FEATURE: Why It Works: Five Pitches for Kemono Friends

Today we explore some of the finer things about this season's most unlikely success story!

Attention all Kemono true believers, and welcome back to Why It Works. I know your hearts are strong and pure, but Kemono Friends demands more than just us passionate few to truly take over the world. Kemono Friends needs Kemono footsoldiers, and I’m here to recruit you to the Kemono ranks.


As we all know, Kemono Friends has turned out to be the unlikely surprise anime of the season. Rising from murky, seemingly child-oriented and decidedly 3DCG origins, it’s revealed itself as a strangely excellent story of goofy Friends and not-so-distant apocalypses. Starring the buoyant animal-person Serval and the confused human Kaban, its first season has cataloged their journey across the derelict Japari Park, where animal-people construct homes and host tea parties in the ruins of some human civilization. The show’s unique blend of slice of life charm and dystopian worldbuilding has made it a hit in Japan, but outside of that market, promoting this unique property has come down to us special few. We are the Kemono evangels, you and I.


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Of course, there are perfectly understandable reasons that Kemono Friends hasn’t become an international hit outside of us chosen few. There’s the fact that it looks ridiculous, for one thing: its CG characters only seem to loosely correlate to the backgrounds they traverse, and often their models clip through themselves, an impressive but somewhat immersion-breaking feat. There’s also the fact that slice of life shows are just a hard sell in general, and even though Kemono Friends keeping its dystopian elements far in the background is part of its appeal, that definitely doesn’t help the pitch. Even the idea of selling someone on Kemono Friends for its strong worldbuilding seems a bit disingenuous, since if you’re not enjoying stuff like Serval and Kaban goofing around the jungle, you probably won’t have a good time with the show overall. With that in mind, I have constructed a list of five bulletproof sales pitches to ensure the Kemono gospel extends far beyond the season’s end. Without further ado!


Pitch #1: Kemono Friends’ Absurd Art Style is Part of its Charm


Kemono Friends is a story about scrappy animal-people who aren’t terribly good at most things doing their best to get by and be good to each other. That overall tonal space is actually matched by the show’s visual style, which is itself pretty bad at everything, but still trying to do its best. Obviously I’m a fan of fluid, evocative animation, but there’s also something to be said for Kemono Friends’ desperate attempts to convey the illusion of movement, or even just the illusion of standing in a place. Watching Serval get almost killed every episode just wouldn’t be the same if Serval wasn’t floating from a standing position to a seated one across one bizarre, graceless object shift. Kemono Friends doesn’t look good, but it looks extremely Kemono Friends.


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Pitch #2: Kemono Friends Stars a Beaver Who Has Anxiety


There have been a number of noteworthy shows this season, from the charming Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid to the majestic Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, but when you take a look across the overall crop of releases, one thing becomes resoundingly clear: only Kemono Friends stars a beaver who has anxiety. Do any of Saga of Tanya the Evil’s characters suffer anxiety attacks when they leave their hand-built dam? Have any of the new characters from Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga been so nervous about constructing their new home that they instead made a model, and then gotten so nervous about making the model that they made a model of the model? I rest my case.


Pitch #3: Everything About Crested Ibis’ Design


The fact that Kemono Friends has enjoyed a vast proliferation of fanart in spite of its own awkward visual execution is a testament to one of the show’s clearest strengths: its underlying character designs. Designs like that of Crested Ibis, a character who sings warbly songs about wanting to make new friends while flapping around on hair-wings, don’t come around every day. And Crested Ibis isn’t the only one - look at Tsuchinoko, who lives in a cave and wears a hoody that is her lumpy snake body. Look at the owls, who manage to exude the fundamental nature of owldom in spite of actually wearing big fluffy parkas. Look at Shoebill, whose design manages to be weirdly adorable while clearly evoking her fundamental shoebilliousness. These characters may look clunky in motion, but their underlying designs are brimming with personality, and it’s always fun watching the show bring some new animal-person to life.

 

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Pitch #4: Going to the Zoo is Fun and You Are Not Too Cool For It


Kemono Friends may offer a twisted variation on a trip to the zoo that involves a whole lot more napping and genetic experimentation, but the majority of its episodic run still demonstrates the fundamental appeal of wandering through habitats and visiting the creatures that call them home. There’s something inherently compelling about crossing a slice of life with a trip to the zoo - watching how these animal-people live and interact is often its own reward, and each new episode offers a fresh cast and climate. The episodic interludes offering random facts about any given episode’s real-life creatures is all part of the charm.


Pitch #5: Kemono Friends Made Me Cry, and I May Cry A Lot, But Still


I really didn’t expect Kemono Friends to get to me, but the show got under my skin. The transparently awkward visual execution turned out to be a bit of a misdirect; underneath that goofy CG exterior hid a narrative that was expertly building all the time. I really don’t want to oversell it, but Kemono Friends’ most recent episodes have seen its post-apocalyptic clues all spinning together into some legitimately thrilling drama. From character development to thematic congruity to narrative payoff, Kemono Friends is ultimately a great story all around. I laughed, I cheered, and yes, I got a little teary-eyed. Kemono Friends made me care.


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That’s all I’ve got for this list, but there are plenty more things to love in Kemono Friends. The show has a warm sense of humor (exhibit A: penguin idols who sing about being flightless birds), a great cast, and a consistently satisfying dramatic center. It’s a weird one, but lots of our favorite things start out looking pretty weird. Now go, and help spread the light of Kemono to all our many Friends.

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Nick Creamer has been writing about cartoons for too many years now, and is always ready to cry about Madoka. You can find more of his work at his blog Wrong Every Time, or follow him on Twitter.

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