In the war against neighboring countries, the Grand Duke’s warriors use dragon-like beasts called Touda as weapons. Touda are admired across the nation and villages take great pride in breeding them. Erin lives in one such village with her mother, Soyon, who is the best beastinarian in the country. However, life in the village is not so straightforward: Soyon is also an Ariyo, a woman of the Mist People - a race that is feared by humans for its mystical abilities. So that she and Erin can stay in the village, Soyon must flawlessly fulfill her duty capturing and disciplining the Touda; but while Erin wants nothing more than to become a beastinarian, she also feels sorry for the Touda and recognizes that there’s far more to them than meets the eye. Can Erin ever become an ordinary beastinarian when her deepest instincts tell her there is a better way to interact with the Touda?
StoryHere comes another marvellous adaptation of the works of Nahoko Uehashi, the author of Seirei no Moribito. Just like Moribito, Kemono no Souja Erin uses the interdependence of nature and humans as a canvas on which to paint its story and gives the mother-child relationship central place in that picture. What sets this unassuming series apart from (and maybe even above) the character-focused Moribito is the subtle way it immerses us in the politics and ecology of its fantasy world, Ryoza. This is family viewing extraordinaire, an emotional escapist journey not just for kids, but for Mum, Dad and older siblings as well. Kemono no Souja Erin depicts the life of a girl who wants to be a beastinarian (Ryoza's equivalent of a vet) mainly in the guise of slice-of-life. In a similar approach to Radix's Haibane Renmei, it uses banal, everyday adventures to reveal a wealth of deliberate detail. As the titular hero Erin and her mother Soyon make grass balls for polishing the dragon-like Touda's scales, we subconsciously note the painstaking effort involved in their trade. I also adore the little lectures Soyon gives Erin about the uses of 'special water' or why beastinarians hunt for Touda eggs, and the quiet moments in which they cook bizarre local cuisine or share baths make heartwarming statements about the value of nurture. But the show shines brightest when it ties in all its animal lore with the exceptional civil conflict between the Queen of Ryoza and her second-in-command, the Grand Duke. For instance, the bizarre giant winged wolves called Ohju mean more to the Queen than your average corgi; as symbols of power, weapons of war, commodities to be handed out as gifts, and instruments to prove one's godhood, they essentially represent her legitimacy. Moreover, the Ohju's rank in the food chain matters militarily. In the same way the existence of gunpowder makes spears redundant, their higher rank in the food chain cements the Queen's tactical might over the Grand Duke's legions of Touda. There is certainly a strong environmentalist message here and of course the language is pitched mainly at children, but despite that, Kemon no Souja Erin never becomes a trite pro-animal rights show. By tying in human conflict with animal welfare, the series controversially implies that true social harmony means not just forming bonds of understanding between humans, but between humans and the natural world as well. Perpetual peace amongst people remains a mere theory without the security and happiness of the beasts. While not new, this argument is far rarer than the one that simply says 'harming the environment is bad' or 'harming the environment is bad because it causes natural disasters', which is about as far as Moribito goes. What the show gains in nuance, however, it sacrifices in visceral power. Erin's growth as a herbalist and beastinarian takes up the bulk of the narrative, with every scene laid out slowly and meticulously. At its worst, one episode made entirely of dream sequences is followed immediately by a slow, reflective one full of dialogue. Some viewers will find these moments of lag frustrating, although anyone with a taste for world building should have enough fun lingering over every one of Kemono no Souja Erin's details.AnimationStylistically and technologically, the show might as well be the same age as Anne of Green Gables. With character designs seemingly lifted from Studio Ghibli's waste bin and backgrounds like a watercolour picture book, it neither looks nor moves like a 2009 production. Nevertheless, while the show suffers glaring aesthetic shortcomings, its involving story ensures we hardly care.SoundSignificant flaws exist in the soundtrack too. At best, the cheerful first opening theme, which I love, feels like a reflection of Erin's nature and highlights the show's positive outlook. A more haunting but also less appealing cover version opens the second set of episodes to match the sober events therein. Unfortunately, its musical creativity dead-ends there as the same handful of synthesised tunes repeat through all fifty episodes. The worst example is this faux rock theme that accompanies the action scenes and sounds horribly misplaced in a children's fantasy drama.CharactersMost of the cast are marginal spin-offs of stereotypes that the script rarely presents with any subtlety. In one scene we see a man standing in the shadows of a room while at his feet lie dead people who evidently just drank some dubious wine. In a following scene, Erin meets her creepy new school teacher Kirik whose class happens to be about poisons. Similarly, if we care for any characters, it's because they are obviously kind or obviously unfortunate people. Notable exceptions do exist, and they include Ial the elite royal guard, Shunan the Grand Duke's heir, Soyon, and of course Erin herself. Yes, she is a cheerful young woman of courage and with great moral conviction beyond her years, but where the cliche stops is that she attains this towards the end of her journey. Her inner strengths are borne upon the wings of experience, adding power to her arguments. When she says to a man of the Mist People, 'Shouldn't we, the humans, be the ones to change? Not the beasts?' we hear not just her obvious common sense but remember the thorny path she has taken to attain it. Like the story, Erin is steel sheathed in a soft, shoujo coating and thus a welcome addition to the small number of great female protagonists.OverallClearly, this is not a show for viewers who want something short, fast, and easy, but for those who crave charming world building and an exemplary family adventure. While never playing it safe, Kemono no Souja Erin draws for us such a vivid picture of human and animal struggle, that we absorb Ryoza's unique ecology with the rapt attention of children entering a zoo for the first time. Emotions insinuate themselves through steady, tender development and the climaxes arrive with incredible emotional weight.
