Episodes 1-2

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Kemurikusa ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Kemurikusa ?

I'm so excited to finally be watching and writing about Kemono Fr—I mean, Kemurikusa! Okay, there's some cosmic irony in the fact that this is airing alongside the “official” Kemono Friends season 2, but as far as I'm concerned, Kemurikusa is the real sequel to the first season of Kemono Friends. If you're watching it, you probably already know the story behind the director Tatsuki and studio Yaoyorozu getting kicked off the Kemono Friends project by Kadokawa, to the shock and disappointment of many (including me). However, Tatsuki and the core creative group behind the unlikely breakout hit about animal girls in the post-apocalypse are back, with this new original anime where it's also the post-apocalypse and at least one of the girls has animal ears!

Kemurikusa actually predates Kemono Friends by several years. Its genesis is a short ONA made back in 2012 by Tatsuki and his small independent animation studio Irodori. It's still up on YouTube if you want to watch it, which I do recommend if only to appreciate how far Tatsuki and his team have come since then. There are also a series of short prologue videos (called episodes 0.5, 0.6, etc.) that Tatsuki has been posting on his Twitter for the last several months, and they provide some insight into the characters' lives and personalities prior to the start of the anime. You don't have to watch any of this material to understand Kemurikusa, but I think it's a neat opportunity to look at the evolution of a piece of art and possibly gain a greater appreciation for the work that goes into 3D animation.

On to the anime itself, Kemurikusa takes place in a dreary post-apocalyptic cityscape infested by insect-like robots of all shapes and sizes. Like most stories in this genre, the crux of the plot is survival, and in this case we have three red-haired sisters scavenging for water in the nooks and crannies of the crumbling cement jungle. Rin is strong, serious, self-conscious, and has a ponytail that points in the wrong direction. Ritsu looks perpetually exhausted and has cat ears. She also has some kind of symbiotic relationship with a tree named Midori-chan that helps them both fight and survive. Rina is small, bubbly, and currently exists as four (formerly five) identical copies of herself. Kermurikusa throws the audience into their story in medias res, so there's a lot about this world and its characters that remains shrouded in mystery, but their distinct designs and contrasting personalities make them immediately distinguishable. Thankfully, their world is not just mysterious but intriguing, which I attribute to Kemurikusa's excellent art direction provided once again by Kemono Friends veteran Yuko Shiromizu. The backgrounds are as bleak as they are evocative, and they're paired with the 3D character models about as well as a project of this scope can pull off.

It's the lighting and use of color that set Kemurikusa above and beyond, however. The monochrome world lights up with contrasting reds and greens when the sisters fight the violent red bugs. The sisters themselves are color-coded red, while the light of Midori-chan and its Kemurikusa is green. I really like the way Ritsu snakes and stretches Midori-chan's roots throughout the city in order to “patrol” and communicate with her sisters. The green glow of its thin tendrils evokes the technological despite its presumably organic origin, and it's likely that this relationship between nature and technology will remain thematically important through the show's run. I also just think it's cute the way the line buzzes when she talks, or how she manages to somehow teleport her cat ears (but only her cat ears) through it. More seriously, there's something beautiful and melancholic about the way both the bugs and the people disintegrate into colorful, glowing dead leaves that float up and drift away in the wind. I couldn't tell you what any of this means yet, but Kemurikusa's strong visual direction means I'm perfectly happy sticking around to find out.

The major thing pushing Kemurikusa's worldbuilding along is the introduction of its fourth main character (well, seventh if you count the three extra Rinas), Wakaba. While pumping in the water for Midori-chan, the sisters accidentally pump in some garbage and also an entire human boy. He's human in the way that we understand humans to be human, but not human in the way the sisters with magic tree and cloning powers understand themselves to be human, which immediately makes him suspicious in their eyes. Wakaba also doesn't remember anything about where he came from or why the world is this way so his only saving grace is that Rin's Kemurikusa powers heal him instead of hurt him. As our hapless and amnesiac everyman, Wakaba is the vehicle through which we begin to learn more about the sisters and their struggle for survival. He's also just a very nice boy.

Most importantly, Wakaba brings a dynamic to Kemurikusa that closely resembles the tone of Kemono Friends' first season. There are lots of little flourishes in these episodes that are reminiscent of Tatsuki's work on that show, but his humanism and effusive optimism shine brightest through Wakaba. He's about as close to a blank slate as you can get thanks to his amnesia, and he's stuck with people who almost immediately try to kill him in a harsh and barely livable world. And yet, his instincts all drive him to be kind, helpful, and curious. He might seem too nice to be believable, but why should his character be taken any less seriously than the glut of similar stories about survival which presuppose that the absolute worst of humanity comes out in times of crisis? It's 2019: I already spend plenty of time each day dwelling on the frequently abhorrent legacy of our species. I respect Tatsuki for imagining a world in which the last living human boy can simply be a pure and good lad who, when about to be disintegrated by a magic leaf, only asks what kind of leaf it is.

Wakaba also brings some sorely-needed levity to Kemurikusa. This show almost immediately makes it clear that it has more serious ambitions than Kemono Friends by killing one of its characters in the first five minutes. Granted, there are still four spare Rinas running around, so it's not a particularly sad loss, but it's still a statement. There haven't been any gut-busting moments yet, but much like Kemono Friends, it's consistently pleasant and charming in a weirdly magnetic way. I think it's safe to say that Wakaba and Rin acting as foils for one another will be the driving force behind their character development throughout the season. Wakaba can learn to actually take care of himself, and Rin can learn to open up both to others and to herself. Whatever the future has in store, I'm all for more scenes like Rin misinterpreting her crush as symptoms of poison, Wakaba earnestly asking if the leaf he's holding is going to explode, and Rin calmly telling Wakaba that he's probably going to die in the next episode.

Nothing is ever going to will a miracle like the first season of Kemono Friends into existence again. In that respect, Tatsuki and his staff using the skills and prestige they garnered to resurrect an old passion project seems like the best way to move on, and so far Kemurikusa has been a pleasant and intriguing follow-up. It's still not going to be for everyone. The art style and animation, while an improvement over Kemono Friends, still looks like janky 3DCG puppetry. Of course, that's also part of the charm. These first two episodes have also had lackadaisical pacing, despite being more action-heavy than their predecessor. This might pick up as the cast begins their journey through the islands, but if we're going to spend the rest of the show with these characters, I hope we get a grasp on them beyond their surface personality traits. Still, I think Kemurikusa is off to a promising if unsurprisingly weird start full of adventure, humor, reflection, post-apocalyptic intrigue, and most importantly, fun.

Rating: B+

Kemurikusa is currently streaming on Amazon.

Steve is a friend who's good at watching anime and can be found making bad posts about anime on Twitter.

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