In the land of Ryoza, the neighboring provinces of Shin-Ou and Tai-Kou have been at peace. Queen Shinou is the ruler of Ryoza and her greatest general, Grand Duke Taikou, defends the kingdom with his army of powerful war-lizards known as the "Touda." Although the two regions have enjoyed a long-standing alliance, mounting tensions threaten to spark a fierce civil war.
Within Ake, a village in Tai-Kou tasked with raising the Grand Duke’s army, lives Erin, a bright girl who spends her days watching the work of her mother Soyon, the village’s head Touda doctor. But while under Soyon’s care, the Grand Duke's strongest Touda, known as the Kiba, dies. The peace that Erin and her mother had been enjoying vanishes as Soyon is arrested and sentenced to death. In a desperate attempt to save her mother, Erin ends up falling in a river and is swept towards Shin-Ou.
Unable to return home, Erin must learn to lead a new life with completely different people, all while hunting for the truth of both beasts and humanity itself, with tensions between the two regions constantly escalating.
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".
This is not exactly a review in the conventional sense, as it mostly focuses on analyzing the series as a whole rather than exploring the technicalities of each aspect which makes up the series.
**This “review” is SPOILER-HEAVY and is recommended for those who have already seen the series. A very large number of events will be referred to and will be used as examples.**
**This “review” is also FAR from complete and I will be continually updating it in the future as I better collect more of my thoughts.**
This analysis may be somewhat messily written or seem to lack any sort of overarching structure. It
is merely my personal thoughts and things I've realized while watching the series.
Kemono no Souja Erin’s story can easily be enjoyed on the surface level, but I feel that there is far more lurking beneath the surface. Despite initially appearing as a simple bildungsroman, in actuality, it is a tale of far more, encompassing existentialism, the will to live and is concerned with inspiring change, shattering codes, boundaries and obtaining free will.
There is a huge emphasis on codes and restrictions through the series. Beastinarians of Ake Village, including Soyon, are required by code to raise Touda with the silent whistle and benetrophic water. Additionally, Kiba’s must be taken care of extra carefully as they are a prized possession to the Grand Duke. However, Soyon breaks the Aohroh Code in two instances when she dissociates with the Aohroh by marrying into the village, and again by using the Renditioner’s skill to save Erin during Touda Trial. Soyon is consistently seen to be in deep thought, questioning her job and reaffirming whether she wants Erin to follow in her footsteps or not. She states that by taking care of the Touda with benetrophic water, they get stronger on the outside, but something weakens elsewhere. This “something” is connection, which is further emphasized throughout the series. She does not hesitate to blow the silent whistle in instances of danger, demonstrating that she truly understands the circumstances of her job, despite also stating that she dislikes using the whistle. Right before being taken to Touda Trial, Soyon tosses away her silent whistle. By tossing away the silent whistle, Soyon finally rejects the codes and pursues her own ideals. The aforementioned instance when she commits the crime, serves as an act of rebellion, solidifying her resolve.
The series also uses nature to parallel the situations and events of individuals. On many occasions, flora and fauna are used metaphorically, such as in the case of when a cocoon lays in a tree and a bird waits to attack it, Erin herself portrayed as the cocoon, in turn, representing Erin’s vulnerability and sensitivity regarding the death of Soyon. In another case, two leaves diverge on a river’s surface and a tree which Shunan and Nugan had grown together, is chopped down, symbolizing the change in mindset of the two, deciding to take different paths. For Nugan, this is him breaking away from reliance on his brother, stating that he always thought his brother made the correct decisions. This change signifies that he can think for himself. Another example is when Jone sets up a new beehive and Erin watches the queen bee enter it, waiting and watching as the rest of the bees to follow her in. She then asks why the bees don’t simply escape. Jone replies by saying that the bees follow the queen. Jone teaches Erin that both the queen bee and worker bees were born the same, yet the queen is what determines everything. This reflects the way the citizens of the kingdom follow the Shin-Oh, almost blindly. Codes are shown to be broken with Psy-Gamul, considered traitors, who turn against the Shin-Oh and instead find the Grand Duke to be a more suitable ruler. This causes them to support a revolution.
