Erin is a young girl who lives with her mother in a village which raises war-lizards, called Touda. We see her daily life, which changes as she grows up. Meanwhile, there is growing tension between the two provinces of the country she lives in.
Based on the fantasy series written by Uehashi Nahoko, also known for Seirei no Moribito.
Kemono no Souja Erin (The Beast Player Erin), is a surprising anime. Not in the way it looks or sounds, or in any aspect of it's production. Not even because of it's story or characters (which are wonderfuly by the way). No, it's surprising for being the most recent example of a genre that is slowly disappearing in anime.
Many people will be confused by that statement, especially as the show is very clearly labelled and marketed as a children's series, and as everyone knows, kids shows are rife in anime. The problem, however, doesn't lie in the fact that this series was initially aimed at children, no, it lies in the fact that this is one of those rare anime where age boundaries are no longer relevant.
The majority of people may not consider that to be a problem, however one should remember that whenever a series is labelled as a kid's show, the majority of older audiences will automatically avoid it, regardless of how good it is (and before you ask, yes, I have done this too).
Kemono no Souja Erin is based on a series of light novels by Uehashi Nahoko, a name that fans of Seirei no Moribito should recognise. Directed by Hamana Takayuki (Toshokan Sensou, Sisters of Wellber, Chocolate Underground), the anime adaptation, like SnM, follows the plot of the light novels as much as possible.
The story is about a 10 year old girl with green eyes called Erin. She lives with her mother Soyon in Ake Village, a place where creatures called Touda (large, lizard-like animals with horns), are bred, reared and cared for. Soyon works as a "beastinarian", and is considered by many in the village as the best, and Erin, who is a quick learner and very clever, wants nothing more than to follow in her mother's footsteps.
Fate, however, is a cruel mistress.
This series is truly remarkable in several aspects, not the least of which are the scope and complexity of the plot and the huge amount of detail in the story. At 50 episodes though, it's not surprising that the series would have a good deal more depth than the norm, however in this case the fact that the show is based on a series of books also plays a major part. The story itself covers a number of disparate, seemingly unconnected, threads and, as the plot progresses, these are deftly woven together to create a tale the likes of which hasn't been seen in anime since the advent of The Twelve Kingdoms.
Now one would think that an adaptation of a novel would feature some decent writing, and Kemono no Souja Erin is no slouch in this department. The pacing and dialogue are all exceptionally well handled, and the plot is allowed to flow rather than to stop and start. That said, there are some recap episodes scattered throughout the series, however rather than simply being a simple cut and paste episode, there has been a conscious effort to include these as part of the narrative.
And speaking of narratives...
One big surprise while watching this series (at least for me), was the narration of the story. Throughout each episode there is a voiceover providing summaries of certain events and occurences, both historical and otherwise, however it's the style of the narration that is surprising as, at times, it can make one feel like they're listening to a fireside fairytale rather than watching an anime.
One of the sticking points for many people is the look of the series. Goto Takayuki's character designs, while being charming and expressive, reinforce the perception that this is simply a kid's show due to their simplicity. The backgrounds and settings are unusual in that the series adopts a simplistic, yet stylised, approach, giving the anime the feel of a picture-book for the most part.
The animation throughout the show is very good, and both characters and creatures move in a very natural manner. There is also a small amount of cel shaded CG in the show (they just couldn't resist - it's a Production I.G. series after all), however this is limited to the Touda and Beast Lords. There are also some extremely good visual effects throughout the series, especially where creatures are concerned, and these add to the quasi-mystical element of the series as a whole.
One unusual aspect of the visuals is the artwork, and by this I don't mean the backgrounds. While Kemono no Souja Erin is marketed as a children's show, some of the artwork, while being stylised, is actually quite graphic at times. Violent scenes are sometimes depicted in a manner similar to animated cave paintings or aboriginal works, however there are also occasions when death and violence are shown in a straightforward, no nonsense manner.
I've heard it said that this series is sanitised in certain respects in order to appeal to children more, however I have to disagree with this argument. The depiction of how the kingdom of Ophalon fell is, by the standards of any kids show, very graphic indeed.
