My desire to view Kemono Jihen came upon reading a post by Irina from I Drink and Watch Anime, who seemed to really enjoy this series and painted it in a way that would have me enjoy it, as well. I had not heard of this prior to then (shows how out of the anime scene I’ve become), but the premise seemed appealing enough. Has somewhat middling ratings on MyAnimeList, however, which gave me some pause (and further intrigue). What was I to make of it?
Turns out, the anime would not let me decide without a fight!
WARNING: This post will contain mild plot spoilers.
A Familiar Premise
Kabane is something of an outcast in his community. (Never heard that before.) But there is reason for this: he harbors destructive power which makes him dangerous. (Never heard that before.) After the truth begins to unravel and he’s left with nowhere to turn, he’s taken in by a detective who specializes in the occult. The one condition? He wishes to find out more about the identity and location of his parents. (Never heard that before.)
Soon, Kabane will join two others to form a trio of kids mentored by a dutiful but somewhat aloof adult figure. (Never heard that before.) Together, they will investigate supernatural oddities and learn more about the kemono… and maybe even about themselves. (Never heard that before.)
As evidenced by my continuous onslaught of messages-in-parentheses, Kemono Jihen very much seems to be heavily inspired by a number of other anime. Naruto was what came to my mind most prevalently, though they’re more similar in aspects than the overall. More than anything, it just feels very “anime.” Japanese folklore, lots of exposition, fantasy stuff, lots of recent character archetypes; it needed to do a lot to really prove itself as its own entity.
Let me explain the second paragraph (line?) in more detail.
Kemono Jihen tries to do quite a bit with its story and characters. In general, it succeeds in telling a fairly entertaining and occasionally heartfelt plotline(s) of self-discovery. Where its strength lies is, indeed, the camaraderie of the characters and the bond that they nurture through shared experiences and solid communication. It’s very easy to empathize!
At the same time, the execution of various segments of the story are increasingly frustrating and lazily produced. Much of my (and perhaps others’) criticism of these shounen series that exhibit a lot of superpowered individuals is that there’s a fine line between creating true stakes and having characters be too powerful (occasionally at random).
Kabane Is OP
A major character ends up so powerful that cries of “Plot armor!” fill the audience space? Certainly a common occurrence. Something that becomes apparent from the very first episode is that Kabane is borderline invincible. His kemono abilities allow him to regenerate himself as needed, seemingly to absurd degrees.
In twelve episodes, Kabane is decapitated, has his limbs torn off, frozen solid, incinerated to only a skull, and impaled a few times. Doesn’t matter. He’ll just swarm himself in some purple regenerative flames and be hunky-dory. Sure, he’s not technically the most powerful character (except when he needs to be), but the fact that his death is never assured no matter the method of attack really does a number on the tension of any situation.
This may not matter to some. After all, main characters don’t usually die halfway through a series. Being able to overcome “immeasurable odds” (even if, logically, it’s inevitable) could just be part of the fun. For those who don’t know, I’m rather cynical. I’m practical and grounded, and fantastical series such as this are easier for me to immerse myself into if I can believe these things can actually occur within the world’s rules. For the most part, Kemono Jihen fails in this regard.
Convenience? (Yes/Yes – Credits: 100)
Another obstacle to my enjoyment here was its incredible reliance on plot convenience and quick fixes. Sure, stories can be hard to nail down in such a short amount of time (twelve episodes in this case; the series is divided into little mini-arcs)—it ended up shooting for the moon without worrying about the details. Occasionally unnoticeable, there were also moments where it was practically plastered all over the screen.
For example, the investigative crew led by Inugami (aloof adult figure) has a vampire member who is good at everything. Known for being impossibly detailed and innovative, his only negative traits are his chaotic love for messing with people and bothersome personality. Otherwise, he’s a master hacker, builder, etc. Good thing he just happens to tolerate being with Inugami and takes a liking to the kids. Even puts an AI system inside one of their stuffed dolls that, conveniently, knows everything.
Kabane’s invincibility is another obvious matter of convenience for our heroes to use as a crutch. A group of kitsunes that also have a tremendous amount of power and influence (though are not friendly) clean up a lot of the supernatural occurrences that may be caused from these kemono investigations. Inugami just has to remark, “The kitsune will have to take care of this,” and apparently that’s good enough of an explanation.
Exposition isn’t necessarily “convenience” from a plot standpoint, but it is convenient in filling in details that are otherwise voided due to time constraints. It is also very boring. Something of a shounen curse, there’s a tremendous amount of background plot that’s explained through looooooong monologues by characters or random, abrupt flashback sequences. Would be nice for these shows to incorporate more “showing” than “telling.”
What do we know so far about Kabane? That he’s OP, that he’s an outcast, and that he’s looking for info on his parents. You know what else he is? Fun. I actually really enjoy Kabane as a character. Why? Because he’s basically autistic.
I do not mean that in any disrespectful way whatsoever; it’s just refreshing. All these shounen leads that are just loud, hungry dudes who are rebellious and / or edgy just for the hell of it, Kabane is a great antithesis. Straightforward and logical, he doesn’t understand many things. Social cues fly past him, he takes everything at face value, and is far too trusting (initially). Always has a blank expression. It’s great. He’s great. It makes his interactions with people all the funnier.
Take, for instance, his relationship with a kitsune girl named Kon, who is at one point all but abandoned by the head honcho of the kitsune group for being a screw-up. She takes up residence in a tree, wishing to do anything in her power to be “a good girl” to her kitsune… mother? I guess? She’s odd, and so is Kabane. Together, they try to navigate each other’s emotions in a strangely open way that is far better than the clammed-up tactic most anime “couples” tend to be.
Though limited, their interactions in the second-half of the series are adorable. Kabane’s open-mindedness combined with Kon’s unquestionable loyalty make for interesting developments between the two. Both have quite a bit in common, too: lone figures trying to find some sense of “family.” I was crushed when I discovered that more interactions between them were hinted at with the very end of the last episode, only to have the series end…
Even other major characters have good chemistry with him, which is a nice way to unearth some development and relatability. The other kids are Bakugo and Akira… I mean Shiki, not Bakugo—sorry. One is feisty and hotheaded, the other is effeminate and very clumsy. Pair them with someone their age with the street smarts of a caveman and the maturity of an adult, there’s bound to be some hassle.
Personally, I liked Shiki more than Akira, just because Akira felt a little more… sexualized, I suppose. (Lots of interesting camera angles for a cute-looking boy.) Still, I don’t think there was any character I actively disliked… except Shiki’s sister, who comes along later on in the series who goes from tragic figure to… promiscuous and flirty? For some reason? (She’s like eight, by the way.) Didn’t care for that.
One character I didn’t think got a whole lot of time to develop was Inugami. Yeah, he gets a solid amount of screentime and talks a lot, but do we really know anything about him? He’s just kind of there, hanging out in the background, doing occult stuff. Has some cute moments with Kabane and a couple of the other kids, but he’s very “hands-off.” Lets them do whatever they please in their down time. By series’ end, I didn’t really care too much about him. Has great hair, though.
Despite many little grievances I had with the series in terms of logical conclusions and long bouts of exposition, I had a good time with it. Certainly not a great series, but I suppose there’s value here if you like the genre. Characters are what make this series. They are its strength, so you will live or die by your preference for their personalities. More than anything, it’s just cute. That’s a good wrap-up term: Kemono Jihen is a cute series, with all the good and bad attached to the term.
Should a season two ever come to fruition, I will absolutely watch if only for the adorable Kon x Kabane shipping material.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
For more anime reviews, check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.