Kemono Friends is an anime which follows the adventures of a human child named Kaban (bag/backpack in English) as she travels through Japari Park, a land filled with various ‘Friends’; anthropomorphic versions of animals, in an attempt to find out about her identity. Along the way, Kaban together with different Friends, especially her self-appointed chaperone Serval work together to overcome both personal and environmental difficulties in their quest for knowledge.
If the plot sounds very simple, that’s because it is simple, but at the same time, as Kaban and Serval travel through Japari Park, a number of questions are raised for the viewers about the nature of the park. Friends casually introduce information piece by piece which seems out of place to the viewer and their previous understanding of the world of the characters. I would say the story is both an adventure and a mystery. Whilst it doesn’t have a detective in a main role or a crime to be solved, there are a number of strange factors which are gradually explained. Having rewatched episodes, there’s excellent foreshadowing of future events, with a variety of plot threads building up to the satisfying finale.
It’s a show which has been designed to be suitable for all ages (I’ve read translated interviews stating that the creators didn’t know what timeslot they’d be able to get for the series so they wanted to create something that anyone could enjoy). There’s small informational segments in each episode about the animals that some of the Friends have been based on, which both provide information for the viewer which is simple and accessible, and also were a pretty clear tip-off about the all ages nature of the series as the text is written in hiragana. I learnt some things about animals which I didn’t know before, which was pretty fun!
Kemono Friends has been a bit of a strange journey. Despite identifying from the start that it was the type of anime that I was interested in, the overall response, especially its rapid growth of popularity in Japan was a surprise to me, and perhaps the world. It’s a show which was created by a very small team as a tie in for a mobile game which ceased service prior to the series airing. After episode 3 aired (I would say if you think you may like this show, episode 3 is where the story really starts to gain steam), the amount of interest in the series seemed to increase exponentially and has spawned massive amounts of fan creations. I love cute, simple adventures, and enjoy shows designed to be suitable for all ages, but I certainly didn’t expect this to gain any more interest than something like Heybot.
Kemono Friends been made using simple CG animation creating limitations to the way that the characters can move, and even the number of moving characters on the screen at one time. It looks very much unlike conventional animation, and I think that this may be a road-block for some viewers, but I found that even the awkward motion of the characters added to part of their charm as Friends.
I have to give a special mention to the great voice acting in this show. The character models are quite limited in their expression, but there were some exciting and touching moments which were mainly conveyed by the great voice work. I consider anime visuals to be just one part of the series and a show being in CG or ‘looking bad’ by conventional anime fan standards isn’t a big deal if I find the experience to be engaging overall, but most of the series with simple CG models I’ve enjoyed have been pure comedy, whereas I’d say that Kemono Friends is an adventure/mystery story with comedic elements. The dialogue isn’t complex, but there’s definitely some emotionally weighty moments in the latter part of the series.
The soundtrack was again simple, with a fairly limited number of tracks, but each track was used to great effect. The use of leitmotif I think can really strengthen a series’ musical design by creating key musical associations with characters, and while I’m not sure that using the actual same track instead of variations on a theme counts, seeing the piece used repeatedly in similar situations helped to create a sense of expectation and set the mood for the scenes. The soundtrack consisted of synthesised and electronic pieces. I especially enjoyed the track which I’d associate with Serval, and the great dramatic electronic track which is associated with the antagonistic Ceruleans.
I think that Kemono Friends is a great example of how things don’t have to be complex to be enjoyable. The visuals are simple, the story is simple, the characters and soundtrack are simple, but by being aware of these limitations, the simple things have been put together very well. I don’t know that Kemono Friends is a show for everyone, but I found the series to radiate both simplicity and fun. It’s absolutely my favourite thing that I have watched this season, and is probably one of the favourite anime series I have watched overall. I’d recommend Kemono Friends as a series which really is suitable for all ages, and also as something which you may like if you enjoy series with strong world-building or a sense of adventure and mystery.