Category Archives: Kemono Friends

The Meta Game: 2017 Spring Edition

It’s sort of well-understood that otaku TV anime play to the meta. By this I mean it’s about defining, deconstruction, reconstruction, spins, and swapping of existing/known genres and archetypes. It’s a continuous cycle of creation where frameworks that are successful are reused with modification to create something similar but new. New ideas that work often gets grafted into other existing frameworks for added effect. Things also don’t always work out as intended.

What’s interesting about this season’s meta (like a new expansion of M:TG or Shadowverse, as the comparisons may be) is that there are more attempts at misleading or misdirection by giving off generic vibes than not. Last season I think the biggest “gotcha” was in Fuuka, but the most successful misdirection was Kemono Friends, where the audience were treated to this borderline “so bad it’s good” CG animation as a means to help us engage the right part of our collective consciousness in order to parse the surprisingly sincere and nuanced story. Two seasons ago the well-received buttocks anime, Keijo!!!!!!!!, also has this sort of a play to it where viewers go in expecting one thing, but got something quite different. Even original anime projects like Haifuri played this trick via marketing, and it’s unclear to me if it actually fooled anyone. The oft-panned Mahouiku is sort of the victim of not reading the meta correctly, which was using this baited setup to provide a very traditional story, ultimately kind of disappointing the audience. I think this season we will see a few others play out this way as more shows pick up on the meta.

To clarify and disclaim, by “misdirect” I don’t want to imply that there was some kind of intent behind the process. It may be intended or it may not. There are some cases in which the marketing material or the production style was done to give people contrasting expectations, but some cases are not. I think Kemono Friends is a good example where there isn’t an intent to do quite that. Sure, media mix projects often do employ marketing to manage our expectations and solicit interest to a degree, but I want to highlight the shows in which these things get into the “art” of it, as it were, enough that you want to sideboard your deck against the meta, as the analogy goes.

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!

Kemono Friends: Friendship Is Lost Technology

A is for Apple is a common refrain for children educational multimedia programs. I’ve seen it (or something close to it) in books, on TV, on a DVD, in a video game, in a board game, in all kinds of toys, and obviously on the internet. Learning and trying to understand the basics of our world is what little kids do. If learning is lifelong, we all do it when we were little at any rate.

Kemono Friends sort of reverse engineers the experience for us. We learn how cable carts work. We know how a cafe works. Or what a bus does. Or how to cook, in general. The mysteries of life are about the questions we don’t realize we could ask, and not just the questions we have no answers to. All Bag-chan wanted to know is who she is. This is the existential question, of all existential questions. Arguably it’s the only question that truly matters.

In its ruthless-but-with-baby-gloves inquiry, Kemono Friends reveals obvious answers to obvious questions: Yes, it is as we think, Bag-chan. But in the process it only answers every other question we dare to dream to ask. And since this is a Japanese cartoon, Kemono Friends is set in a post-apocalyptic world, unlike another show I’m trying to infer to with this blog topic. Because it’s anime, we are concerned about trauma, not just happiness. The ending sequence of post-bubble, abandoned amusement parks does more talking than the rest of the show. It isn’t just about furries or they are girls. It’s about the overall messaging.

Which is to say, when you’re like this guy, it’s like trying to create an anti-abuse subsystem for Twitter, but all you get to use is a TI-84. There’s some novelty and amusement from seeing people trying to figure out what’s Kemono Friends about–not so much to do what I try to do, but to merely put it in one of their mental bins. I think that’s kind of why humanity is in decline, I guess. But I think, much like Bag-chan, this journey is only fun if you come unencumbered. The messaging may be meme-tinted, but people stay in Japari Park because there’s something worthwhile behind it all.

Well, maybe not that worthwhile. Pretty okay for an anime though.