From the studio and creator that brought us Kemono Friends comes their latest show: Kemurikusa. This original show is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi that hooks the viewers with its slow revealing mysteries and excellent world-building, dynamic character interactions, wide set pieces, and great soundtracks. The 3DCG may take some adjustment and getting used to, but it’s not necessarily awful. In short, anybody that’s familiar with Tatsuki’s work should watch this anime.
And also, did you know that Kemurikusa translates to “smoke grass”, “smoke plant”, or “smoke weed”. Yep, this is literally Winter 2019’s dankest anime. Thank you, Tatsuki.
Synopsis: A trio of
red-haired sisters, living in a post-apocalyptic world overwhelmed by a red fog, must fight against red robotic ‘bugs’, while searching for water and other resources. One day, the sisters find a large source of water and encountered a “human” named Wakaba; an encounter that would forever change their lives.
For a show that has a short and simple synopsis, the story is more complex than that. There are many unanswered questions regarding our main characters and the world they live in. Some questions include: where do all the red bugs come from, what is a “Kemurikusa” leaf and what does it do, who is Wakaba, what happened to the world and how did the destruction occur, who is the first human, where did the blue walls come from, what are blacked out words in the memory leaf, etc. These question will not be answered in the first episode nor the second, but rather over many episodes. And the show does an amazing job at revealing these answers and truths.
Each episode reveals a tiny bit about the world and its characters through dialogue, visual, and audio context. Some examples include: robotic ‘bugs’ come in various shapes and sizes and can be good or bad, Kemurikusa have many powers with multiple usage, the world is divided into several large islands, etc. There are also many different locations, such as abandoned office buildings, amusement parks, the “Sky Bridge”, villages, railway tracks and stations, etc, and they are stunning to look at; the world-building is well done and throughly explored. With the help of Wakaba’s curious nature, these areas, the nature of the Kemurikusa leaves, and several main characters are also explored. All of this combined makes Kemurikusa a very intriguing and engaging anime.
Upon viewing the first episode it should be no surprise that this show uses 3D character models, which I believe is good, with CGI animations. Now, usage of 3DCG in anime has mostly gotten a bad reputation, mainly the art style could appear strange or the animations could be stiff and janky.
This show, in my opinion, doesn’t have a bad or strange art style, in fact, its usage of lighting and color are amazing, for example, 1) a stale gray and black world is lightened up with bright colors of red and green with the occasional blue and yellow, and 2) when a character or bug ‘dies’ their body deteriorates into glowing leaves and drifts away. Both examples highlight how beautiful colors and lighting effects can have on a show. Now, the composition is fantastic; the use of abandoned villages and tall office buildings, ruin houses, decaying trees and vegetation, etc, are all framed and shot to provide a sense of desolation and passing of time. It’s haunting and intriguing.
The show’s animations are sometimes smooth and fluid, and other times they are stiff and janky. The fight animations and choreography are okay and not very exciting, thankfully, they are brief and few in numbers. Also, there is the occasional still images that provide context for what is happening on screen. Overall, the animations and art are good.
The voice acting is hit-and-miss with Rin’s and Ritsu’s voices being the most standout and noteworthy, while Wakaba’s and Rina’s voices are too high pitched and somewhat annoying. Wakaba’s voice is most annoying when he’s saying his favorite catchphrases, such as “So Interesting!”, “Wow!”, or “I see!”, and when he’s being ‘too curious’ about everything that surrounds him. Rina’s voice, on the other hand, is just too high pitched and tries too hard to be the typical loli character. However these complaints are very minor and negligible after a few episodes.
The sound design is pretty good. Its opening song titled "KEMURIKUSA" by nano features heavy drums, multiple guitars, a piano, and the singer rocking it out to our characters walking in various settings and fighting the red bugs. The ending song titled “INDETERMINATE UNIVERSE" by Yuuyu is your standard J-Pop that features background images showing our characters connected to a red-string and when some characters die, they deteriorate into glowing leaves and drift away. The endings’ background images heavily implies whether our main characters are die or alive, this is a disturbing and interesting way to reveal answers. Both songs are great and well worth listening too. The background music is also pretty good as it sets the perfect mood and tension.
