Kemurikusa is well contemplative, but what does it contemplate?

Wakaba enters the world saying “WAHHH!” I wanted to make GIFs to show the janky 3D, but Amazon Prime Video doesn’t even permit screenshots so I got a little nervous about recording anything

[I thought about making this more about the social-media-driven auteur mythmaking surrounding Kemurikusa’s director Tatsuki but… nehhh, I gave up except for some gripes at the end. With just two major projects (Kemono Friends and now Kemurikusa) plus a handful of shorts in his directorial portfolio, it feels premature to discuss Tatsuki’s supposed auteur status, even in an attempt to refute it. Tatsuki seems like a fine director, but I don’t understand why anyone would bother with silly neologisms like “TATSUKI-esque” for a creator with such a young career. And ohhh my god, I need to stop reading stupid online discussions, but boredom always brings me back…]

Does anybody here remember Kemono Friends (read that in rhythm, I’ve got Pink Floyd stuck in my head!)? Back in 2017 it exploded in popularity despite its uncanny 3D animation and apparent focus on school-age audiences with educational bits about animals. But ever since the publisher Kadokawa fired the mononymed season one director “Tatsuki” and changed studios to produce a popularly reviled second season (I liked it, but whatever), much of the excitement for Kemono Friends shifted to Tatsuki’s next project: the post-apocalypse, plant-based adventure Kemurikusa (literally meaning “smoke-grass,” to repeat the weed joke). And I dunno, it’s just alright, an ambitious passion project hamstrung by clear production constraints with money and probably time.

Kemurikusa departs from the child-accessible style in Kemono Friends to instead go on a desperate journey to find water, defeat a menacing red fog corroding the world, and discover something to enjoy in life. It sounds nice in a synopsis, but then Kemurikusa packs itself full of clumsy contradictions: the gorgeous drawn backgrounds establish an artistic gravitas that the awkward 3D-animated models don’t quite gel into; the otaku-ish cast of a tsundere, a cat-girl, and a loli-maid suck the seriousness out of the heavy thematic narrative; and most frustratingly, the simplistic message about “finding what you love” deprives the well-built, contemplative world of any interesting nuance to actually contemplate. It’s meh, I guess.

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Kemono Friends 2 is plenty of fun! …and some less fun thoughts on fandom


[Here I am, the most cynical, pessimistic person I have ever met, asking people to be less cynical …not that I expect to succeed. After all, you can hardly convince anyone of something that they don’t already believe. Futility! Anyway, Kemono Friends 2 is good fun, even if it disappoints the expectations of the excellent first season]

Well, Kemono Friends 2 is finished. I liked it! It’s so simple that there’s not much to say: a young girl named Kyururu wanders around an abandoned zoo looking for her human home alongside her anthropomorphized cat Friends Serval and Caracal, all while learning about the other animal Friends they meet along the way. It’s cute, it’s kind, it’s fun  …a perfect inoffensive late-night sleep aid. I can’t ask for much more.

But follow the online discussions around the season, and you might encounter some of the most uncharitable comments for any anime I’ve seen:

“What a pile of trash,” “blatant cashgrab,” “failed fanfic attempt,” “the definition of a disaster,” “they managed to do everything wrong,” “an elaborate April Fools joke,” “What a shitfest,” “it absolutely disgusted me,” “abomination of an anime”

Though I won’t try to refute an opinion, most of those seem unfair, hyperbolic, and maybe even a little cruel. I mean… it’s a children’s show! What more could you want than a handful of simple moral tales and some light educational bits about biodiversity?