In terms of sound and music, both are very good throughout the series. The show makes great use of aural effects, from the crooning and growls of Beast Lords, to the rumbles and wistling screams of the Touda. The effects provide the anime with a depth that is often missing from other "kid's shows", making the world more alive, more real.
The voice acting throughout the series is exceptional, with the biggest plaudits going to newcomer Hoshii Nanase. Her protrayal of Erin possessed a charm and brevity that is surprising given that this is her only anime role. The rest of the cast, all of whom are experienced seiyuu, are equally as good, which makes Hoshii's achievement all the more impressive. As far as seiyuu go, one can fairly expect good things from her in the future.
Kemono no Souja Erin is one of those shows that not only uses music as an emotive tool, but also as an integral part of the story. Thematically the music ranges from some rock style guitar tracks to melodic piano and harp pieces, with a number of different styles and renditions used throughout. While this may seem like a haphazard approach, the wide variety of tracks available works extremely well throuhgout the series, often enhancing the mood in an extremely subtle manner.
One key thing about the music though, is the OP and ED, as the series has two of each. The OP for the entire series is called "Shizuku", and from the beginning up to episode 30 the track is performed by Sukima Switch. From episode 31 though, the track is then performed Hajime Chitose, and adopts more of a kabuki style than the previous Peruvian flavour. The first ED, "After the Rain" by Cossami, is an upbeat, yet slightly bittersweet, ode that has a distinctly childlike feel to it. However, from episode 30 onwards the ED changes to "Kitto Tsutaete" by Takako Matsu, a track that is both more melodic and more mature. This change is actually significant in terms of the series, and not something that has occurred on a whim, and by the time you reach episode 31 you'll understand why the ED was changed before the OP.
As for the characters, suffice to say that Kemono no Souja Erin has some of the best development I've seen of a main character in anime. While the majority of characters are developed to greater or lesser degrees, the show is focused on Erin in particular, and her growth from a ten year old girl to a mature young woman is handled in a sensitive and realistic manner. Granted the series has periodic time leaps and some episodes focus on other characters, but these are very minor deviations from what is effectively a continuously developed character. I haven't seen this much concerted growth of one character, well, ever to be honest, and that's part of the beauty of the show. The fact that it devotes so much time and care to Erin, but doesn't ignore the other characters in favour of this, makes for a character that you can truly care about.
One thing that did standout for me though, was the amount of symbolism ascribed to each of the major characters. The Queen's symbolic nature is mentioned heavily in the series, as is that of the Beast Lords and Touda. However, there is one major symbolic aspect that many people miss because it's so obvious. Erin's name means "wild apple", and as everyone knows, the apple is the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. When one considers Erin's life throughout the series, her inquisitive nature, curiosity, and non-conformity make far more sense
A point about Nukku and Mokku though. While their inclusion is very much comic relief, they are noteworthy for providing Erin with a sense of continuity, and their continued presence is more to help with her development than to amuse the audience.
So don't hate them too much please.
I will be honest and admit that I was both surprised and enthralled by Kemono no Souja Erin. The series is both charming and original, and while there is a degree of sanitisation to make it appeal to children, this never actually goes to the point where adult would be put off watching the show. The anime is adventurous and playful, yet sombre and deeply political at the same time, one of the many dichotomies and conflicting ideals that occur within the series, and it's great to finally watch a series that harks back to those around when I was a child (e.g. The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Ulysses 31, etc). Nowadays they may not be considered decent viewing because of how they look, however those shows, like Kemono no Souja Erin, all had a deep and complex tale to tell, one that was far more mature than most would initially believe.
That said, it's a given that some people may not enjoy this show. Fans of Seriei no Moribito should definitely try it, as both series are equally enjoyable for very different reasons. The show may also appeal to those who want something charming, yet with a little bite to it, or to those who are looking for worldbuilding in the style of Twelve Kingdoms.
