People often say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but what about the rest of its presentation? Imagine going to a bookstore to find a book printed in Courier New font, on recycled paper, using an inkjet printer, with spiral binding; can we still take it seriously?
That is what Kemono Friends feels like. The show feels like it has a budget of a highschool project, done by a student, who just found out about MikuMikuDance, over the summer, with a laptop that cannot run the physics engine nor anti-aliased rendering. The models are low-res; textures are blurry; movement is stiff and unnatural. A lot of indie games from 10 years ago had better graphics than this. Voice acting is not very good, either, with budget voice actors and lines having weird timing. Plot doesn’t make much sense, and there are still a lot of things unexplained. The ending was not even animated.
A lot of people watched the first 5 minutes of the first episode and left, me included.
There doesn’t seem to be much redeeming quality of the show, and yet Tatsuki Omoto proved to people that good storytelling can overcome a lot of other shortcomings. He managed to do what many thought was impossible. Who could have introduced 54 different characters in 12 episodes, and yet still made them all memorable? What animation team with 10 people can create something that has zero fanservice, no brain-wrecking plot twists, does not rely on comedy, no save-the-world superheroes, was aired at 1:30AM timeslot, and yet still created the sensation of the season?
This anime is something that caters to both kids and adults. Kids because it’s a story of friendship and there is no bad guy, that the atmosphere is upbeat and cherry, and that on the surface, the show is extremely easy to understand. Adults, because the dark, unexplained premise did a perfect job keeping us adult watchers on edge, with an overshadowing question “Why?”. Similar to Higurashi, which was also another budget show, we unconsciously wanted to learn more about the world of the show, trying to play detective, guessing at every little details, from “is there any human left?” and “what level of robotic technologies did they have?” to “how long has it been like this?”, “what level of intelligence these creatures are having?”, and “what the heck is this Sandstar substance?”.
I felt lucky that there are people in my circle who braved the first episode of the show to tell me to give the anime another try. And it won me over. This may be the cutest post-apocalyptic show ever.