(Recommended by not-so-plain pasta.)
If this recent anime’s popularity is any indication, Japanese people are really into one thing: animal girls. It almost doesn’t matter what the context is or what kind of series surrounds these furry friends, chances are, if they’re cute and they exhibit moe qualities, the show’s going to garner a lot of attention. After all, Love Live! is just the animal traits shy of being within similar territory. It may also explain why Dog Days has gotten three whole seasons.
Speaking of Dog Days, Kemono Friends shares a lot of similarities with the former, and not just on the surface level. Both feature a laid back atmosphere that almost spontaneously becomes darker as time goes on, both have a lot of characters that are featured for specific lengths of time, and both feature a central character whose position within the world around them is like a fish out of water. Where Dog Days is innocently sexual in nature, Kemono Friends is just innocent. Kemono Friends doesn’t set the stage for a lone male character to be fought over by a bunch of cute, otherworldly, naked women like Dog Days does; instead, its atmosphere is more akin to something like Dora the Explorer or The Magic School Bus.
Sometimes I use the term “harmless” when addressing a certain series. Here, the term can be applied just as well, except twisted to mean something else. Harmless not in the sense that it doesn’t have any ulterior motives, but harmless in that it’s so unoffensive that it’s hard to even take seriously at times. Two tribes are at war and one side continuously dominates the other. The issue is that one side is so blindly ignorant of their own inadequacy that they resort to the same method of attack 51 times in a row. Yes, 51 times. So, the central character, not being an idiot, suggests that the tribe members take advantage of their strengths to come up with a better means of overthrowing the other tribe. Almost like her idea is splendid, the plan works better than the previous 51 times.
Problems that are presented in each episode are along the same cusp of intellectual difficulty as the real conflict I noted above. Does the comparison to The Magic School Bus make sense now?
Should a viewer not have the ego to look down on a series that doesn’t challenge their intelligence, it’s entirely possible to have a good time with Kemono Friends. Despite the kid show mentality, there’s something charming in its one-track mentality of showcasing the strengths of the human race through means of interacting with animals… that are also capable of talking and comprehending various aspects. One can appreciate how the series tries a somewhat different approach from the crowded variety of mainstream anime. It’s incredibly simple with not much of anything along the lines of development or plot twists, only interested in character enthusiasm and animal facts. The only two recurring characters that share the bulk of screentime are “Bag-chan” and Serval. Bag is kind of wimpy and Serval is cheery and playful. That’s all they are, from beginning to end. They both also really enjoy interacting with other animals.
Still, from someone who’s trying to look at this from an objective viewpoint, there really isn’t much here. It’s charming because it’s different and because it feels pure of heart. Even so, it is almost boringly simple and each episode tends to blend together in a mesh of obvious solutions to easy problems provided cute animal girls. Again, if one doesn’t expect the series to wow them with riveting drama or strong characters, Kemono Friends is a perfectly enjoyable series. It’s just not all that interesting. This is further accentuated by the final few episodes, in which the tone turns far darker due to a sudden (though not totally uncalled for) dramatic event, which I couldn’t take seriously (and found hard to care about) after the happy-go-lucky, innocent series that preceded it.
One drastic difference about Kemono Friends is the simplistic, unoffensive approach to its series. The other is its style of art and presentation. It is not hand-drawn! The characters are all 3D models, animated in a moe aesthetic. While this isn’t the first time this has ever happened in a series, it is still something of a rarity, as I can only recall two or three other series doing it to so large a project. Overall execution is… much like one would expect. Somewhat clunky, somewhat off, and to some extent, doused in uncanny valley. I had no issue with it personally, though I would’ve preferred the traditional anime aesthetic. More than anything, it’s another aspect to what makes the anime more unique, so I wouldn’t push it so strongly that they should re-do it if given the chance. If I may be honest, the only time I felt the 3D animation was a detriment to the series was with characters with (mostly) exposed rears. Those looked… really off.
Is it worth the hype? Not really. Would I recommend it? Maybe. My inner scientist has always been fascinated by this series—not necessarily because of potential quality (I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much), but because it’s something of a surprise hit. I wanted to know if I could identify anything particular as to why the series was so beloved by so many. Results are rather shallow (Moe rules all), though perhaps my mindset isn’t one that’s capable of understanding the charm of Kemono Friends. It’s a harmless show. If anything more, I can’t really say.
Personal Score: C-
Critical Score: C
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.