The show heavily revolves around its central characters, i.e., Rin (tsundere), Rina (Loli), Ritsu (cat girl), and Wakaba (“human”), to drive the narrative and progress the story. Moreover, there are many moments of character interactions, which enhances the development of our characters. Along with our central characters, we have some secondary “characters”: Midori-chan (Kemurikusa tree), Ai-chan (Kemurikusa fish), Shiro (beeping Roomba bots), and the mysterious “dead” sisters (Ryo, Ryoku, and Riku). These secondary characters play a vital role in progressing the story and strengthening the development of our main characters.
Our main male character, Wakaba, is unique in that he can sense and detect “warm spots” through the thick red fog. These warm spots can be anything related to the red bugs, or red trunk and tree branches. He talks a lot in a high pitched voice and is very curious about everything that surrounds him. This is both good and bad. It’s good because we, the viewers, learn more about the world, the Kemurikusa powers, the red bugs, and who the characters are. In general just about everything. On other hand, it gets annoying and somewhat tiresome after awhile. Still, he’s nice, kind and willing to help the sisters whenever they need it.
Our trio of red-haired heroines, namely Rin, Rina, and Ritsu, are sisters who are not normal humans, i.e., they drink copious amounts of water, they use Kemurikusa leaves for numerous activities throughout their lives, they jump and leap further than normal humans, and they emit a bright glow when fighting the red bugs. Rin is a self-determined, serious, and tough girl, who has a reverse ponytail and white scarf. Rina is a short, energetic, and exuberant girl, who has the ability to make multiple clones of herself, eats many types of metal, and wears maid clothing. Ritsu is a soft-spoken and caring girl, who always appears tired and has cat ears; she also controls a Kemurikusa tree named Midori-chan, and uses it to scout for enemies or for transportation.
From its simplistic and short synopsis to its robotic and apocalyptic setting to its trio of red-haired heroines with masked background details. Everything seems to be shrouded in obscurity. But, like most series, not everything will be explained in the first or even second episode. It takes time. And this series is no different, it slowly and methodically reveal answers and truths over the course of the series. This coupled with its excellent world building hooks the viewers in wanting to learn more about the story and setting. Accompanying the setting and story is the good sound design, mainly its rocking opening and ending song. Additionally, while its art and animations, at times, appear janky, its composition and lighting are outstanding. The character interactions are frequent and provide many moments of character development, still some characters like Wakaba can be somewhat annoying. Overall, though, this series provides entertainment in the form of a slow-revealing mystery, great soundtracks, stunning compositions and lighting, and proper character development. A good series in my opinion.
The premise is amazing. Like Made in Abyss, there's no way to guess what the characters will see next because the world is so unique.
Story's good, though it's a basic quest.
The art's pretty bad. The character designs are cute, but the CGI animation is very low quality.
Sound is okay. Good voice acting, okay sound effects, okay music.
Characters are very trope-y and some of them are a bit annoying in that they are too cutesy. The main character is a paradox. On the one hand, he has all the beta male behaviors and affectations and appears to be a complete and utter wuss, but by his
words and actions, he is bafflingly courageous and noble. Even one of the other characters notes this in dialog.
Overall, I enjoyed the series and watched it all the way to the end. I give it an 8/10.
Kemurikusa is a perfect example of two things: how an anime can be more than the sum of its parts and what does an anime with a bento's worth of budget behind it look like.
There's a TLDR at the end, dw.
Art: Let's get this straight immediately: this is by far (I mean it) the worst looking anime I've ever had the displeasure to watch. It looks more like Foodfight than an actual anime, the characters look awful, the animation is frankly appalling, to put it mildly. It looks like a high school student project more so than anything else, I cannot find a single redeeming
factor artistically, other than a random "oh that looks cute" which isn't exactly a high wall to climb.
It is at its best when everyone is still and talking as little as possible, while the action scenes are pure unadultered junk, they're so bad you'll start to wonder if you're watching a parody rather than a show taking itself seriously.
