Kemono Friends is a Japanese media franchise created by manga artist Mine Yoshizaki. It began as a smartphone game that ran between March 2015 and December 2016, but the focus here is on the twelve episode anime adaptation.
The studio that produced the anime was Yaoyorozu, whilst it was directed by Tatsuki. The writer for the series was Shigenori Tanabe.
Kemono Friends aired as part of 2017’s winter season, and can be watched on Crunchyroll.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Kemono Friends is that the animation is CG. It’s not particularly good CG, either. However, this show has become quite the sensation in Japan, and that is absolutely justified.
The animation quality is sub-par, but honestly, that is the show’s only sin. Whilst it may not be the prettiest looking show out there, it more than makes up for it with the quality of everything else.
The story of Kemono Friends focuses on a girl, called Kaban, who wakes up in an area known as Japari Park. She has no recollection of who she is or how she got there. She soon encounters a Friend – that is an animal who has been anthropomorphised into a girl. The first Friend she meets is Serval, and together the pair of them set off on an adventure to find out what kind of animal Kaban is.
Kaban and Serval travel to several different areas in Japari Park, where they meet a multitude of different Friends.
The different Friends that Kaban and Serval meet all have different problems that the pair help them to solve.
Also present is the threat of creatures known as Ceruleans, which eat Friends. The Ceruleans are introduced in the first episode, but they are pushed out of focus until towards the end. Once they do return, however, they do so in a big way.
So far, so simple – Kaban and Serval travel to a new area of Japari Park, meet new Friends and help them out with whatever is troubling them. With its formulaic approach and eye-catches that have zookeepers from around the world inform the audience about different types of animals, you’d be forgiven for thinking this as a children’s anime.
However, that’s only the surface of Kemono Friends. As the series progresses, subtle hints are dropped about the setting. There are plenty of Friends to be discovered in Japari Park, but they only effectively possess animal levels of intelligence.
Scattered around the park are ‘attractions’, and it is made clear that the Friends aren’t responsible for them. The state of said attractions only serves to further speculation about the setting.
Saying any more on that particular matter will only spoil things, so let’s just say that Kemono Friends has a compelling mystery running throughout.
One of the other big draws of Kemono Friends is the wide variety of characters. All of the Friends are based on different animals, and as such their behaviours reflect that.
What makes Kemono Friends particularly great in that regard is that the animals that are featured are far from your standard cat girls. Admittedly Serval is just effectively a cat girl, but she’s a specific type of cat.
Each character’s design incorporates features of the animal they are based off on, and as such it is easy to recognise them. Well, the animals you’ve heard of at least. It seems likely that only an ornithologist would know what a campo flicker is, but Kemono Friends has one. Or what about five different species of penguin that make up idol group PPP?
Heck, even animals from folklore appear – in this case, it is Tsuchinoko.
The introduction of a new Friend is quite educational too – their name is displayed on screen, together with their scientific name. The education doesn’t stop there – as previously mentioned, there’s the zookeepers from around the world that share some information on the various animals.
Fans of yuri will even find something to enjoy here. Kaban and Serval being the two main protagonists results in more than a few moments that give material for a ship between them – particularly in the final act.
The you also have Prairie Dog, who greets Kaban and Serval in typical Prairie Dog manner.
Prairie Dog goes on to find herself a partner in Beaver, and that’s only one of many potential ships within Kemono Friends.
Kemono Friends doesn’t make the greatest first impression, but give it the benefit of the doubt and you’ll find that it was actually one of the best shows to air during 2017’s winter season, even with its less than stellar animation.
The adventures of Kaban and Serval through Japari Park is one of the most delightful surprises of 2017’s winter season, and not even the poor animation can hinder that. With a variety of amazing character designs and a compelling mystery running throughout the season, Kemono Friends is certainly well worth your time.