Animal Watching: Friends Explaining Kemono Friends

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!

5 Responses to “Animal Watching: Friends Explaining Kemono Friends”

  • LolIHat

    On one hand you have cute characters who act innocently, CG reminiscent of a cheap kids show, dialog levels at a kindergärtner, and educational bit.

    On the other hand, you have elements reminiscent of “The Prisoner”, the Cthulhu mythos, and even Dr. Moreau vibes (though I’ve been informed that’s not the “friends” origin). Combined with the “educational” bits being badly recorded and an almost still image being presented, and you get a show with some seriously ominous undertones.

    It’s almost as if it is a more subtle version of the “Candle Cove” creepy pasta… and its popularity just ads to its foreboding feel…

    • omo

      That’s a good call. Creepypasta and the like are not exactly a thing in Japan but there is a dissonance based on people’s expectations. Although I don’t know how much people actually expect it as you say… From what I can tell it’s largely thing people don’t really say except in the west, even though the sentiment is shared by all viewer groups.


    I guess I take the show more at face value. For me, the draw is the characters. I love the personalities the creators give the Friends and how they incorporate the animal traits. I think the travelogue format really works for this as we’re given an episode to get the hook for each character, but then we move on, so there’s no need to worry about a lack of depth. I end up looking forward to the next episode to see what clever way they handle the new Friends we meet. The mystery of the setting is definitely secondary; I don’t even think about it while I’m watching and only after (sort of a fridge logic thing).

  • gen

    I posted this comment to the mimidoshima blog, but wanted your take as well.

    One aspect of the show that none of the English-language posts I have seen yet touch on is the parallel between Japari Park and Japan itself. As Richard Hendy has documented in great detail in his Spike Japan blog*, after Japan’s economic bubble collapsed in the early 90s, there has been almost 30 years of no growth and a ballooning government debt- the highest in the world.

    What that means for Japan, alongside the falling birthrate, is that there are many parts of Japan that have been essentially abandoned for 3 decades. Hokkaido is probably the worst affected for various reasons (Okinawa struggles as well as do many other prefectures- certainly Fukushima post-disaster, etc.) and it is shocking to see what Hendy documents in his blog- something that the international media almost never covers (certainly not NHK World.)

    Watching the show, and having recently traveled in Hokkaido and seen the collapse of parts of rural Japan in person, the parallel between the collapse of Japari Park and Japan itself was stark and obvious. Japanese who live in the poorest prefectures have lived this slow collapse since the late 80s.

    You’ve visited various parts of Japan in your travels- maybe you’ve seen a bit of what I am trying to get at. The Japan in anime is almost always stylized, futuristic, or some idealized vision of Japan. It is rarely ever the gritty real of the collapsed rural Japan. This is one reason why I think Kemono Friends was pretty interesting for me- it made an idealized Japan as usual but it also hinted at (but never revealed) the reality of Japari Park.


    • omo

      I think that’s worth pointing out in the discussion on Kemono Friend’s popularity. There is definitely a read in which Kaban’s journey reflects all those socieoeconomic factors. The fact that the scenery sometimes is taken/inspired by real life counterparts add to it.

      The generalities you speak of in anime is also kind of true, but I think that reflects more on the purpose why these anime are made. You can talk about these collapsing rural counties, but most people in the Tokyo metro areas are probably not too familiar with them, and they even live in the same country… I think it’s worth further examination as it’s not as simple as you paint it.

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