Sound: It doesn't help that the voice acting direction is dreadful, too, and that almost all voice actors range from ear-bleeding bad to just mediocre. I'm extremely thankful that Mikako Komatsu is Rin's voice as she's the only one that didn't immediately annoy me while talking. In fact, I don't know how her agent blackmailed her into voice acting for this series but I'm glad he did. She's by far the only one that can bring her wax-looking character to life and the only one that is actually able to convey different emotions (imagine that) rather than droning on in the same tone, whatever happens.
I found Wakaba's (the guy) seiyuu to be particularly irritating, the only emotion that you'll get out of him is mild surprise or childish interest for something. Whether he's eating, walking or someone's dying, the tone of his voice is always the bloody same.
Sound design and mixing is frankly poor too, things you'd expect to make LOUD sounds don't have any at all, you'd think it was a glitch of some sort. Rin in the last episode gets an arm and a leg cut off (don't worry, they'll grow back 20 seconds later) and you'll be wondering how did that happen since there was NO sound at all that even remotely suggested it.
Music is ok but nothing exciting at all.
Characters: oh boy. If you want an assortment of archetypes you'll get them here.
Lolis with blackboard-scratching high pitched voices? Check.
Cute robot sidekick? Check.
Stupid boy with a heart of gold? Check.
It's uncanny. If I'm honest though, I didn't find the characters all that offensive. There's nothing new or surprising about them at all but they don't milk their archetype to death like you'd expect from an anime of this kind.
You'd expect me to write more about them but there really isn't more to it than that. They're not developed much if at all and even when they are, there isn't anything eye-opening, rather just confirmations of behaviours that were already apparent.
Story: This is the only part of the anime that I'd give a pass to. We're in this world where there is basically one enemy, a red fog that takes control of robots (called mushi, although I preferred the ones from mushishi) which then proceed to kill any living thing. Kemurikusa, these different-looking (and different-acting) leaves, are pretty much the hearts of almost all characters, who are obviously trying to survive and then, logically, destroy whatever is causing this red fog to occur. In this journey (well, right at the end of it) there'll be also a clear explanation for pretty much everything that lead to this situation (granted, there's a lot of painstaking stupidity in those explanations but whatever). The concept of kemurikusa is not one that I'd heard of or read about before watching this show so it was nice and interesting. It would have been far more interesting if it had been explored more but that would have meant more episodes and my eyes and ears can only take so much. The very end is extremely convenient, blandly clichée-d and phoned in but again, for this kind of anime I wasn't expecting anything more so I'm fairly happy with it. Be aware that there are A TON of huge plotholes in it so don't stop asking "wait what" or "wait why", just take it in stride and move on.
Enjoyment: I know I pretty much panned this show to hell and back and I do stand behind everything I said. Still, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit, although I can't really point at a single reason why. Kemurikusa won't waste your time, won't drag its feet and it doesn't try to do things that it knows it won't be able to pull off (well, most of the time anyway). It's a nice journey and one that has a very obvious ending but thanks to its relative brevity, it's a journey that can be worth undertaking, if this anime resonates with you.
TLDR: watch the first 2 episodes, if you can stand the art and the characters, it's all uphill from there. If you can't, you're not losing out on anything special at all.
Director Tatsuki has been on a turbulent journey these past few years. He became a household name after the unparalleled success of Kemono Friends in 2017. Kemono Friends was a no name franchise from a failed mobile game and manga until the airing of the anime, which turned it into the industry giant it is today. That was largely thanks in part to the talent of Director Tatsuki. The man is a master of mystique and a world building wonder. He incorporates adorable characters into dark and sometimes even twisted stories, but in a meaningful and endearing way.
After the success of Kemono Friends, we
all thought the sky was the limit. But thanks to corporate greed, Tatsuki was kicked to the curb when they thought his usefulness had ended. Following this incident was a massive social media outcry from not only Japan, but around the world. Despite the hardship,Tatsuki and Studio Yaoyorozu picked themselves back up and went to work to tell another compelling story. This time, with an entire fandom in tow.