Nugan’s dependence on himself is shown in the instance he obeys Damiya in deploying a second Touda battalion in the final episode. He declares that he has thought through his decisions on his own and takes the opposite path of his brother, demonstrating his free will. On the other hand, Shunan represents “breaking free” when he turns against Seimiya and later joins with her, overwriting what it means to be the queen. The view of Seimiya’s line being a god, is shattered by the act of joining with Shunan, a normal human being. This, in turn shows signs of rebellion for both Shunan and Seimiya as they reject their sacred ancestry. The Shin-Oh herself, is revealed to be “blind” when she ventures outside the palace in order to visit the newborn Ohju in Kazalm. She is astonished by how beautiful the country is, revealing that she was largely unaware of outside matters. This is further exemplified when she remains unaware of the danger an Ohju presents and also by the fact of not knowing why the Ohju Canon’s were created as well as how her ancestors descended from Aphon Noa and history of Ophalon. Her character ties in with Seimiya and Tahya, portrayed as a bird trapped in a cage. The Shin-Oh and Seimiya were trapped within the palace, which served as a cage. Damiya sends a model of the palace to Seimiya as a present, revealing how he has her entangled. Damiya also appears to be the cause of the Shin-Oh’s obliviousness and in this way, he manages to entrap her as well. The Shin-Oh, in learning about the past as well as experiencing the outside world for the first time, to a degree, frees herself from her own ignorance. Damiya is also shown to break the codes, though necessarily in an optimistic sense, by constructing an elaborate scheme to take the throne. His approach is treasonous, breaking moral codes, as he calculates the attack on the Shin-Oh, one of his own kin, eventually leading to her death, as well as the hidden, aforementioned secondary Touda unit. He also breaks boundaries by attempting to engage with an incestuous relationship with Seimiya, incest being something usually out of the ordinary.
Nukku and Mokku, despite usually being called out as annoying comedic relief characters throughout the series, actually show some minor development in episode 25, when they run an errand. They lose the money they were given and are forced into labor to try and earn it back. This is when they realize the value of “hard work.” Their backstory shows them constantly slacking off and running away from the task at hand, but a change is reflected when they commit to clearing out an entire field. Erin serves as a catalyst which allows Nukku and Mokku to break away from the old, lazy versions of themselves, inspiring them to work harder at Kazalm. Later on, after Erin receives her graduation diploma, it is revealed that the two have been promoted to full-time chore boys, in turn, further reflecting their growth. The change from passiveness to putting forward action is another key topic touched upon within the series, explained in a bit more detail later.
Kirik himself is also portrayed in a similar way of being manipulated by Damiya, while believing that he is doing justice. His ideals lead to creating his own personal cage and he only realizes this after failing to finish off Ialu. Kirik shows development throughout the series as he questions whether he himself is the cage which binds Erin, when he poisons an incoming Ohju and reports details to Damiya in the palace. The flashback of Tahya is played repeatedly, emphasizing how obsessed he has become with “breaking free” and creating a society in which the “pure” can live. He later realizes that Erin is the most “pure” one as he sees her flying on Lilan, Tahya’s image reflecting from within her. He addresses the sincerity of her intentions, feeding into his eventual changing of sides. Ialu makes this clear and breaks his mask, representing Kirik “breaking free” from his role. He is later shown to trust Erin when he visits her upon being wounded. This is the instance which represents the aforementioned “changing of sides”, and he proceeds to assist Ialu in fighting off the newly employed Sezans.