Our story begins with a young girl named Erin who is being raised by her mother Soyon in Ake Village where they raise war lizards called Touda to fight in an ongoing war led by the Grand Duke. Soyon is a very gifted beastenarian who was formerly of the Mist People, which are a group of infamous nomads who are known for their mysterious technics. Erin is fascinated by the world around her. Fascinated by the Touda and tells her mother that she wants to become a beastenarian just like her. Soyon isn't so enthusiastic by this declaration as Erin is very sensitive to the world around her and she feels that her daughter wouldn't be able to do what must be done. Throughout Kemono no Souja you watch the many ups and downs of Erin's young life as she struggles to find her way in the world and eventually sets her eye on becoming a beastenarian to the Beast Lords. She is utterly captivated by them and wants to understand every little aspect of them. She wants to understand if it is at all possible for beasts and humans to live together in harmony. She has an overwhelming curiosity of the world around her and wants to truly understand animals. Erin's journey is a struggle. There are times where you can't help but feel that the girl can't seem to catch a break but she always persists in pulling herself back up and moving forward. She simply refused to give up on her values or her dreams and that was one of the things that I liked the most about her character. I haven't enjoyed an anime this much in what feels like a very long time. Kemono no Souja Erin was a truly beautiful and heartwarming anime that I know I won't soon forget. The animation was a unique blend that took a little getting used to as it made the series seem more like a childrens anime, which it isn't, as the plot can attest to that. However, I ended up really loving the unique aspects of the animation which was very reminescent of folk tale art. Which actually suited it's purpose admirably as this was a fantasy anime with quite the tale. The plot, which I gave a short summary of above, was so wonderfully done, so perfectly told, that it was nothing short of 'masterpiece'. There were sad times, happy times, and everything in between. I loved every bit of it. The soundtrack was gorgeous ... if but for one imperfection ... the second OP. Don't get me wrong ... the lyrics were lovely, the music was gorgeous but the singer of that second OP sounded like a dying, strangling cat ... I kid you not! -_-" Every other aspect of the soundtrack was perfect though. Just not that second OP ... it was akin to torture! >.<" The characters were wonderfully developed and really added to my enjoyment of the hidden gem that is Kemono no Souja Erin. Overall I have to say that I wish I could go back in time and smack myself for leaving this in my planned to watch list for nearly two years! Kemono no Souja Erin was a beautiful journey that I will remember for a long time. It's really a shame that so few people give it the chance that it so richly deserves ...
Hurting your main character. As a story teller, it is one of the hardest things to do. We often grow attached to our creations and wish to see them suceed. We don't want them to suffer--everyone loves a perfect ending. But can you sympathize with a character whose life is perfect? Enter the masterful, often heart wrenching (and yes, some times sappy) story of Kemono no Souja Erin. The animation itself is a pleasant mix. Near-charcoal like textured outlines with water colored inspired shading gives this animation a simplistic feel, but the combination of unique buildings and intricate world seem anything but simple. Character animations are also spartan, yet perfectly convey the emotion needed to carry the scene. Distinct faces aren't truly common, what separates are the excellent stories that develop the main characters from their personalities, quirks, hopes and pain--bringing them a quality that the uncomplicated drawing style lacks. The story however, is where Erin the series, shines. And truly, story is what draws me and keeps me with a show far longer than anything else. The writers for Erin are not afraid to hurt their main character. Truly, deeply, nearly oh-my-god-give-the-girl-a-break hurt her from time to time that plays on the audiences sympathies, making the main character someone we can empathize with and begin to root strongly for. You end up wanting better for Erin, for those who know her, for those around her and for the story line in general. This, my friends, is how you know a good story from a mediocre story. You catch yourself shaking pom-poms and chanting for the good guys. There are some wonderful light spots, some cliche cheesey-goodness too that while easily recognized as a plot point (or filler) that's been done for many other shows, one can't help but find themselves mentalling bro-fisting for triumph even when groaning and rolling their eyes at the obvious sappiness of it all. Between all of this delicious nouegetty sweet story telling there's also a pretty heavy political intrigue plot working behind it all, grinding slowly to a higher presence in the series as you get further in. In a way, Erin reminds me of a faster paced, milder Twelve Kingdoms, without any glaring simularities--Erin's writers are able to convey a sense of a rich, other fantasy-ish like world without taking eighty-four episodes to get on with it. The soundtrack is a damn good fit as well. They've managed to choose music which solidly fits both the genre as well as scene moods. I actually quite enjoy the opening and closing themes, with one exception (and why I marked the sound a 7 out of 10 instead of 10 out of 10.) Several episodes in, they changed the singer for the main theme song from a male singer to a more traditional female singer. And while it's grown on me, I cannot say that I like it half as much as some of the other well-known series to incorporate more traditional musics. I think the song change was not something that fit the series. Or, as it is often said: if it ain't broke, don't fix it! I would not recommend this anime for those who are searching for a much darker themed and or bordering on adult series. You won't find flashes of nipple, panty shots, overabundance of blood, gore or anything of the like. Kemono no Souja Erin tends to lean toward hinting or representing violence with symbolism instead. Kemono no Souja Erin is a wonderful, wonderful anime for those of us looking for stories about conquering overwhelming odds, joy through sorrow and meeting the hardships of life head on. If you agree then do not hesitate to get your hands on this show. Well worth it.
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