Different Friends are good at different things
January 11, 2018 1:57 AM   Subscribe

One year ago today, Kemono Friends (previously) hit the air. Initially derided (or ignored) for advertising a mobile game that had been shut down before the show even began, Kemono Friends went on to dominate Japanese social media, boost zoo attendance and animal popularity, and receive the largest ratings jump of the season. Early episodes captivated viewers by pairing feelgood plots with a dark mystery the characters themselves don't even notice, while later episodes turn up the intensity on everything.

Kemono Friends is set in a place called "Japari Park," which is artificially divided into multiple biomes. This is the home of the "Friends," creatures that resemble young human girls but whose appearances and personalities are those of animals. (Each episode features recorded staticky phone calls with animal experts from around the world talking about the Friends' real world equivalents.)

One day in the savannah biome, a cluster of colorful sparkles heralds the appearance of a new Friend, one with neither tail, animal ears, nor memory. "Oh," says a nearby serval, "maybe you were born from last night's Sandstar!" And for a while, that's all the explanation the viewers will get.

In the meantime, "Serval" the serval and "Bag" the human...oid begin a quest that takes them all through Japari Park, meeting and helping out some of the franchise's enormous cast, learning what it means to be human, and learning what it means to be a Friend, while passing (and completely ignoring) such sights as a crashed B-2 Bomber. Unlike other shows with dark twists, though, Kemono Friends remains a cheerful celebration of humanity more or less to the end.

The Kemono Friends anime was created by a team of only ten people (excluding voice actors). In September, the writer and director, Tatsuki, announced that he had been fired from the second season. Backlash was immediate but ultimately unsuccessful. In the meantime he's released a short film, Keifuku-san, about a girl and her levitating whispering manta ray friend scavenging for glowing orbs in a ruined building on a floating train track and okay I don't understand it either.

Other happenings include a musical stage play starring an okapi, and the announcement of a new mobile game (since the original game remains closed) currently accepting preregistration for its planned release later this month. Kemono Friends also touched hearts when an elderly Humboldt penguin named "Grape-kun" appeared to become infatuated with a cardboard cutout of Kemono Friends' Humboldt penguin character, even forgoing meals to spend more time with her. Grape-kun ultimately passed away, but his zoo has now added his image to the cutout.

If you've gotten this far, congratulations! How about a video reanimating Kemono Friends Episode 12 as inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion? Yes, that's a perfectly natural comparison.
posted by one for the books (4 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
(Servals previously, because MetaFilter was quite insistent about that repeated wikipedia link.)
posted by one for the books at 1:58 AM on January 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The anime wasn't all that, I thought, though it did better than most in keeping me watching through the end, and the cheap production quality ends up adding to the charm, which is unusual. The implications of more, darker, things going on behind the scenes never really develops (at least for viewers not engaged in the followup discussions on Reddit and 2ch) and eventually recedes to background noise; gijinka as literal phenomenon is a sufficiently common trope in anime, games, manga and fandom that a media franchise about a safari park full of cute mascot girls has to do something more than they have if they want to prove that their property is not just cute girls in cute costumes romping around inconsequentially. Astro Boy managed to dig deeper and more unsettlingly into its premise of cute robots saving mankind, and that was over fifty years ago in an era which most people these days assume manga was too unsophisticated for metatextual self-analysis.

I'm pretty sure the Kemono Girls franchise is nothing more than a threadbare universe set up by a low-rent media company that accidentally hit the big time. What fans think is a deep, dark mystery is really just a milieu poorly planned by people who aren't good at that sort of thing but managed to hire a talented character designer.

(Some translations keep the Japanese name "Kaban" for the non-gijinka girl; she's also been referred to as "Knapsack", either of which are going to avoid the negative implications in naming her "Bag", which is literal but also inadvertently mean.)
posted by ardgedee at 2:49 AM on January 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Whoa, that short is really interesting.
posted by lucidium at 12:07 PM on January 11, 2018

On board. Watched the first three with my daughter (9.5yr/old). Subtitled. It is something unusual and wonderful.
posted by smallerdemon at 5:58 PM on January 12, 2018

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