kemurikusa. – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser January 10, 20190 Comments
A redheaded young woman holding a little girl who's fading away into purple fragments

What’s it about? A group of sisters living in a dangerous post-apocalyptic cityscape spend their time looking for water to feed the tree that gives them their special powers. Their world is shaken up when they come across a human boy who seems to have extra-sensory powers.

I am not the target audience for this series, which comes to us courtesy of the Kemono Friends team. It is, I suspect, primarily made for fans of that last all-heart-no-budget outing—a show that I resent not one bit but which never managed to grab me. And I suspect the people who are themselves Kemono friends are already well aware of this new offering.

A redheaded girl glowing green and surrounded by rubble

That said, I was pleasantly surprised by how creative this premiere turned out to be. Its premise is bog-standard in broad strokes: protecting the last living thing in a blasted toxic hellscape, the Strong Female Character who is touched by the helpless but perceptive newcomer dude (all right, that part made me roll my eyes pretty hard). And there are still some undeniably janky-looking bits, like when a panicked character sort of…bangs in the general direction of a tank.

But the visual designers are clearly aware of their own limitations, and so set about shooting for a deliberately uncanny look with a lot of the sci-fi elements. The gothic loli-looking girls are literal clones who are implied to be artificially made somehow. Their skirts expand like mouths to swallow gears and pipes into some connected Z-space they all share. Their older sister communicates with them on the battlefield as a glowing green lifeline with cat ears popped out of the end.

It’s bizarre in exactly the right way, embracing the artificiality of the visuals and playing with what an interested viewer (already inclined to meet the production team halfway) will accept as “normal.” Nowhere on Earth does it say that a show has to look like a MAPPA or BONES production to be good, and this is exactly the right way to go about turning something more humble into a distinctive visual aesthetic (although, boy, if you’re not into neons you’re gonna be barking up the wrong tree with this one).

A boy touching a glowing green vine. subtitle: I wonder what this is. Everything here is so mysterious

The plot is a mystery that is, again, typical for the genre: what happened to this world, what are these nonhuman characters who clearly think of themselves as “human,” how did this normal dude get here, and so on. The guy, Wakaba, is by far the least interesting. He’s kind and inoffensive but bland, apparently there for big sister Rin to have flustered feelings about and to serve as a spotter on the battlefield. His late-introduction POV is kind of a disappointment after being thrown into the worldbuilding deep end for most of the episode.

Still, with these types of stories the joy is in the journey, and viewers who stick around will likely have lots of fun watching the show unveil new powers and concepts that live nestled in the heart of the uncanny valley. While I don’t think I’ll be back for more, there’s clearly stuff to like here, and I hope it finds its audience.

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