugs are up to, or much of anything else that could help anchor us to the story and its world. Normally, I would be in favor of a premiere that favors letting the audience figure out the details for themselves instead of just info-dumping all over the place, but Kemurikusa plays things too close to the vest – at no point during this first episode did I feel interested in the plot, or attached to the characters, or encouraged to see where this story would go. All of the dialogue was a slurry of anime clichés, and I started checking out long before the episode actually finished.
Being so unfamiliar with TATSUKI's work, it could very well be that his style just isn't my cup of tea. There's some potential to be had in this story and setting, and I could see there being some interesting mysteries to be mined later on. If someone gets back to me in a few weeks and it turns out that Kemurikusa is the hidden gem that everyone said Kemono Friends was, I might get back to it. But in the meantime, this one is a hard pass for me.
By art style alone, you might think it'd be easy to disregard this season's Kemurikusa. But don't let this show's humble CG character models fool you—this is a show by TATSUKI, the director of 2017's equally misleading Kemono Friends, and it deserves your full attention. And though I couldn't yet say yet where Kemurikusa is going, so far it's exhibiting all the charm and mystery that made the original Kemono Friends such an unexpected hit.
Unlike Kemono Friends, Kemurikusa is an entirely original story by TATSUKI, meaning it dives into his science fiction/post-apocalyptic interests right out the gate. Over the course of this episode, we're introduced to three(-ish) strange and endearing sisters, as they work to find water on the derelict “Island One.” Exposition is almost nonexistent, and everything we learn, we learn at the pace the characters themselves divulge it. Evocative details like the true nature of Rina, the current state of this world, and the powers of their protector Midori-chan are left intentionally vague, giving us plenty of mysteries to chew on as the show focuses itself on one specific daily adventure.
Kemurikusa may be a more directly post-apocalyptic narrative than Kemono Friends, but that doesn't mean it's abandoned its predecessor's profound charm. The relationship between Rin, Ritsu, and the various Rinas feels convincing and warm from the start, and there's great comedy found in the bickering between them, as well as their interactions with new arrival Wakaba. The Rinas in particular deserve notice for how much levity they instill into basically every scene, through a combination of their silly physical mannerisms, constant petty discussions between themselves, and emphatic desire to straight-up eat the newcomer. Kemurikusa's premiere is peppered with incidental jokes that nicely balance its apocalyptic narrative, resulting in that familiar TATSUKI mix of fundamentally engaging storytelling, warm and familial atmosphere, and worldbuilding intrigue.
In terms of aesthetics, Kemurikusa is a step up from Kemono Friends, but still in its low-rent CG ballpark. In spite of these character models often looking like PS2 models, regularly clipping through both their environment and their own bodies, this episode was full of surprisingly convincing movement and character acting. TATSUKI seems to understand that making CG look convincingly realistic is a far less valuable goal than making CG look expressive and alive, and he definitely succeeds in that second goal. And the show's consistently strong layouts mean there are even some moments of genuine beauty scattered throughout this episode, PS2 models or no.
On the whole, I greatly enjoyed Kemurikusa's premiere, and am happy to see TATSUKI up to all his old tricks. The show's probably not going to win any visual awards, and I'm a little worried Wakaba's presence might take this narrative in a predictable direction, but there's so much good here in terms of charm and storytelling that I'm happy to accept those foibles. Whether you enjoyed Kemono Friends or are new to the TATSUKI train, I'd definitely encourage you to give this unique show a chance.
It isn't entirely fair to think of this episode as “gritty Kemono Friends,” but that's what I found myself doing the minute Wataru came into the story. The formula feels pretty similar as far as basic set up goes: a group of not-entirely-human girls in a post-apocalyptic world suddenly find a regular old human in their midst and neither party knows what to make of the other. In this case, Wataru gets sucked up in the girls' water supply and they patently refuse to believe that he's human because he doesn't look like them. That seems to be the only basis for their disbelief, and while it could be an interesting point about prejudice or simply reaction to the Other later on, right now it just comes off as confusing.
“Confusion” is one of the major issues with this episode. Sisters Ritsu, Rin, and the five Rinkas (who do seem to see themselves as separate entities, more quintuplets than clones) appear to be surviving in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo(ish) wasteland where mechanical creatures known as Red Bugs terrorize them. They can fight them with leaves synthesized by Midori-chan, an energy-tendril power wielded by Ritsu but who may originally have been another sister named Riku who gets a few mentions. We've definitely been tossed in at the deep end with this story, and that can make this episode difficult to watch at times simply because it doesn't feel like there's any firm ground to stand on at any time. The fact that Wataru is utterly unaware of the Red Bugs, red fog, or the girls' existence does seem to indicate that wherever they are is the only place plagued by this apocalypse and that other, non-enhanced people live somewhere outside the boundaries. Hopefully Wataru will explain that within the next episode, because not having any answers will get exhausting very quickly.
The other problem here (apart from the use of CG, which won't appeal to some viewers) is the fact that each of the girls appears to simply be a checkmark on a list of popular anime girl types. The Rinas are all wearing maid costumes and are perkily adorable (but able to eat a lot!), Rin is stoic and a little grumpy but finds her heart beating faster when she thinks about Wataru, and Ritsu inexplicably has cat ears and says “nya” a lot. While the ears and the eating (and strategic regurgitation) are undoubtedly useful in their world, it's almost too much to have them all together in one place, giving the story a same old-same old feel that it really shouldn't have. This gets another episode to see if it pulls a plot together, but there are enough other, more appealing shows for me to spend my time on if it doesn't to give it more than that.
Director TATSUKI hit a completely unexpected grand slam in 2017 as the creative force behind Kemono Friends, so it's no surprise that he got the opportunity to turn one of his animation group's early ONA experiments into a full series. The result is this oddity, which vaguely carries some of Kemono Friends' flavor: a normal human inexplicably pops up in a post-apocalyptic setting (this time they're not burying the lede on that one) populated by humanoid but still abnormal creatures and must try to figure out what's going on while getting along with the local denizens. However, this is a much more darkly-shaded show, both figuratively and literally.
For one thing, this environment is anything but peaceful. We see little mechanical critters skittering about harmlessly in an early shot, but the big Red Bugs are deadly and hostile. The youngest of the three sisters also seems to perish early on, though we later see that there are four other copies of her, each with a slightly different name, so perhaps that's related to her special ability. She also appears to have superior senses and can eat metal objects, while lead sister Rina has superior strength and athletic abilities, and Ritsu can extend energy strands for long-distance communication and transportation of things like water, in addition to having cat ears and mannerisms. They definitely don't seem to be human even though they claim to be, which leaves the newcomer Wakaba bewildered.
This episode doesn't provide even the faintest hint about the history of its world, but now that things have settled down and Wakaba has been accepted as an ally, maybe they'll have a chance to talk next episode and spill some details. The animation effort is being handled by Yaoyorozu, the studio that produced Kemono Friends, so you can expect heavy use of CG animation at a fairly low visual quality, Even so, it doesn't look quite as clunky as Kemono Friends, features some good background details, and dramatically redesigns the outfits seen in those original OVAs.
I'm hesitant to be any more positive about this series until I see where it's going; until it proves to be more just than a bunch of anime-esque elements stuck together, it only gets a middling grade from me, but then again, I've been wrong about a TATSUKI production before.
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