Kemono Friends is an anime based on a manga based on a Nexon cell phone game. Yaoyorozu is the studio we have to thank for them. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s not surprising. They’re behind this, a two series anime called Tesagure Bukatsumono and its spin off & a ten episode series called Minarai Diva. Of all five of those, this is their best known work. I’d never even heard of them before doing my early research into this. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect from it. I’m only aware of this series because I’ve seen a tonne of cutesy yuri fan art for it. I suppose there are many worse ways to hear about a series.
We open with our heroine waking in a strange savannah. She’s chased by Serval, eventually being pinned and asking her to please not eat her. She will be changing her tune later or maybe not since it’s a different type of “eat.” Serval asks her for her name and she doesn’t know. So, they decide to name her Kaban, meaning bag, since she’s carrying a bag. Good thing she wasn’t carrying around something embarrassing like an air-sickness bag or a floppy dildo. Kaban & Serval set out on a journey throughout Japari Park to discover what kind of animal Kaban is, where her habitat is and if there are any good love hotels because the ground isn’t ideally comfortable.
The big flaw with the series is just that things get resolved far too easily. Kaban & Serval encounter a lot of different problems involving a lot of different friends and they’re able to resolve them all pretty easily. The big climactic threat is the only one that seems to take any real effort. Now, to be fair, it’s pretty clear that the reasons they manage things pretty easily are a combination of Kaban’s smarts & the inherent goodness of all of the friends in the park. These ladies don’t know the definition of “malice.” They’re probably even unfailingly nice when their team is losing in an online shooter. But, here’s the thing, even if there is a ready in universe explanation for how they can solve things with relative ease, it does detract from any potential tension.
The world building is quite good. We get introduced to all of the different habitats and some of the friends that live in each one while also getting insights into how Japari Park was supposed to operate and what went wrong to make it not work out. It is also pretty enjoyable to watch Serval & Kaban interact with the various friends. The big climax is deftly handled with a strong, epic confrontation.
The characters in this aren’t particularly complex. Quite the contrary, they’re pretty simple. That’s true for Kaban & Serval as well as all the friends we see a lot more briefly. But, in all fairness, it is a comedic series and their interactions are entertaining. I can’t say they’re uproariously funny like the character interactions you get in anime like Galaxy Angel or Muteki Kanban Musume but they work well enough.
This is the big area where the series just falls short. Last October I reviewed an anime called Ajin that had artwork and animation that I said looked like an early PS2 game from when developers weren’t even close to pushing the graphical limits of the machine. This anime is about on par with that. The character movements are stiff. The CGI models look very cheap and they’ll do things like go cross-eyed for no reason. You can tell the series didn’t have much of an animation budget.
They did get some talented actresses for this. We’ve got Uchida Aya (Hi, Kotori), Kobayashi Yuu (Sasha Blouse), Kaneda Tomoko (Chiyo-chan), Mimori Suzuko (So, that’s Umi in addition to Kotori) and a whole slew of actresses, both inexperienced and veteran. None of which do badly. The performances that we hear for any length of time are all quite good and those characters who only have a few lines sound just fine. Tateyama Akiyuki’s soundtrack is nicely composed.
I can see why there’s a lot of cutesy yuri fan art for this series. A lot of the friends Serval & Kaban encounter are paired up and either start out seemingly close or get to a point where they are. Praire Dog greets Beaver by giving her a big old kiss and then they move in together. Serval and Kaban are shown as being really close and there are no men in the series. Although they gender the little robot as male. So, this is one of those that was definitely going to be picked up on for “having potential” by the yuri fans. But, personally, I just don’t think most of the dynamics are all that strong for that specific purpose. They’re more friendly and good-natured.
Overall, I did enjoy Kemono Friends. The world building was nice, the dynamics were enjoyable, the climax was satisfying, the voice acting and music were good. It’s a very simple series, but fun. It is, however, somewhat held back by the overall lack of tension and by the pretty bad artwork & animation. Ultimately, I’ll give it a 7/10. I was, for the longest time, planning on going with a 6 and saying it was all right but the final couple of episodes elevated it for me. Next week I’m looking at Harmonie.