It is the year 1941. 11-year-old Murakami Wataru lives with his family, Japanese textile traders operating in British Kenya, when war breaks out between Japan and the Allies. Fleeing into the bush, young Wataru falls headlong into a series of fantastic adventures.
Shounen Kenya, or "Kenya Boy", is certainly different when placed alongside other things anime. However, one thing should be made clear before going in to view this. Kenya Boy is not a culturally-accurate representation of the country Kenya, and the story doesn't really revolve around surviving in the country. What the story really is, is actually a bit similar to anime with a unique coat of paint. It's a fantasy, action adventure while also not only a shounen by its title, but also by the story. It was a bit of a shame that the story elements made the experience feel less genuine and more like a mess, but the experience Kenya Boy gave was still interesting and worth the watch.
When it starts, Kenya Boy seems like it's a movie that would've been more effective if it was live-action. However, the art is what's getting Kenya Boy attention for a reason. The art direction is quite impressive in that it will take on unpredictable styles at will. One thing it will commonly do is merge colored animation into line-art sketch-work. It would also, at times, build up scenery or randomly play around with the scenery. This kind of creativity makes the fact Kenya Boy is an anime, at the start, feel more justified. The design-work is also fairly good in making the elements that could potentially be in Kenya a bit believable. The art isn't perfect though. As it starts with this sensation that the scenery could fluctuate at any time, there are some instances that feel a bit unjustified in the lacking details present and more that they're in place to save on the budget. There is also a good deal of animation present here, but a good deal of it feels a bit unstable, and there is also a fair amount of reused frames. The art style will also likely be loved and hated by many. I found the art style for the characters to be alright, but there were many times where the movement or stances they made felt robotic or a tad lifeless. This does seem to be a televised movie, however, from the random gaps that exist throughout. There's some pretty good animation in here, but the majority is moderately less than those smaller parts.
The sound has some orchestrations that do a fair job and sound like something one might hear in a family, adventure film from older Hollywood. As the movie is two hours long, however, repetition deters the soundtracks charm, and makes it not too enjoyable when mixed with the lacking audio quality. The voices are fine, and this would be the first Japanese dub I've listened to that had some British (sounding at least) voice-actors that spoke english. The sound design isn't too impressive as it treats the movie too much like a typical anime at the time with somewhat generic sound-effects. The atmosphere never really felt properly treated, but the sound worked good enough with the music to not bother me too much.
The story is the disappointing part as it could've been something far more impressive than it is. The movie starts in a relatively similar way that live-action, family, adventure movies would start, and the characters feel as though they have some potential to have good interaction later on. After going to Kenya, survival comes into play after a while. The creative visuals in this part work greatly to make the landscape feel deadly and other-worldly. However, soon after the tone spins around rapidly, and it becomes a light-comedic shounen. There isn't really any comedy and I never laughed, but sometimes characters would act a bit too cartooney for the setting. That isn't too much of an issue though, in this case, as the setting is demolished by the first third's completion. This isn't about culture, understanding, or survival, but action and adventure with a manly child leading the way. There is also some interesting treatment to the Japanese in this vision of Kenya that acts as if all of Kenya treats their race with the highest respect. It didn't bother me, but I found that interesting considering how unlikely it would be for that to ever occur. That was another issue I had for a while in that there was so many unrealistic situations and ways in which the characters would get through them. That became less of an issue when it became clear what direction this film wished to go in though.
It was hard to enjoy the generic twist this movie decided to take, and the characters also became less interesting in the process. The characters all had virtually no personality, their actions being driven by not wanting to be alone or by what's required to reach their goal. The dialogue wasn't particularly interesting, and much of the side characters were either clones in a mob or generic and childish villains. Things improved at the last fifth of the movie, however, as more mature characters came to light with villains that felt more justified and reasonable. It still wasn't too enthralling of a story, but it was a relief to have something sensible for a short while.
Kenya Boy is a bit of a mess when considering all of it's elements. It's art direction had potential and works very well at the start, but it becomes less relevant shortly after when the setting and story loses all forms of consistency and rationality. In a way, Kenya Boy reminded me of those old, green-screen, television series. Everything about Kenya Boy felt like an extended version of those types of live-action programs. Kenya Boy isn't smart, and it isn't too creative or original beyond its setting, but there is some worth in its art direction. The ending really knocked things around and it even reminded me of "2001: A Space Odyssey" in one scene. Overall, though, Kenya Boy is lost potential, but serves as a nice peculiar experience that's siting in wait for anyone with a bit of tolerance for what's to come. I should also mention that the Bluefixer subs for this are spectacular in replicating the Japanese font hard-coded in the video. The best subbing job I've seen visually in terms of honoring the source material.read more