Aside from Soyon, there are two mentors who also assist in guiding Erin’s development through the series. Jone being the first, who takes after Erin and gradually acts as the foundation, expanding her view of the world. He is shown to be extremely passionate about teaching, to the degree of hiding a room of teaching material and deeply pondering whether he wants to tutor Erin or not. Honesty and dedication is shown through his backstory in which he was fired from being a teacher due to a student of his who attempts to commit suicide. This student abuses his parents’ authority to obtain test questions ahead of time, and Jone realizes this, causing him to swap his test before distribution. Jone realizes that if his students cheat they will only be lying to themselves, and in turn, will never be able to reach their full potential. Jone acts as a role model for Erin, while Erin re-ignites his passion for teaching. Jone is even seen as a father, as “father” is what Erin calls him at the end of episode 27, indicating the degree in which Jone has impacted her life. He is the key which helps Erin break out of her psychological trap, explained in more detail later on, allowing her to move on. This is further demonstrated after his death, in which Erin visits his secret base, thanks him for everything he has done, and commits to working the hardest she can. Esal, like Jone, acts as a mentor for Erin, and she is shown to be a respectable character, wanting only the best for her students, yet challenging them in various ways. She is what allows Kazalm to appear similar to a safe haven in Erin’s eyes. Upon admitting Erin, Esal instructs her students to disregard the fact that Erin is of the Aohroh, and this later contributes to Erin realizing that “it’s okay to be different.” Esal also tries not to treat Erin specially just because she has the responsibilities of taking care of Lilan, and expects her to still manage to keep up with the rest of her peers, confronting her when her grades begin to slip and allowing her to fully understand what comes with her job when she asks her to prepare a will. In this will, she tells Erin to acknowledge that it is her own stupidity which brought her to the grave, and this helps reinforce the reality of potential death. She also thinks several steps ahead, carefully considering the danger stemming from Erin’s disobedience of the Canons, yet still allows Erin to pursue her ideals. However, the relationship between Esal and Erin is not simply of teacher and student, but rather of teacher and teacher. There are many situations in which Esal is clueless of what to do, such as when Lilan refuses to eat despite all the methods she and Tomura attempt, and also when Lilan gives birth and she admits that she lacks the knowledge to do anything. Erin helps Esal realize that she had believed that humans and Ohju could not be connected, merely because there was no evidence of it; the only experiences the Ohju had with the teachers was being knocked out by the silent whistle, only to later find food mysteriously appear. Erin’s treatment of Lilan shatters her beliefs as she acts more like a mother figure, directly feeding and playing with Lilan. This causes Esal to work with her towards studying Ohju in a new light, exploring the idea of treating the Ohju more humanely. By episode 43, Esal also grows to deeply respect Erin’s character after Erin loses her fingers, yet still remains determined to set Lilan free.
At Kazalm, we also have Erin’s fellow classmates who serve to assist and cheer her on during her struggles, as well as Tomura, who initially undertook care of Lilan. Upon meeting Erin for the first time, Tomura pays little attention to her, but quickly feels jealous once his role of taking care of Lilan is threatened. He believes that nobody can take better care of Lilan than he can and is stubborn in attempting to solve the problem of making her eat. Lilan had been injured prior to arriving to Kazalm and was nearly starving to death. She was afraid being in a new place and movement would cause her wounds to re-open. Tomura sticks to the conventional methods described in the Ohju Canons of blowing the Silent Whistle to knock out the Ohju before feeding them. As previously described, as a result of this, the Ohju had little actual interaction with humans and Lilan needed a sort of mother figure in order to eat. However, Erin shines light on different methods of care and connection, shattering Tomura’s perception that he is best fit to take care of Lilan, and similarly to Esal, calls upon the idea that humans can interact with Ohju. In the end, he fully yields Lilan’s care over to Erin and breaks free from his pride and stubbornness which would have otherwise killed Lilan if it had continued. He comes to accept defeat in this case and gradually grows to respect Erin, encouraging her as a fellow classmate.
