Kemono Friends was a series that should've been dead on arrival. The game that it was based off of was cancelled before the original anime aired, it was being handled by an inexperienced studio, and had incredibly poor animation. However, it turned out to be anime's biggest underdog instead. Kemono Friends was so popular that it sold over 120,000 copies of its first two volumes. A number almost unheard of in the anime community, save for industry giants like Madoka, Monogatari, and Love Live. Live concerts, collaborations with Zoos, special events, and of course an ocean of fan projects flooded the nation of Japan.
But how did something so minuscule make such a historic splash? The original Kemono Friends was extraordinarily well written, had phenomenal atmosphere, was a master of mystery, eye-catching and charming character designs to spare, and oozed creativity and fun. This was thanks to a dedicated, hard-working team and a director with a vision. The director Tatsuki was a visionary who took what most would've laughed off as a dead brand into a wonderful story with so many important lessons to be learned. The impact of his work is amplified when you watch the uninspired empty shell that is Kemono Friends 2.
Kemono Friends 2 tried to be everything its predecessor was, and failed at every single aspect. Nearly every single facet of this almost "soft-reboot" was copy and pasted from the original season. When season 2 was announced, the community was thrilled. However, there was a misstep on the stairway to glory. Kadokawa decided to part ways with Director Tatsuki, wanting to go into a new direction. In short, they wanted to maximize as much money as possible from their new cash cow. Obviously this didn't sit well with the community, but the new season was being produced anyway with a new team and director.
As I said, this failed on nearly every aspect, except for the animation. Now that Kadokawa is putting money behind it, Kemono Friends has never looked better. The charatcer models are more detailed and are even more appealing to look at. It's animation actually looks good and the visuals are just head and shoulders above the first seasons. This is one of the few positive aspects of the show.
The story itself, almost beat for beat, copies the original season. We meet a human with a hat who appears seemingly out of nowhere who's trying to find their way home. Kyururu is basically a Kaban clone, but without the charm or development. Of course they meet new Friends on the way, but the meetings aren't meaningful or impactful. I won't reveal any more for the sake of spoilers, but if you've seen the first season you'll know what I'm talking about. It happens so often it becomes off-putting.
The characters of course have always been a strong aspect of the franchise. The Friends are cute, charming, and so much fun to watch. This season added a number of charming characters like Giant Panda, Bottle-nosed Dolphin and Seal, Saltwater Crocodile, Bat-Eared Fox, Gorilla, Domestic Dog, and more. However, their character arcs are incredibly weak compared to the previous season's. Usually when a Friend had a problem, Kaban would utilize what makes the Friend unique to help solve their issue. This would leave them with a sense of self-worth and in a much better place. That was not the case here. They tried to emulate that, but it wasn't impactful.
Now, we have to talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to characters. Kyururu, Serval, and Caracal. This is possibly Kemono Friend's biggest flaw. The relationship between Kaban and Serval was phenomenal. They both played off of each other's weaknesses and it created this wonderfully charming synergistic relationship. And by the end of the season, it was clear that they had both influenced each other in positive ways. This was a highlight of the original season. This time around is just a disappointment. While Kyururu is nothing but a simpler, less developed Kaban, Caracal also joins the fray for some reason. She takes on a lot of Kaban's role as someone who is level-headed and thinks before they act, which counters Serval's often instinctively silly, spontaneous, and impulsive nature. But that inclusion really makes Kyururu a bland character with no real stand out traits.The biggest crime of all was splitting up Kaban and Serval. The writers tried to bridge the obvious gap between the two series, but the writing came off as shoddy and disappointing.
The music carries right over from the first season. Can't say I can't blame them for reusing it, it was a great soundtrack with numerous memorable tracks ranging from whimsical to mysterious. Not much else to say about that.
Another big let down was the refocus the show had. The new director claimed he wanted this to appeal more to young children, and decided to tone down much of the mysterious and often ominous hints the previous season was so well known for. This stuck out like a sore thumb, and took away what made Kemono Friends such a unique property. A marriage of both child-like whimsical fun with an ominous and brooding backdrop that kept the viewer hooked.
Kemono Friends is a franchise that no one expected anything out of. It overcame everything in its path and has become an icon in its own right. Season 2, attempted to ride the coattails of its predecessors success but unsurprisingly fell short. The ending left us with more questions than answers, and just ended up leaving us with an empty feeling of "What could have been?". The lessons we learned and the relationships built are but distant memories in this show that feels somewhat familiar, but just isn't the one we knew and loved. Ultimately, it feels like a cheap imitation.
The world and its characters are charming, cute, whimsical, fun, and incredibly memorable. As a fan who loves the series to death, I can't bring myself to give this a negative score. There were upsides to the sequel with improved visuals and great additions to the cast. But in the end the fans deserved better, Tatsuki and Studio Yaoyorozu deserved better, and God knows Kemono Friends deserved better.