In many ways the negative reactions remind me of a similar online backlash against another children’s animation: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and its spin-off Equestria Girls. Like Kemono Friends, the series’ first season attracted an ironic following of hate-watchers that exploded into a genuine subculture of mostly male adult fans (the so-called “bronies”) when many discovered that the show was actually pretty fun. However, as Friendship is Magic entered its second season and the novelty of the odd subculture began to fade, outrage brewed following the departure of season one’s popular executive producer Lauren Faust amid rumors that the IP-owner Hasbro had pressured her to resign (in Kemono Friends case, this would mirror the actual firing of season one’s fan-favorite director, Tatsuki, by the publisher Kadokawa). A polarizing third season fractured the community after the main character transformed into a princess, but then discontent achieved an absurd vehemence that degenerated into harassment against the animation production studio ahead of the release of the Equestria Girls spin-off movie (again, with parallels to the harassment against Kemono Friends’ season two studio). So much for the fandom catchphrase “love and tolerance,” huh?

Anyway, what drove the vitriol of the angriest fans? I try not to psychologize (or anymore, even read) pseudonymous online commenters, but I think much of the backlash resulted from a failure of empathy.

Continue reading “Kemono Friends 2 is plenty of fun! …and some less fun thoughts on fandom”

Being human, or animal, in Kemono Friends and The Island of Doctor Moreau

Why do you say so?

[There’s so much more I want to say, but this topic got too big sooo… eh, hit publish and move on.]

A deserted island centered on an active volcano, the ruins of civilization hiding an abandoned laboratory, a dangerous forest where animal-human hybrids lurk, and a sole survivor trying to escape back home to make sense of it all.

Am I describing H.G. Wells’ 1896 sci-fi horror classic The Island of Doctor Moreau or the beloved children’s anime Kemono Friends, or … oh, I guess the title gives it away, so um… both, apparently!

Of course, I’m exaggerating the similarities. Kemono Friends is a cute and friendly and upbeat while Doctor Moreau is lurid and horrifying and intensely pessimistic. For all of their differences though, I couldn’t resist the urge to re-read The Island of Doctor Moreau after watching the first three episodes of Kemono Friends’ second season. It’s one of my favorite books, so how better to pair it than with one of my favorite anime?

Along with The Time Machine, I think Doctor Moreau is Wells’ most philosophically interesting scientific romance. It goes beyond the simple moralizing tale against the cruelty of vivisection (surgery performed on living subjects, often without anaesthetic in the 19th century) described on the dust-cover to explore deeper issues rocking late-Victorian Britain after the publication of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution; issues like the social control function of religion, the fragility of scientific and civilizational progress, and the uncertain status of humanity in the animal world.

For now, I’m most interested in that last issue for its connection to Kemono Friends. As a simple children’s show, Kemono Friends doesn’t engage in the same sort of serious philosophizing as Doctor Moreau. But like the novel, it does imagine a world populated by human-animal hybrids, whose very concept recognizes a categorical difference between the mixed groups (by analogy: you can hybridize a golden retriever and a poodle to make a golden doodle, but you can’t hybridize two purebred golden retrievers). However, in light of evolution’s assertion of a common origin for all animal species, that’s a pretty heavy-duty assumption! The question that Doctor Moreau asks explicitly, Kemono Friends asks implicitly: what distinguishes the human from the animal?

So let’s set off on a Japari Safari to explore what it means to be human among the adorable anime(-al) girls of Kemono Friends…

…and what it means to be animal on the blood-splattered operating table of The Island of Doctor Moreau.

[A couple quick housekeeping notes: I read the public domain, plaintext HTML version of Doctor Moreau from Project Gutenberg. It doesn’t have page numbers… so I guess Ctrl + F is my citation method. On Kemono Friends, I’m restricting myself to the first three episodes of season 2 because it’s currently airing and I just don’t have the time to rewatch the whole first season. Both seasons follow the same formula though, so they are quite similar thematically. **Edit: maybe they aren’t, see the comments!** And yes, yes, I know I’m being silly trying to compare a low-budget children’s anime to a classic of English literature, but as Doctor Moreau itself concludes, in a post-evolution world we all have to distract ourselves from our animal existences somehow. And Good God knows I’m bored.]

Continue reading “Being human, or animal, in Kemono Friends and The Island of Doctor Moreau”