To save a fraction of this review's readers some time, I'd like to start off with one of this review's conclusions: in general, I wouldn't recommend Welcome to Japari Park to the viewer who is not already in some way fond of Kemono Friends. If you *are* in some way fond of Kemono Friends already, please continue reading.
The Bottom Line: If you like Kemono Friends, it would be worth watching Welcome to Japari Park, going into it with the knowledge that Welcome to Japari Park is in some way a prequel to the 2017 Kemono Friends anime, albeit possibly a chronologically distant one. The
two series are related, and Welcome to Japari Park provides the Kemono Friends fan with an easy and accessible look at the Kemono Friends story featured in the original mobile game through a series of shorts which is as faithful to the source material as a series of shorts can possibly be.
Welcome to Japari Park is a brisk look, by means of a series of animated shorts, at the original story of Kemono Friends, the one portrayed in the mobile game published by Nexon, whose service ran from March 2015 to December 2016. Given this background, it's only natural that the present state of the world of Kemono Friends portrayed here is different from the present state of the world of Kemono Friends as portrayed in the 2017 anime. Despite these significant differences, the anime and the game (and thus, the Welcome to Japari Park shorts) occur on the same continuum of events, with the game preceding the anime at some point in the distant past.
The Kemono Friends anime references the game at various points throughout its run, and having knowledge of the world's history can only enhance one's appreciation of the world of Kemono Friends. This history is provided in bite-size portions in Welcome to Japari Park, and thus, Welcome to Japari Park is the most accessible introduction to what happened in Japari Park before the anime.
Because Welcome to Japari Park's purpose is to recap the story of the original Nexon game for newer audiences (an expressly stated purpose both in the real world and in-universe), it is essential to evaluate it according to its effectiveness in covering the original material. Second, because Welcome to Japari Park is so different from the 2017 Kemono Friends anime, it is also essential to point out why certain more noticeable differences exist (e.g. voice actress and character personality differences). In addition to source material-independent evaluations of the presentation of Welcome to Japari Park, the pursuit of these two goals in this review is designed to equip the reader to make the decision to watch or skip Welcome to Japari Park based on an informed knowledge of how Welcome to Japari Park fits in the Kemono Friends landscape.
Because no story summary was posted to the series page at the time of the writing of this review, I provide a brief two-line summary here: Welcome to Japari Park recounts the story of the Park Director, the Park Guide Mirai, Serval, and their Friends in their quest to save Japari Park from a great danger. Welcome to Japari Park is framed as a documentary made by Mirai, Serval, and several other Friends, meant to inform future visitors to Japari Park of its history and the Park Director's legacy.
Welcome to Japari Park recaps the story of the original Nexon mobile game in the form of 4-6 minute shorts. The shorts tell a coherent story, with each episode picking up where the previous episode left off, usually literally, as the episodes frequently end in cliffhangers. The story is fairly standard fare for a mobile game. Encounter enemies, beat them, run into some mystery, meet new people, encounter more enemies, beat them, find out something new, meet more new people, help them, they join your party, you move on to the next area, etc. This progression is reflected in the story as presented in Welcome to Japari Park.
As I have read the original source material from the Kemono Friends mobile game, I can say confidently that the story as presented in Welcome to Japari Park is an extremely faithful reproduction of the story presented in the mobile game, with the exception of any less-than-main-pointish material which was cut out due to the time constraints of a 4-6 minute short. Any Kemono Friends fan wanting to learn about the history of the world of Kemono Friends can find an easy and brief, but nonetheless accurate and faithful, entry point to this history in Welcome to Japari Park.
My rating of 8 comes from just about average plot (6) + accurate and faithful reproduction of the original story (2).
Welcome to Japari Park is presented with a somewhat deformed art style which accurately reproduces and builds on the original character designs. The main format of presentation is Live2D-like models with a generally fixed appearance but whose expressions and body/body part positions can be changed, all set to mostly static backgrounds. In this respect, it fits in with one of several fairly typical presentations for animated shorts.
Occasionally, mostly in "action"-type scenes, the mode of presentation switches to something more akin to traditional drawing, allowing for very short segments of slow frame-by-frame animation.
The most notable point of Welcome to Japari Park's art is the fact that all of its character models are well-made replications of the mobile game's art, and all character positions are thus ultimately based on this original art.
My rating of 7 comes from typical animation style for an animated short (6) + accurate and faithful reproduction of the original art style (1).
One of the most striking features of Welcome to Japari Park is that the voice actresses featured in the short are notably different from the voice actresses featured in the 2017 anime. This is for good reason: the mobile game features a different generation of Friends who were all voiced by different voice actresses. As of episode 6, without exception, all of the characters featured so far are voiced by the very same voice actresses who voiced them in the mobile game. At this point, all evidence suggests that subsequently introduced Friends will also be voiced by their original voice actresses.
