Before I begin, DISCLAIMERS. Rather than write them myself, I’m going to quote a couple of reviewers from animenfo.
“If you're one of those people who laps up anything thats original just because its different, then this is one for you to watch. But if, like me, you only like originality when the resulting product is actually good, then I'd hesitate to recommend this.” – Kaj, for Mind Game
“Do you think later Picasso works are great? Do you think Van Gogh was more than just a nutter who couldnt actually draw? do you like ugly graffiti strewn all over the walls? Then you may like the animation of this. If no, then do not bother. Ugly is one way to describe it, refreshingly different only if you enjoy looking at toilet graffiti.” – Caireen, for Kemonozume
Studio 4C has always been on the fringe. Aside from Comedy, which had a minor splash among people who knew what they were looking for, they’ve continued to make experimental bits that played around with interesting visuals, but never really seemed to go anywhere.
Their “breakout” movie, if one could call it that, was Mind Game. I won’t write much about it here. However, what’s important is that even though the film was just as bold, visually unique and schizophrenic as their previous shorts, the work actually possessed a coherent and intelligent meaning for those willing to catch it. As a result, the film garnered a fair deal of critical praise, including the prestigious Ofuji Noburo award.
…and many people hate hate hated it. They didn’t see any meaning. They didn’t appreciate the unique visuals. They didn’t empathize with the characters.
Now, the experimental minds at Studio 4C have received enough attention to grab funding for Kemonozume, an actual TV series. The problem? Rather than tone down their style for the larger target audience, the show is just as vulgar and violent as Mind Game (perhaps more so). Even more troubling, apart from the relatively cheery and upbeat film, Kemonozume’s tone is almost unwaveringly grim and bleak.
…in other words, many people are going to hate hate hate it. Yet, once again, this is not a pointless, meaningless endeavor, but an honest, ambitious attempt at true art.
Kemonozume is concerned with showing how mankind’s natural desire to love and prosper is often sabotaged by its very own bestiality and self-destructiveness. This has been examined before in Jin-Roh: the Wolf Brigade, Texhnolyze, and Now and Then, Here and There, so the main focus is nothing particularly new.
Like Mind Game, however, the show’s familiar themes are wrapped in a thoroughly bizarre, grotesquely humorous, and largely riveting narrative. Kemonozume observes a simple love story, doomed from the start due to the overwhelming forces of violence, hatred and anarchy. This is the first show in quite some time that I’ve truly binged. As a whole, the storyline is extremely taut, and doesn’t really let go until the final episode. The dark humor, extreme violence, and relentless sexuality combine well to form a captivating, albeit gloomy tale.
The story’s themes are represented quite well in the animation style, which picks up where Mind Game left off and elevates itself to an entirely different level. Make no mistake; the visuals of Kemonozume are violent, graphic and, some would say, quite “ugly.” Excessive gore, gratuitous nudity, and mind-warping scenery abound, and the character designs are some of the most bizarre to ever be conceived – a mishmash of crooked lines and disproportionate features.
However, like Mind Game, the show’s visuals are not the way they are “just to be different,” but work with the storyline to enhance the series’ message. In order to show mankind’s flaws and imperfections, the anime deliberately avoids the clean, simple look that plagues so much of modern anime. Rather, Kemonozume shows mankind honestly: pathetic, savage, and destructive, yes, but also sparked with an intense desire to live, love and prosper. To call Kemonozume’s visuals “ugly” is to call human nature itself ugly.
The voice actors do a serviceable, albeit weird job, but the music doesn’t seem to always fit. The soundtrack uses some rather abrasive and distracting jazz that, apart from being just annoying in general, doesn’t always do the storyline justice.
The characters themselves are far removed from the stereotyped, cookie-cutter personalities that most anime fans will be accustomed to. Without exception, all of them are decidedly imperfect. They impulsively succumb to lust and violence, they devour each other selfishly (and I mean that both ways), and they often seem to have no redeeming qualities… and yet, at the end of the day, their desire to live once again shines through. Of particular note is the villain, whose over-the-top insanity both honors and exceeds the groundwork laid by King Hamdo of Now and Then, Here and There.
As a whole, Kemonozume is too messy and strange to recommend to everyone. In particular, those who generally dislike experimental shows probably won’t find anything worthwhile here. However, for those looking for an interesting, dark, and altogether unique series, this should be a great pick.