A word of warning however. Younger children may not enjoy this series as even though much of the violence is stylised, the aural effects and music enhance the visuals, and all three give the imagination a good old kick. Older kids may enjoy the series though, especially as it's one of those rare anime that doesn't assume it's audience is made up of morons who need everything explained to them.
This show has pretty much everything one could want from a series: politics, love, betrayal, assasination, history, religion, war, friendship, joy, sadness, terror, a touch of mysticism, and more besides.
Given the content though, I can only wonder how anyone could consider this to be simply another "kid's show".
[Edit: This review was written when I was still at episode 14. The anime turned out to be a real gem, a true masterpiece. Hopefully my review was a help to get you watch this amazing anime. "Kemono no Souja Erin" was my best random pick. Finally being able to finish it, I am glad that my short review during the premature stage (then still a very new show and just started) got many fans interested, and by the time it finished airing, entered Top 100 Anime of all time. But to all honesty, this anime is worth a place in Top 20 in the shelves of Anime Masterpieces.10/10.]
First of all, don't judge an anime by its art-work and NO, this is NOT a children's anime.
Before I start writing a review, here is a quick advice: Watch the First 6 episodes and then rate this anime and tag it as a children's anime if you want. After watching first six episodes, you will not be able to avoid this anime anymore, because it happened to me and now i know how wrong it would have been if i dropped this anime without even going to the main storyline.
The plot is set in a world of fantasy beasts. Erin, a ten year old orphan is the lead character of the anime. Her father, the son of village chief had long passed away leaving her mother Soyon, a beast doctor when Erin was a toddler. Brought up in a single parent family by her mother Soyon, Erin is a quick learner, and everyone loves her for her intelligence she has been gifted with.
The village breeds and nurtures wild beasts called "Touda", in our world, it appears to be a larger species of Komodo. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komodo_dragon
Erin's mother Soyon looks after the Toudas, the fearsome beasts that are used for military purpose. Great wars have been decided by the superiority of touda-army and thus upbringing toudas have become a profession of many villages. Erin, with her amusement and delight watches as her mother Soyon looks after toudas. from aka-chan (baby) touda to monster kiba (huge touda reared up using special treatment and care) Soyon looks after many of these wild beasts and the best beast trainer and beast doctor in the village.
However, Soyon always faces harsh remarks from some villagers as she has been from the Kiri tribe. The Kiri tribe is a tribe that isolated themselves from regular people for long and rumors say they rely on forbidden teachings and beliefs. A notable appearance of the Kiri tribe is that, they have midori (green) eyes and hair, which Erin genetically got from her mother.
But most of the villagers love hardworking Soyon and her lovely little girl Erin, as Erin's energy and enthusiasm runs through every corner of the village and her presence can be felt always.
Erin, growing up with the teachings, the wisdom and the warmth of her mother, and days ahead are full of promises as she decides to follow her mother's footsteps and become a beast doctor herself until....
(this is where you pick up the anime from, episode 6)
The story is by far the best in recent times. this anime has so much to offer and I am amazed with the settings it made up (first 5 episode) before turning into an absolutely heartbreaking and at the same time heartwarming story.
Most of the characters are already developed, it is only Erin and the two sons of the duke, and the heir to the queen, Seimiya who are going through the age of development.
The sound is amazing. the background songs give a nudge of tenderness and at the same time fills your heart with warmth.
The animation style is different and probably the reason why this anime scored so badly. I myself decided to hang up this anime after watching the first 3 episodes since I didn't like the animation style at all. but I had plentiful time and ran out of ongoing anime and decided to give a go after a friend suggested me that i will miss it if I don't pick the show up.
I did and watched two more episodes and thought "Is it really worth it?" I am glad I decided to give another try, but was telling myself episode 6 will be the last if this anime doesn't pick up any pace. And boy am not i glad that I did!
Episode 6 and onwards have been absolutely amazing. I am now at episode 14 and cannot wait for more. This anime is probably the best anime of all the anime that started since January 2009 and sad but true, people will overlook this anime because many couldnt bear the slow pace of the anime at the start and above that, there is this animation style.