The series also transcends gender roles. It is implied that women in such society are typically married off at an early age, Erin and Jone visit town and someone states that 14 is an age suitable for marriage. The question of marriage is brought up again when Jone asks Erin at one point whether she wants to continue with him and be married off, or pursue her own path. Erin decided to reject the marriage resulting in her stay in Kazalm and her studying under Esal. She, and Esal, break the said gender roles by becoming instructors, and Shiron by fighting expectations enforced upon her. Shiron struggles with gender roles as her father states that women cannot become teachers. This causes her to study at Kazalm to prove a point by wanting to quickly take care of an Ohju. Her development sparks from learning genuineness and the will to live. She initially attempts to study by the book, but later discovers that there are things which one must experience to truly learn; Erin’s class takes place outdoors, in which her students are allowed to explore on their own, reflecting her character and beliefs that seeing something with one’s own’s eyes can be just as effective as conventional studying. Shiron remarks that the books state nothing about Ohjus giving birth, which brings up the contrast between “experiencing something” and “learning about an experience.” By the end of the episode, both Erin and Shiron’s characters are developed. Erin is shown through another lens, taking on the role of a teacher for the first time and her bravery is shown when she assists Lilan in giving birth as she gets continuously battered, yet gets up each and every time without fail. This causes Shiron to recognize that it is Erin’s resolve which made her into a teacher at Kazalm, not her grades. She is shown to submit to Erin’s way of thinking when she gives up her book and decides to see things with her own eyes.
Ialu is shown to break codes when he refuses to follow the orders of his superiors, by making a fuss and failing to eliminate Nukku and Mokku. He fails to protect the queen on the ship and later leaves the Sezan code through marriage, as he states that the Sezan are not allowed to marry. Sezans are typically supposed to protect the queen until death, and at one point, the Shin-Oh ponders upon how much of Ialu’s life has been wasted protecting her. Later, he is dismissed from his role as Sezan and this can be seen as another act of “breaking free.” He is given the ability to pursue a life of his own for the first time instead of being chained down to the duty of protecting the royalty. Ialu also seems to experience change due to Erin. He acts coldly to mostly everyone around him, but holds a soft spot for Erin and gradually opens up over time, the two become comfortable enough to share secrets with one another, Erin with her past and Ialu with his. In another instance, when Erin attempts to explain the significance of the Ohju Canons, she calls in Ialu to the table-side, showing the connection they share. This gradual change in Ialu representing him, breaking away from his old self. Ialu is even shown to be accepted by Lilan in the instance when he is being pursued and Lilan is able to hide him beneath her.
Erin herself stands as the greatest heroine I’ve seen in the entirety of anime. She shows an obvious curious side, but also a subtle “rebellious” side throughout the series as well when she sneaks into the Touda pits to search for the missing baby Touda against Soyon’s words. She also deliberately looks in the room which Jone bars off and stands up against Ialu when Nukku and Mokku are threatened. Like Soyon, she struggles a lot with codes. Upon arriving at Kazalm, she realizes that there are rules that she needs to obey, and spends time learning them; she is overly curious and spends too much time in the library, causing her to be late for meals and she asks too many questions in class, not realizing that she is not in a private tutor session and that there are other students trying to learn as well. She breaks the Ohju canons by raising Lilan without the silent whistle and instead employs her own methods of treating her like a wild beast. Her approach emphasizes connection, something which the Aohroh were working to prevent. The series demonstrates the importance of said connection, as the bond between Erin and Lilan is strengthened throughout the series. Kazalm itself, also breaks the code by refusing to report Erin to the palace and attempting to hide her when the Shin-Oh visits. For a long stretch of episodes, Erin also struggles to deal with Soyon’s death, the same scene being put on repeat and she appears to be stuck in a psychological trap. In episode 27 however, she seems to be liberated from the trap, with her newfound