Kemurikusa is a brand new series by Tatsuki and animated by Studio Yaoyorozu. It's set in a dystopian world following the sisters Rin, Ritsu, and Rina. I have to preemptively say, there are a large amount of similarities to the first season of Kemono Friends. Obviously because they both share the same director, but it's something worth pointing out. This time around the story is much darker and bleaker than Kemono Friends. The characters are constantly trying to survive as they attempt to find water and fight off Red Bugs. They come upon a mysterious person named Wakaba, who may very well help them find the paradise they've longed for.
The characters are the first thing I want to touch on. I found this cast of characters delightful and a joy to see them interact with one another. Tatsuki is incredibly good at making adorable, likable characters. They contrast very well with the dark, mysterious, and dystopian backdrop. And again, like Kemono Friends, the characters have a synergistic relationship with one another. The sisters have special powers and are able to fight the Red Bugs, while Wakaba is both intelligent and is able to think outside the box thanks in part to his insatiable curiosity. This relationship works so well because it allows everyone to be useful, and no one is left to irrelevancy. Rin is serious is always on the lookout for the enemy, Ristu is motherly and kind, Rina is goofy, innocent, and childlike, and finally Wakaba is easy going, sometimes air-headed, and easily frightened. It's a nice mix of personalities that you are quickly charmed by. Seeing these cute, endearing characters struggle in this twisted world only made you cheer for them more.
Continuing on the story itself, it's a story of survival and trying to find a better life with the ones you love. The plot strings you along the entire time as there are numerous mysterious elements that keep you hooked. This is another aspect Tatsuki is very good at; his stories never lack mystique. How did the world get this way? Where did everyone go? What's the story behind the mysterious, yet powerful Kemurikusa leaves? Because of the survival element, tension was consistently present. The characters' lives were constantly in danger as they walked into the unknown; be it from fighting off Red Bugs or running out of water.
I did however, find myself bored a handful of times. At least one or two times an episode it's nothing but showing the characters walking and getting around difficult terrain. While it is interesting to see the world unfold in front of us, I just couldn't shake my feeling of boredom at times.
There are a number of things that I don't feel as though they were explained well enough, which left me feeling a little disappointed. However, the entire story is contained in the 12 episodes. Which to me, is a breath of fresh air. There always seems to be room for a sequel nowadays, but this resolves the entire story from beginning to end which gives you a feeling of fulfillment and completeness.
Visually, this was a big step up from Kemono Friends. Studio Yaoyorozu now has more experience, and it shows, but this may have also got more funding behind it as well. While it still retains the simple looking animation, the character designs are attractive and the animation is much smoother and more intricate. However, the animation still looks rough at times and at best it's only middle of the road, at least for industry standards. I think what helps set it apart is the art style, which is cute and round. It's basically becoming iconic at this point.
As for backgrounds, it was filled with crumbling buildings and structures, empty cars filling some streets while others are completely barren. You'll see a variety of structures like an amusement park, a residential district, an industrial district and more. What happened to what appears to be this once great society? Tatsuki uses this to his advantage as a "show, don't tell" technique that he did so well in Kemono Friends.
The music wasn't anything to write home about. It served it's purpose as I don't have anything particularly positive or negative to say about it. And from what I can tell of the voice acting, it was great. Everyone had a distinct and innocent sound to them that I just loved.
It's been a long road for Tatsuki since the end of Kemono Friends. But I can happily say he has another winner on his hands. At the time of this review, volume 1 of Kemurikusa has sold 15,000 units. Kemurikusa is an interesting world with a great cast of characters. The story leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and is an overall enjoyable experience. While it does lag behind in couple of key aspects, Kemurikusa is still a memorable show that I found myself loving by the time episode 12 rolled around.
After the way he was treated, it's terrific to see a director like Tatsuki land back on his feet with Kemurikusa. His blending of cute and dark along with a twist of mystery, Tatsuki has found a successful formula that works, and I can't wait to see what he has in store for the future.