Overall, this anime has been almost a masterpiece.read more
Now how good is Kemono no Souja Erin? So good in fact that I decided to create my first account on a anime-related site and write my first anime review (ever)...
After I received a small hole in my heart after watching The Twelve Kingdoms, I was searching around for a nice fantasy anime with a certain scope and detail in a fantasy setting. I did not know that my small open wound would be ripped further and leaving me *gasp* in further pain; anime is my heroin.
We begin the story that would have had the typical children's story feel, yet as the memorable character Erin encounters her major lessons in life particularly of death and passing, she develops a strong trait of maturity and her resolutions after each trial is really admirable. Yes, Naruto might have a similar lesson, but the story of Erin is something that I find more invoking of feeling and somehow more consistent as she continually remembers her saddening past and tackles the future.
The presentation of Erin is without a doubt unique, with its rustic-fantasy themed colors and selection in music. The only potential flaw that I see in the series is the continual reuse of certain scenes. Everybody's tolerance differs, but even as a person who might finish a 20 minute episode in 5 minutes (hell why not read the manga), I found myself watching through 99.9% of each episode. The pacing is that good.
In terms of pacing, the series has two time skips, which implies a total of three sections to Erin's life (about equally divided throughout the series). Each segment of Erin's life is again, well-paced with enough development in each episode to seem seamless. There are two filler episodes however, before the third time skip and I skipped over them to get into the real meaty juicy part of the main plot. What one should note, however is that Kemono no Souja Erin is an anime with several layers and three very different stories. In the beginning is the childish dream/anime that is similar to the story of a small blonde haired girl who lives in the mountains. As we progress it's the academic life of a beastarian scientist, and finally it's the story of a national hero who is involved in court intrigues and romance. It is this miraculous bilsdungroman across genres that I think makes Erin not just a 9.8-star anime, but a 10-star.
The realistic lessons and involving, touching lines, dynamic character portrayal, and a plot that is just "so right" all deserve a good watch.
There is the end of my review, and I have to say, I was really finding myself in withdrawal, but I'm more seriously addicted than I ever expected...this is more serious than heroin
I find that one of the more critical, compelling, and powerful moments in a series, just like human life, is in its poetic end. This series has been adopted from a series of novels, and as expected, the level of a conclusion of this anime is to me, so touching. Hell I've been crying throughout all the sad parts in this, and the last time I can remember crying was that first pokemon movie when I was really young...heck
This series to me has been a really moving piece with a similar impact to the Studio Ghibli movies, only that the artistic force has been slowly growing since each episode. To me, this is one of those animes that I will remember and cherish, a true masterpiece in my eyes.
I think that I've learned that it's not the special effects and sophistry of an imagery that makes a series worth watching, but the cumulative effects that pass to its viewer a deep sense of understanding. It appears to me that this anime focuses on a very beautiful story on the nature of relationships between species and the question left unanswered- will human relations be the same? This is a question I've also considered and I'm sure that many others have also wondered, thought, and perhaps gave a small sigh of despair.
I think that this is a masterpiece with a few small flaws if one considers them flaws. The messages throughout this series become increasingly complex and always emotional and powerful. How will I ever find an anime to match this I wonder (funnily I was watching Morbito: Guardian of the Spirit) before this (same author and animation studio(?) I believe). It's just a small coincidence.
Again, I think that most can understand and truly appreciate this series. It goes beyond simple "character development" and the sense of realism and life is apparent. I do hope that you'll all take the moment to enjoy this experience.
My mistake, there were actually 3 time skips ;)read more
Lands bound by Magic, Lore, and Myth brimming with fabled creatures and tall-tales are the life force of fantasy-based works. Works of Fantasy tend to be products of pure imagination; the bridge between “what is” and “what can never be” often makes these works innately tantalizing. They have the ability to transport the audience into the fantastic, the absurd, the unreal, but, magic and trickery of the imagination displayed in effective works can invert these “fairy-tales” into something that feels far more real.