experiences with Jone as the way out, Erin resolves to living in the present rather than the past. She recognizes that she cannot change the past, but can change the future, which is further pondered upon towards the end of the series. Erin realizes that the beast and beastinarian experience both joys and sorrows TOGETHER. She is shown to break the codes again when she breaks her own moral code, by blowing the silent whistle and using it as a tool to control Lilan. The fact that Erin dislikes using the whistle and initially resolved to not blowing, and also that Lilan refuses to disobey those who blow the whistle, reflects the shared suffering between the two. However, Lilan also breaks her “codes” when she breaks away from her natural instinct. Upon attacking the Touda riders, Lilan initially succumbs to bloodlust and goes berserk, just as how the tragedy occurred. This serves as a reminder to Erin that Lilan is a wild beast as she had looked upon Lilan as if she would not purposefully harm anything; she remarks that “looking at them now, it’s like it never happened.” Prior to the attack on the ship, instances of danger Lilan presented were purely accidental, Lilan attacking Erin due to being pricked by the brush. After the attack, however, Erin is reminded of the danger which comes with her responsibilities, similarly to how she seems to develop a fear of Touda after experiencing Touda Trial. Early on in the show as well, Erin learns that Touda aren’t just cute wild animals. When she realizes that Lulu’s ear web must be cut off, she recognizes the degree in which humans manipulate the fates of such beasts, and in that, she sympathizes with them. Seeing Lilan overtaken with bloodlust creates a rift between Erin and Lilan and Erin finds it difficult to approach the cage for several days. The incident with the whistle further expands the crack in their relationship, causing Lilan to this time, show signs of rebellion, having an ill-attitude towards Erin’s commands up until the final episode. However, by the end of the series, signs are shown of their relationship being repaired. This is revealed when Lilan breaks free from her inner nature. In episode 50, upon being forcefully sent away with the silent whistle, Lilan does not succumb to bloodlust and is able to rescue Erin, rebuilding the trust the two thought they had lost.
The series has a lot to say about relationships as a whole with the Canons and fear of the Ohju representing the social barriers restricting a person from forming relationships. These barriers lead to a lack of understanding, in turn, causing the country to divide and clash. There appears to be discrimination between “Wajyaku” and “Holon,” the discrimination itself showing how they are bound by barriers, preventing a deeper understanding between the two groups. The Aohroh wish not to repeat the tragedy, leading them into creating the Canons in the first place, barring relationships and representing how people shy away from such connection. They choose to “sacrifice” the connection in order to prevent the tragedy, instead of embracing the connection to create said understanding. Erin focuses on the latter option, breaking these said barriers by forming a relationship with Lilan, something never seen before and overwriting the “known” fact being that beasts will never befriend humans. The beasts themselves, confined, also embody how people are confined. Erin asks whether beasts were created for the sake of people, and it is only when humanity breaks free from this mentality in which relationships can be formed. Instead of approaching the Ohju with fear, she approaches them with care and compassion as shown when Erin attempts to demonstrate that she is an Akun Mei Chai with special powers. In this case, Erin knows that Ohju are sensitive to emotion as well as the fact that they have a circle of personal space and that they generally do not listen to those who blow the silent whistle. This understanding allows her to play her harp and remain safe as she approaches. The person following her, who demonstrates “a lack of understanding of Ohju,” violates personal space and is nearly killed as a result. In another instance, when Erin visits Seimiya as she is bathing, she assists in shattering the barriers once again, making her aware of her history and in a broader sense, acts as a kind of mediator which allows Seimiya to accept Shunan’s proposal. It is the destruction of such barriers which allows their joining, which symbolizes the “understanding” and “relationships” that people refrain from developing. By breaking down these barriers, Erin emphasizes taking the first steps in forming connection instead of shying away as this connection is essential for a greater understanding of one another.
