***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Kemono Friends. Reader discretion is advised.***
Welcome to Japari Park.
This enormous nature preserve is home to hundreds of different species and contains a vast array of habitats ranging from the desert, the jungle, the mountains, and more. All the residents, also known as Friends, in Japari Park have recently been transformed into human-like beings, but they each retain their unique animalistic qualities.
One such Friend is the African savannah wild cat Serval (voiced by Yuka Ozaki) who is known across the park as a friendly little troublemaker. As such, it is no surprise that it is she who grows close to the newest Friend, Kaban (voiced by Aya Uchida). However, something is off. Unlike everyone else, Kaban doesn’t have claws, a tail, or any of the usual animal traits as the other Friends have. In fact, Kaban has absolutely no clue as to what species she even is.
Thus, Serval and Kaban begin a long journey across Japari Park to discover the truth. Along the way, the two will continue to meet Friend after Friend, with each encounter being more fun than the last.
I want to get to the review as quickly as I can. Unfortunately, in the case of Kemono Friends, it is impossible to escape the veil of reputation. That is worrisome because, in my experience, I have seen reputation – good and bad – ruin a series.
I intend on bringing this point up later on, but it is too big to wait until then. We can’t ignore the simple truth. Visually speaking, Kemono Friends was garbage. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be the most promising start to a review. However, for this series, it couldn’t be more crucial.
Despite its technical limitations, Kemono Friends has received considerable praise for both its character development and its story. That was, at least, my impression of this series before actually sitting down to watch it myself. And right before pressing play for the first episode, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. If the hype proved to be true, this show would most likely be amongst the most ardent adherers to one of the fundamental principles held here at Anime Hajime:
Regardless of the medium – anime, film, video games, etc. – narrative always trumps flash. A production can be cheap and laughablely subpar on the surface as long as the actual story is strong. For when said story is strong enough, all other elements become secondary.
This is the reputation Kemono Friends has built, and I didn’t want to lose myself to it. Conversely, I also didn’t want to swing my reviewer’s pendulum too far the other way and be overly harsh. That is why, again, I must point out that Kemono Friends did, indeed, look awful.
With all that said, I can confirm this series absolutely made up for everything it lacked from a technical point of view.
The reputation was well earned, and Kemono Friends was a lot of fun.
If there could only be one element to like about this show, it would be its ability to create a sense of mystery.
As to not reveal its secrets – and trust me, there were plenty of them – I am not going to go into details about how Kemono Friends crafted its story. What I will say: The process was gradual, as well as subtle. Much like the characters in the show, we got to experience the unraveling of this series’ twists and turns. This story ended up being far more complex than I could have ever imagined.
On top of that, Kemono Friends was addicting. To tell you the truth, it’s not the high level of investment I felt towards this narrative that astonishes me. No, I am simply flabbergasted by how quickly it happened. I’m talking halfway-through-episode-one quick.
Although, admittedly, I was charmed by how piss-poor this series’ animation was – at first. Soon afterward, though, I kind of stopped noticing.
I mean, yeah, I was never unaware of how weird everything looked and moved. Nevertheless, I was always more curious about what was going to happen next. Kemono Friends created something so solid that it successfully brushed off blows that would have annihilated other shows. How can we pretend this series was anything besides a resounding success?
If you are only going off the images which are accompanying this review, believe me, they don’t even come close to illustrating Kemono Friends’ horrendous use of CGI. You really need to see it in motion to fully appreciate how limited this series was. And hell, you don’t even need to watch an entire episode. The first five minutes are plenty to get the point across.
Also, can we talk about the sound editing in this show? Thank god I had subtitles to work with because there were instances when the music was so loud that it completely drowned out everything the characters were saying.
Unless someone comes along and proves me wrong, I find it hard to accept the idea that professional animators and show makers worked on Kemono Friends. It was as if this series was created by an amateur college circle who had just enough programming knowledge to get shapes to move and who just so happened to have an amazing story to tell.
But due to that amazing story, if you are simply unwilling to look past this show’s low visual quality, then I must urge you to reconsider. Otherwise, you will be skipping what truly is a fantastic product.
Ignoring the technical side of Kemono Friends, there are two other points I want to bring up.
First, there were creatures in this series know as Ceruleans. They were easily the least exciting aspect of the show. They weren’t bad, but there was a long period of several episodes where they weren’t around. By the time they did reappear and became key players in the story, I had sort of forgotten they even existed.
Second, there was a lot to Serval’s backstory that was left wide open. I do know a second installment to the Kemono Friends series premiered during the 2019 winter season, so it is possible those gaps were eventually filled. However, like its predecessor, the next chapter has its own reputation. Unlike its predecessor, though, that reputation is now where near as reassuring.
I do intend to watch Kemono Friends 2 eventually, but until then, this original Kemono Friends did something very few other anime have been able to do. It proved that good shows come from good stories and nothing else.
It’s too easy to say, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But in this situation, that phrase couldn’t be more accurate.
This series had an outstanding story. It was a ton of fun with a bunch of great characters and moments. It proved to be one of those shows that was hard to put down. If the next installment is even half as good as this was, then I will probably consider that a win.
All you need to do is look past the surface, and I’m sure you will find a diamond.
Kemono Friends is definitely a recommendation.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning Kemono Friends? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.