The aforesaid effectiveness depends primarily on one element when it comes to Fantasy, and that is world-building. There is nothing that single-handedly matters more within this genre than its setting and the internal mechanics and laws that bind it. Consistency plays a crucial role here. Among the creations that have excelled with this element thoroughly – both internally and externally – one truly stands out as a defining work within the animated medium, and that is the tale of Kemono no Souja Erin or Beast Tamer Erin.
And the tale goes something like this:
I. The Girl with the Emerald Eyes
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away lived a girl named Erin with bright emerald-stained hair and eyes. Erin lived in a simple town, with her mother and friends, where she spent her days quelling her curiosity. A quick-witted child Erin was, with a never-ending desire to learn.
Erin’s town was like any other small town in the old days, but one thing that set it apart was that it bred and nurtured creatures called Toudas (wondrous reptilian-like creatures), which were the military force of the overseeing kingdom. The town and its people were responsible for the well-being of these beasts, and no other person was more fitted for this responsibility than Erin’s mother. She was a Touda specialist and a descendant of the clandestine Mist People (who are feared and isolated for their strangeness and rumored magical capabilities). Immune to the realities of her world, young Erin dreams of nothing more than to follow in her mother’s mystic ways, but then, one day…
An ill-fated event forces Erin into an unknown world torn between beast and man, where her realities, dreams, and fears all collide simultaneously.
Thus, the 50-episode series - adapted from the fantasy novels of Uehashi Nahoko - chronicles the evolution of Erin and her world through a superbly crafted coming-of-age tale.
II. The World & its Dwellers
The world of Erin looks like one out of an old medieval fairy tale: filled with rustic, pastoral towns’ part of a bigger kingdom nestled in lush, scenic landscapes stretched under an ever-changing sky. The subdued use of cool and warm colors keeps the world pleasant to look at, and it’s also accompanied by fitting music. The frequent use of lutes, harps, and other stringed instruments are used to create a very appropriate atmosphere that not only refines the world but enriches it.
These small towns are ruled over by a Queen whose empowered by legend and divinity. There are intricate social, political, and historical nuances interwoven throughout the narrative that function to explicate the world. The lands feel enchanted, but they also carry a sense of closeness because of the universal struggles that define them, such as the ongoing political strife between kingdoms, or the perpetual battle for control waged by Man on Nature. Yet, none of this is imposed in a detached, impersonal, or heavy-handed manner, rather explored through the eyes of the inhabitants and creatures that dwell in it.
Additionally, the fantastic or magical element in this series is also very well handled, for even though the realm is based on magical properties, it never once uses that to be lazy or as a device of convenience to introduce or resolve a plot point or character dilemma. This allows every facet of the show to shine on its own, and every element then builds the world further, better, and expands it beyond its own horizons with a swanlike grace. Consequently, the narrative not only maintains its world cautiously but advances it with a consistency that is imperative in a work like this (The gaps inherent to any work of Fantasy have to utilize some mode of reconciliation so that the viewer is able to walk that bridge, [willingly] suspending their scrutiny, and allowing them to sink into the world being presented. That persuasion has to manifest consistently). The internal mechanics effectively keep the world tied together with candor and believability.
Not only are the internal mechanics of the world woven with a master’s stroke, there are some external additions that heighten the “fantastic” feel. For one thing, the story is often narrated by an aged sounding woman, who often introduces, recounts, and explains the story in an eerily familiar way. This gives the feel of being literally told a story, and then slowly falling into the rabbit hole of events as the pages turn. Often time, external narration can feel jarring or alienating, but the way it’s utilized in Erin is incredibly fitting. This bedside storytelling sort of keeps a nostalgic flame of “story-time” burning throughout.
Besides the narration, much of the story is reflected through the eyes of Erin, and her friends (human and non-human alike). The world of Erin is indeed one to praise, but the cast is no less impressive. There is a diverse range of characters that accompany the plot of Erin, and all of them are individualized in a manner that speaks not only to how well they are “developed”, but to the overarching world and plot: everyone feels necessary and has a role to play. Motivations are extensively explored, thereby making most characters greater than the sum of their parts, and not easily definable with black and white terminology. Yet more than motivations is the relationship and bonds created between the characters that really add elasticity and dimension to the respective personalities. As a result, there isn’t much superfluity to be had or cardboard cutouts to fill up space which makes the cast fairly dynamic, with purpose, and entirely enjoyable.