The will to live is also explored throughout the series. Soyon’s final words to Erin were to “live on and find happiness.” There words stuck with Erin and this causes her keep on living, no matter how harsh the circumstances become. Despite being in a seemingly hopeless situation after being impaled with in arrow in the final episode, in the middle of the battlefield, bleeding out while being chased by a gigantic hoard of Touda, Erin still retains the will to live on. The will to live is also shown with her encounter with Ialu. Erin convinces him that there are “still things he can protect with his hands” after tending to his injuries. In a second encounter with Erin, Ialu discovers the will to live he decides to keep on fighting until the end, while also telling Kyle that he plans to return alive. His duels with the new Sezan and Kirik demonstrate his strong resolve to keep going. Erin also seems to imbed the will to live in Kirik, when he turns to her for medical support and she tells him not to die. Kirik plans to commit suicide by taking on Ialu, but Ialu convinces him otherwise. He provides him with an escape route and against all odds, manages to survive and see the sunrise. He is later shown to have lived on as a medicine seller in the epilogue, helping to cure people rather than poisoning them, demonstrating his reformation.
Another question brought up is “action vs. passiveness.” This is a contrast between the Aohroh and Erin as the Aohroh have already submit to merely “watching” things play out, while Erin seeks to make change through her own actions. Erin confronts Nason by explaining that he has already “submit,” meaning that the Aohroh have accepted things as they are, and have given up without even trying. Erin however, is shown to believe that effort can make a difference. She is shown in many instances, going against what is considered to be acceptable, in one case, even refusing to protect the queen (something considered to be betrayal) to preserve her own moral values. The series challenges and breaks free from the idea of a pre-determined future as it questions the “futility” of action. Early on, Erin recognizes the entire life cycle of the Touda. They are domesticated in villages with the silent whistle and benetrophic water. They are raised and trained, and then eventually sent into battle where they fight until death. She recognizes how futile the act is of attempting to make connection with such beasts as she knows they will be killed off eventually anyway. Similar questioning occurs when Erin realizes that Lilan will never be able to live in the wild and questions whether all her efforts are in vain. However, the concept of futility acts as another barrier within the series in which Erin breaks. She comes to a realization that even if putting forward effort may be rendered useless in the end, the act of NOT putting forward the effort is even worse and completely erases the possibility of change all together. She also decides that hope does exist, and, contrasting with the Aohroh, concludes to not give up on trying to make a change. Despite resolving to never using Ohju as tools of war, she “breaks” her own statement, resolving to make a change when she sends Lilan to save Shunan. This displays how she truly believes her actions can make a difference. Her mentality even touches upon life itself, as she “struggles to live in any way she can” throughout the series and is not concerned with what it all means. This demonstrates how she has transcended meaning itself, in other words, she does not even need meaning to live on. Even if there is no light at the end of tunnel and even if everything is worth nothing in the end, Erin tries her best to live the best life she can. This is one such series which has really hit me the way Texhnolyze has.
Kemono no Souja Erin is a series about breaking codes, living and liberating oneself. One interesting aspect is how the show itself is transcendent of age. With its child-like storybook-esque presentation, the series can easily be assumed to be targeted towards a younger audience. However, it is a series which breaks conventional age restrictions by being applicable to everyone. It encompasses universal subjects in building relationships, yet still remains layered so that an older audience can appreciate it. The series places a large emphasis on challenging what one opposes. It says to stand against things which one believes deserves a change. Throughout the series, Erin is shown to display great care for the beasts she tends to, and disdains the idea of binding them by human codes. She then works towards changing society with efforts. Erin’s name, in the context of the show, means “mountain apple” and she symbolizes such in various instances, such as the opening and final scene as the show. Erin herself can be the “fruits of labor” as she calls to action herself, and those around her. Interestingly enough, Lilan’s name means, “light” and light is something which plants need to grow. Lilan allows Erin to break free from her childhood innocence, and illuminates the harsh realities of the world, causing her to conjure the determination to make a change. This series is powerful and inspirational, a flawed masterpiece in the truest sense of the word.
It is a series which has truly made its mark on me and one I will continue to analyze in the future. :)
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…
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 ;)
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