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.
Kenya Boy, along with being one of the more polite things Trump calls Obama, is also the name of a 1984 kids movie considered "one of the worst ever" by older otaku. The founder of animenewsnetwork listed it among his anime Hall of Shame and that guy has seen about 5,000 anime!
Kenya Boy was based on a 1950s manga that never really gained fame or popularity outside Japan. The manga is basically a Japanese Tarzan ripoff that hasn't aged particularly well. The movie tries to adapt the entire manga and crams WAY too much plot into a 100 minute run time, making the last
30 minutes an absolute blitz of insanity.
The plot is basically what you get when you mix Tarzan with a cocaine induced fever dream. Our hero Wataru is a young Japanese boy whose father is a merchant in 1941 Kenya. Since Kenya was a British colony and Japan declared war on Great Britain, Wataru's father decides to give his son a last tour of the country before fleeing back to Japan. Unfortunately, a rhino attacks and Wataru becomes separated from his father. The next day, Wataru finds a sick man named Zega who is actually the chief of the Masai tribe. Wataru offers to retrieve a rare healing herb to cure Zega, because he is Japanese and the Japanese are a brave and noble people. Seriously, this manga's patriotism is off the charts. Every other line is "I am not afraid for I am Japanese!" "Wow! You're Japanese! You must be very strong!".
Wataru manages to escape a monster frog the size of an elephant and retrieve the herb. In exchange, Zega leaves his son in charge of the tribe and travels with Wataru to help him find his father. 3 years later, Wataru has become a spear wielding, elephant riding badass that can summon a Godzilla sized purple snake...because Zega is appararently the African Orochimaru. Wataru and Zega soon come across a young blonde girl who is being manipulated by an evil shaman. The shaman claims the blonde girl is a goddess and the entire village believes him, for some reason. Wataru and Zega manage to defeat the evil shaman and free the girl, whose name is Kate. We get a quick scene of Wataru and Kate bonding and becoming friends, but then she is immediately kidnapped by the lizard people! They are a subterranean tribe with idiotic Barney the Dinosaur costumes who worship a giant lizard. Fortunately, they flee in terror if you damage their costumes. Why? Who knows! With Kate rescued, we enter the final act and HOLY SHIT is it ridiculous!
A full 3/4 through the movie we are introduced to the villain...some Nazi with a monocle! This guy named "Von Goering" has found Wataru's father and convinced him that he is a nice guy. In reality, Goering wants Wataru's father to convince a German scientist to complete Nazi Germany's secret atom bomb. The scientist, who I guess is supposed to be Heisenberg, refuses on moral grounds to allow the Nazis to have the bomb. However, Goering captures Wataru, Kate, and Zega. He then threatens to kill them if Heisenberg doesn't create the bomb. Heisenberg demands the hostages are released first, then detonates the bomb inside the testing faciliy sacrificing himself to destroy the Nazis and the research notes. Fortunately for our heroes, the bomb tears open a portal to Mesozoic Era. Yes...this fucking happens. Our heroes are attacked by a T-Rex, but the giant purple snake also traveled back in time! The snake kills the T-Rex which causes it and all other dinosaurs to immediately turn into skeletons. Why? Who the fuck knows! Our heroes then ride the snake back to the present and into safety. Wataru bids farewell to Zega and rides a train with his father and Kate because the war has apparently just ended.
The art during the beginning is actually quite good. This film actually had a decent budget for a 1984 anime. Then the art gets...weird. If this weren't such a crappy movie it could get away with claiming "Avant Garde" but instead it just feels like it wasn't finished. Sometimes it randomly cuts to black and white. Sometimes the lines aren't drawn in. Sometimes the bottom half of the screen becomes pixelated or looks like 8-bit graphics. Sometimes characters change skin color for absolutely no reason and then turn back again in the same scene. I have no idea why any of this is happening!
The music is a full orchestral soundtrack that is FAR better than this clusterfuck of a movie deserves.