Yet, it would be a disservice to the work to leave it at that. It must be noted that Erin herself is one of the best-crafted characters I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing within this medium. The phrase “the journey is sometimes more important than the destination” perfectly captures how Erin’s characterization is approached. A huge part of character development relies heavily on this “journey”, and the series handles this with the utmost excellence. The prime reason for why Erin’s character is so effective is the balance of internalization and externalization. Effective development depends on many elements but these two factors really play a difference here. They can basically be thought of as internal, unsaid characteristics (internalization) versus how those elements are then externally embodied (externalization). How Erin’s, and by extension, her journey are presented are one of the same; one cannot separate the two, and a perfect example of the two aforesaid elements. This keeps her character steadily palpable while fleshing her out with proper momentum, and eliminating any obtuseness or ambiguity. This often translates into the viewer fully empathizing and understanding the character, because they can comprehend the situations being presented, and more importantly, feel as if they are a part of the journey that Erin goes through.
III. The Moral(s) of the Story
The most interesting bit about this work is that it’s marketed for children, which explains some of the nostalgic factors, devices, and generally simplistic philosophies/presentation. This, however, is a gross understatement since Erin features some intensely dark moments, and mature themes that can be reduced for argument's sake, but when holistically evaluated, are quite heavy. This isn’t actually that surprising since many of the tales we encountered during our childhood are layered with complexities that if re-explored would probably retune our initial perceptions. Erin too follows this format, without the sugar-coats. If there is light, there too must be dark - as children, the latter part often gets understated, but it still exists, and Erin embraces that entirely without falling back on “magical” happiness. Even though everything comes together, Erin focuses on what it takes to get there, thereby moving beyond the “and they lived happily ever after” conundrum. This is why I hesitate to call this purely a “children’s show”, and would much rather opt to call it one with universal appeal.
Essentially, the world of Erin is one full of wonders and complexities, but it conveys many things at heart that are powerfully human. There are plenty of themes and “morals” that are internalized smoothly with the characters and plot, and thus, feel a part of the narrative. For example, the depiction of man’s continuous struggle with the elements (including him/herself), and the powerlessness and devastation brought upon by such a struggle is depicted in a way that’s unparalleled. Much of this is shown in a very “as is” light, but along with the implications of what such a dichotomy entails. Yet, it’s unlikely to remain just observers. The series does a splendid job garnering complete investment in the problems, and nuances of this world without force-feeding any of it.
Mushishi is probably the only other series that I can think of that translates that specific theme/struggle as potently as Erin does. Of course, the difference in how the stories reconcile and resolve this struggle is extremely different but the undercurrents of each tale flow similarly and naturally together, as the river to the sea.
IV. Sticks & Stones, and Farewells
It’s obvious that I’m a huge admirer of Erin, and have an immense amount of respect for everything about it; from its writing to its atmosphere. However, as with anything, it isn’t perfect. The biggest issue with this series is undoubtedly the pacing. First, there are a rather unhealthy amount of flashbacks infused into the work, which makes the series feel a little dragged out. Whether the intent of these flashbacks is to continuously be informative in nature, or for emotional impact, the frequent use of them feels a little manipulative, and excessive. Second, due to constant reiterations of past events, the slowness of the series becomes quite tangible at points, which gives off a very imbalanced impression. It’s not enough to go into full filler territory but often treads on the line between necessary and filler.
Even with its slow-seasoned, and at times, repetitive nature, Erin transcends all of its flaws effortlessly.
Kemono no Souja Erin is truly a testament to the power of imagination - one that that revamps the fantasy genre’s lore and law - and should be experienced by all for its enchanted lands, mystic dwellers, superb story, and of course…
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