I did say, there’s some novelty and amusement from seeing people trying to figure out what’s Kemono Friends about. I tried to take a crack, too, it’s only fair, but let’s talk about some of the other attempts.
I think there’s a very narrow/thin layer between this and this. FWIW I thought the CR take is bad, and in poor taste. I think credit should be given where it is due, in that the product is good–as good as anime typically gets. That said, it is a difficult task, so maybe I am too hard on it. The problem is explaining why it’s good is difficult, in that like most good anime, it’s not just one or two things that are good, but a bunch of things. You can pick and choose, or you can say it’s good without really doing a good job saying why. Neither really captures what makes Kemono Friends popular, though.
In other words, the Venn diagram between peak academic interest, good aniblogger critique, and “clickbait traffic riding that meme money” in this situation is “why is Kemono Friends so popular”? Only if it’s easy to figure out!
The point I’m trying to make is explaining why Kemono Friends’ meteoric rise to popularity feels meme-like. It is because what makes it good is something that you get like how an entertaining meme propagates itself. It’s both textual and contextual. It’s kind of like good animation, where it doesn’t take a genius to enjoy the dancing in Maid Dragon or Konosuba, but in this case you can’t explain it with an animated gif.
This is why I find the CR take a little bit problematic. The issue isn’t world building, although that is going to be the thing in the front of your mind space when you think about the show at least at first. It’s what drives the conspiracy theory. But to chalk it up as archeological take onto fictional world building misses all the nuances that makes Kemono Friends good–namely, there are a lot of good things about the show the article just doesn’t even talk about. It feels like the writer doesn’t get why the show is good. Conspiracy theories and good world building can’t lead to two million people watching episode one of a janky CG show.
To be fair, it’s good to have these articles, and it’s a difficult topic, so I hope more people take a formal crack at it.
It’s also fair to continue to pick at what Kemono Friends do right. A lot of the early thoughts are centered on conspiracy theories and the like, as to why humanity has declined. But I think that aspect of the show is the carrot on the stick, the real story about this story is that so far, it has been a story in which the protagonist learns about herself.
There is a category of literature in which the concept of finding yourself is the central gist. I think of Kemono Friends as a Greek epic, in which this post-apocalyptic society builds around the person who asks, “who am I”? The journey may not be larger-than-life but Bag-chan’s smarts help them move along the way to overcome various problems. There’s even an oracle. It’s kind of funny that Bag-chan was told that she is human, but what is human? Isn’t it the unique attribute of our self-consciousness that separates us from animals? The story where Serval escorts Bag to the great library, on its face, is an epic, in which both Serval and Bag learn about themselves.
But this is not why Kemono Friends is memetically explosive in its popularity. This is just one of many reasons why Kemono Friends is good. It’s also good in that it doesn’t get into the philosophical stuff (probably because it’s unintended), even though the setup is there. It’s easy to hook on an “it all comes tumbling down” sort of event to end this show, but it would be a mistake. Instead, the human is someone who is smart, who can use tools, who can read, and who can cook. (But amusingly enough an alpaca can make tea, and the owls are deceptively manipulative.) Let’s see where it goes!