You might have heard that Kemono Friends, a CGI full length anime, is the most popular show of the Winter 2017 season in Japan. It took a LONG time for any western anime fans to even notice this show, yet alone take it seriously. But after giving it a fair chance, I truly believe that Kemono Friends is one of the most special and unique anime we have.
First, I'll get a few things out of the way. The animation and art style are lacking in massive ways. I don't think anyone will try to argue with that. The voice acting is also pretty shoddy in a few places. However, there is so much more to Kemono Friends than just that.
The biggest draw of the show is that it has some of the best world-building I have ever seen in anime. Kemono Friends truly understands "show, don't tell." As the series goes on, viewers start to learn more and more about the weird and mysterious world this seemingly simple story takes place in. If you're reading this review, it's probably too late for you now, but the theory-crafting and discussions had around Kemono Friends in Japan and the western world were so much fun. By drip-feeding us information about the world, fans were able to come together week to week to discuss their new ideas and knowledge. The mystery of the park might make this one of the best mystery anime too!
The story seems simple at first; a lost girl and an animal girl wander around a park filled with animal girls trying to find out what the lost girl is. Every week, they meet other animal friends and help them with their problems as they progress towards their own goals. But the aforementioned world-building is what draws this all together. In the background of each episode, new things are added to the viewer's knowledge-bank about this unique and interesting world. As your interest in the world grows, so does your love for these relatively simplistic, but fun characters. You grow to love watching them simply have fun, as the dark past of the world unfolds.
It may sound pretentious, but Kemono Friends is not a show that you'll get the full enjoyment of just by watching and forgetting it. Kemono Friends was a show that I spent HOURS thinking about and talking about, because it was simply so amazing that I couldn't get it out of my head. I watch a lot of anime, so usually I'll watch an episode and immediately forget about it, even if it's something I love. I simply couldn't do that with Kemono Friends. It's one of the first shows of the over 300 that I watched that I wanted to discuss in-depth and engage with on all levels. And I know for a fact that it wasn't just me that felt this way, because it has truly become one of the most popular anime in Japan.
I honestly cannot predict how enjoyable this show will be outside of the special environment that existed while it was airing. Thousands of fans, albeit mostly Japanese (luckily, I understand Japanese!), came together week after week to theorize and enjoy the wonderful world of Japari Park. You might not be able to get over the art or voice acting and that's fair. But watching Kemono Friends is the most special experiences I have ever had in my life-long anime career. I don't know if anything will ever be able to replicate this feeling, but I hope that future creators take notes from Kemono Friends.
Give this show a shot, at least until episode 4. If you watch to that point and still can't get into it, it might not be for you. I 110% advise you to make your own theories about the show and THINK about it as you watch, taking breaks when possible. Go back and read the episode discussion threads on Reddit to get a sense of what people thought at different points in the show. Enjoy the wonderful fanart and other creative pieces that the huge, dedicated fanbase of Kemono Friends have made. I hope that this show gains more traction in the west, because it is so disappointing that so many western fans missed out on the magic. If anything, push through it to get ready for the inevitable (considering those sales) season 2 and prepare for a new round of magic!
Welcome to Japari Park!