While the original mobile game was generally not voiced except in Friend introductions and battle sequences, a comparison of the voices used in the mobile game and in Welcome to Japari Park reveals that the voice actresses are faithful in their voice portrayal of their roles across the two media.
In terms of the background music, Welcome to Japari Park primarily uses background music tracks that were featured in the 2017 anime. Their application to Welcome to Japari Park is overall appropriate and generally well-done and serves as a way to bridge viewers to this older story content by way of more familiar, musical content.
My rating of 9 comes from having the original mobile game voice actresses to reprise their roles in Welcome to Japari Park (5) + the faithfulness of voice portrayal (2) + the decision to use the newer, more popular soundtrack to "modernize" older material (2).
Overall, Welcome to Japari Park has a fairly typical roster of characters for Japanese media, and the common tropes of both main characters and the supporting cast can be found here. It's impossible to comment on characterization within the shorts at this point, as only 6 episodes have been released in what's likely to be a rather long series of shorts. There isn't really much more to say about this as a result.
That said, there are a few things worth pointing out. First, the characters differ from the characters in the 2017 anime again for the simple reason that the characters portrayed in Welcome to Japari Park belong to a different generation of Friends. Welcome to Japari Park portrays these characters from the mobile game faithfully.
Second, because Welcome to Japari Park is a recap of previously released material, by necessity some narration is involved, generally by Mirai or other featured Friends and usually at the beginnings of episodes. There is also a credited "narrator" in each episode who is responsible for delivering information about every episode's featured Friend. As of episode 6, the informational narrator was Ozaki Yuka (Serval in the 2017 anime) for episodes 1 through 4 and Motomiya Kana (Fennec in the 2017 anime) for episodes 5 and 6. It is expected that the role of the informational narrator will continue to be filled by voice actresses involved in the 2017 anime.
Third, although unseen and unheard, the Park Director is present in the vast majority of documentary scenes (that is, scenes that aren't the intro and outro of every episode). Their presence is signaled by a mention early in the series and several conversations directed to no one in particular or which otherwise seem odd without assuming the presence of the unseen and unheard Park Director. That said, this isn't really an assumption, as the Park Director is an unseen, unheard silent protagonist in the original game. Because this series recaps the Park Director's story with the other characters, it is important to be aware of their presence, even if Crunchyroll's subs indicate that the subbers are unaware of this presence.
My rating of 7 comes from the typical character roster (6) + character portrayal that is faithful to the source material (1).
I really enjoy the original source material. I also really enjoy Welcome to Japari Park. As a result, I would rewatch the series and already have rewatched the already released episodes several times. It has, in my opinion, fairly good rewatchability for someone who is already into the series, mainly from enjoying watching the characters portrayed.
Based on what I've seen so far in the reaction toward the shorts, enjoyment of Welcome to Japari Park appears to be influenced mostly by three major factors. The first major factor is, of course, how compelling the story and the presentation are. As I've noted above, Welcome to Japari Park is just about average in many respects, with a typical mobile game-type story, typical animated short art, and typical character roster, and this may affect the viewer's willingness to watch or rewatch Welcome to Japari Park and, naturally, their enjoyment of the series. The second major factor is the viewer's knowledge of the history of Kemono Friends and the purpose of Welcome to Japari Park. The more a viewer knows that the anime does not stand alone in the franchise, instead building upon previously established history in the form of the original story, combined with the knowledge that Welcome to Japari Park is designed to introduce the viewer to that history, the more likely that viewer will enjoy watching the series. The third major factor is a willingness to learn about the world and lore of Kemono Friends. The more curious a viewer is to learn more about the world of Kemono Friends, the more likely that viewer will enjoy watching the series.
The second two factors are, in my opinion, the more important factors for the Kemono Friends fan in deciding to watch Welcome to Japari Park. While the quality of the series' content might be just about average for the average viewer, Welcome to Japari Park is a treasure trove of lore (or at least a treasure trove of leads and clues to deeper lore) for the Kemono Friends fan curious about the world of Kemono Friends. As I said at the beginning of the review, generally speaking, I wouldn't recommend Welcome to Japari Park to someone who doesn't already like Kemono Friends.
The Bottom Line, again: If you like Kemono Friends, it would be worth watching Welcome to Japari Park, going into it with the knowledge that Welcome to Japari Park is in some way a prequel to the 2017 Kemono Friends anime, albeit possibly a chronologically distant one. The two series are related, and Welcome to Japari Park provides the Kemono Friends fan with an easy and accessible look at the Kemono Friends story featured in the original mobile game through a series of shorts which is as faithful to the source material as a series of shorts can possibly be.