Many veterans of old school anime are in this, but Wataru is played by a child actor who never voiced anything again. Even non-Japanese speakers can pick up on how flat and emotionless his performance is. This kid is the Japanese Jake Lloyd!
Kenya Boy is a VERY flawed film with a plot that's total nonsense and art that is inconsistent at best. However, it is quite entertaining and definitely worth a watch! You will never see another anime quite like this one!
An odd film based on a manga by Yamakawa Souji, Shonen Kenya (or, "Kenya Boy"), tells the story of 11-year old Wataru Murakami, who gets separated from his father as they are travelling through Kenya. He must then survive the perils that he encounters, with the help of a few allies he meets along the way.
The story is pretty standard when it comes to adventure films, and it seems to have taken much inspiration from classic black & white jungle adventure films of the 30s and 40s such as King Kong, Gunga Din, or the many others that were released during that era. However, the
plot here doesn't have much of a structure to it, jumping from one scene to the next without much of any reason or purpose other than to showcase some action or animation. Much of the middle of the film is spent in action scenes that exist for little to no reason, where many of the characters' goals and motivations aren't resolved or moved forward in any way. This tends to make things drag quite a bit. There's also a plothole here and there that will introduce questions that never get resolved, and were seemingly overlooked by the directors. I will say, however, that that main story at both the beginning and the end of the film are well executed, but still aren't anything other than average in terms of content.
The characters tend to be somewhat enjoyable, but also aren't anything special, and the biggest problem I have is with the lead character, Wataru, who tends to change his tone and behavior from scene to scene. In the beginning he starts off as timid and shy, then once he's separated from his father he runs for his life. After a day or two has passed, he suddenly becomes able to do acrobatics and fight off animals as though he's lived in the wilderness all his life. He also occasionally has outbursts of cockiness that seem entirely out of character for him, then he goes back to being kind-hearted. It seems like the writers just didn't really know what to do with him and so they just wrote his character as what it needed to be for the scene without giving things much thought. The odd part is that many of the supporting cast don't suffer from this kind of multiple-personality writing, only the lead.
The animation is a mixed bag. The film opens with some experimental animation using flat colors without any lines, and then switches to a two-tone black & white animation style for the opening credits. After the credits are over, we then switch to the main look of the film, which is fairly standard looking 1980s CEL animation that tends to look only marginally better than TV animation of the era, not being able to stand up to other animated films from that time period in terms of quality.
However, the experimental animation doesn't take a backseat for long, and aside from the other two styles I mentioned, we get a bunch more. For instance, there was a scene where the animation consisted entirely of blue linework on a black background, and you could see the film reel around the edges of the screen. There was another scene where one native tribesman was completely uncolored so you could see the background through him. You might assume this was simply in error, but all of the other tribesmen around him were colored in, and he was uncolored for TWO consecutive shots, which made it seem bizarrely intentional. These different animation styles tend to range from "unique" and "interesting" to "baffling" and "bizarre", but no matter how they come across they really don't tend to add much of anything to the film's overall style, leaving it feeling like the art director just slapped these elements together for no reason at all.
The soundtrack is executed well enough, and sets the tone well. The main theme also sets a nice tone, and was pretty catchy, but nothing that's going to get stuck in my head for hours. The voice actors all played their roles well, and had good delivery on their lines, but there wasn't any breakout performances that would be super memorable. Overall, the audio side of things is well executed, above average, but nothing remarkable.
Overall, Shonen Kenya is an odd film, which seems to try to do too much and, as a result, this ends up being it's downside. There's a decent story buried in here, but all of the stuff around it feels like it was just jumbled together without much thought or care going into any of it, leaving us with a slapdash film that feels bizarre in it's execution and confusing in it's presentation. The main story isn't interesting enough on it's own to warrant such a complicated production, and these bizarre elements only bring it down further and make the bland story more difficult to enjoy... so I'd really only recommend it to people who are simply curious about seeing the bizarre side of the film, anybody else could easily just skip this one.
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.
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