As much as I want to just talk about this premiere, we got to address the giant elephant in the room.
“Surprise” is definitely the first word I’d use to describe Kemono Friends. When the first season aired two Winters ago, it seemed doomed to fail. The mobile game it’s based on and meant to advertised went defunct a month before Episode 1 even aired and when Episode 1 did air, everyone was ready to write it off due to its poor animation. And while the show is indeed ugly (come on, it is), it surprisingly became a huge hit in Japan with record-breaking view counts on domestic streaming services, the show trending on Twitter numerous times, merchandise constantly selling out, and the most heartwarming meme between a cut-out of one of the show’s characters and a real-life penguin. And you know what? The show itself turned out to be pretty good too. I personally think it’s a bit overrated but it still made for a very charming experience, backed by some entertaining characters and a surprisingly well-developed setting.
Also surprising about Kemono Friends is that it it became one of the most controversial anime of all time. Given the success of the franchise, a second season seemed inevitable but here’s where things got complicated. Early into production, director Tatsuki got fired by Kadokawa, one of the companies funding Kemono Friends. The exact details are a bit murky. Maybe it has to do with Tatsuki making unofficial shorts for the series in between seasons for the fans and therefore incidentally violating his contract with Kadokawa. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Tatsuki actually ghostwrote the scripts of Season 1 and so Kaadokawa didn’t want to pay him screenwriting royalties. Who honestly knows besides the people involved. The point is that Tatsuki got booted off of production. Some of the reasons did get unreasonably harsh — look up the articles and reaction videos if you can find them — but I must admit that to fire the one guy who saved your sinking ship of a franchise is, uh, scummy to say the least.
And look, we can all probably look past the controversy to the best of our abilities if it turns out that Season 2 is just as good, maybe even better than Season 1. Sure, productions this messy usually don’t go very well but to be fair, you never truly know until the new season premieres.
…Now about Season 2…it kind of sucks right now.
You remember the ending of Season 1 of where Kaban leaves Japari Park in search of other humans and all of the Friends she met in her adventure decide to come along with her? Remember such a perfectly good hook for a sequel to bank on? Turns out that Kemono Friends 2 decides to mostly ignore it. It starts off in another Japari Park with an entirely new human protagonist named Kyururu. Serval (Yuka Ozaki) does make a return as a main character but she seemingly has forgotten her time with Kaban and has returned to her normal life as, well, a serval.
Essentially, Season 2 is acting as a soft reboot. Like with Season 1, the story begins with an amnesiac human girl who suddenly finds herself in the wilderness, befriends a feline Friend (in this case, two), has run-in with Cerulean monsters, begins an adventure to a specific destination, while seemingly tracked down by two Friends acting as detectives. You even have some direct callbacks, such as a repeat of Season 1’s recurring “Please don’t eat me” joke. The details are slightly different. For example, Kyururu wakes up in some sort of laboratory unlike Kaban who just wakes up on the grassy field of a Savannah. In addition to Serval, you have Caracal (Riko Koike) as the seasonal feline Friend. The mode of transportation this time around is also trolley as opposed to a freely moving bus. But all things considered, it’s basically the same plot as the first season.
It’s disappointing, to be honest. Not only is Kemono Friends a young property and therefore not in need of a soft reboot, it really squanders the promise that Season 1 left off on. Fans who really enjoyed the chemistry of Kaban and Serval will be disappointed in the former’s absence as well as the fact that the latter has almost entirely forgotten about her. There’s even something off putting about watching Serval in this season; her personality seemingly rebooted along with the plot, making her feel like a new character despite the viewer knowing who she is. It’s so jarring that I kind of wish Serval was excluded from Season 2. Instead, just feature Caracal who pretty much fulfills the same role and otherwise feels superfluous when sharing screentime with Serval.
Maybe the decision to push the reset button is out of respect of Tatsuki and not wanting to directly tarnish what he created. To me though, this is the people currently making Kemono Friends asking the viewer, “HEY! REMEMBER THE FIRST SEASON! REMEMBER HOW MUCH YOU LOVE IT?”. Maybe fans will be fine with the repeat (Lord knows, Hollywood gets away with the same trick all the time) but it is also possible for fans to feel insulted at seeing someone else copy what made Kemono Friends a success without the man who actually made it successful. I’m just having a hard time imagining this season working out for anyone, be it the people making it or the people watching it.
The only thing that baffles me more than the narrative approach is the animation. I’d really hate to give Tomason crap since they’ve unreasonably gotten enough from fans much more upset than me but yeah, Season 2 looks pretty bad. The coloring is admittedly brighter, the line rendering is sharper, and the backgrounds look a little brighter but overall, it’s still not the best visuals out there. And call me crazy but I think the lip animations look worse than they did in Season 1. I just don’t get it. For an anime this big in Japan, you’d expect it to not look so darn cheap anymore.
Either because I enjoyed the first season enough or I’m just an idiot, I’ll watch a little bit more but truth be told, I’m feeling much more inclined to drop the show. I always prefer seeing a property go in an entirely new direction and I can’t stand it when the best that happens to it is repeating the same stuff over and over again. If I really wanted the first season of Kemono Friends all over again, I’d just go ahead and rewatch it. There’s no point in watching a new season if it’s going to be this hollow and uninspired.
OP: “Notteke! Japari Beat” by Doubutsu Biscuits x PPP
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