What’s it about? The golem’s duty is to guard the forest. For its thousand-year lifespan, it dispassionately observes the natural order of things, and then is replaced by a new one. When the current golem finds a little human girl in the forest who calls him “Dad,” he takes on a new duty: to raise this child, named Somali, and help her find more humans. But after years of being hunted for meat and kept as pets, humans have nearly gone extinct.
Hello, it is I, the single-dad-anime reviewer, back again to review Somali and the Forest Spirit, this season’s offering to the burgeoning subgenre.
Let’s get one simple, pure, objective fact out of the way: this show is gorgeous. Stunning, even. It has smooth, expressive animation, imaginative character designs, and immersive, one-of-a-kind backgrounds. From the cool purples and blues of the untouched forest to the bright, lively town, it has the kind of visual appeal that you feel like you could fall into, giving even a fantastical world like this one a lived-in, even grounded feeling.
Even the writing supports this feeling. There’s little clunky exposition, other than the monster recounting the story of how humans were nearly wiped out and the world came to be dominated by monsters and spirits. There’s loads of showing with comparatively little telling, but by the end of the episode, I understood perfectly everything it wanted to convey. It’s a wonderful kind of subtlety that’s rare for TV anime, which tends to lean heavily on expository dialogue and narration for its world-building.
What’s not so subtle is its environmental and anti-nationalist themes. It extends beyond just the golem’s protectorship of the natural world; it’s also deeply coded in the story of why humans barely exist anymore.
It turns out, when the humans and monsters encountered each other, human society was put off by the diversity of monster society and ended up picking a fight, despite being weaker on every level. The monsters won handily, reducing humans to prey and companion animals. At the conclusion of the story, I could only shrug my shoulders and say, “Yeah, that’s fair.” If humanity couldn’t calm down and stop being so judgmental and aggressive, it makes sense that they got knocked out. Is that nihilistic of me? I’m honestly not sure anymore.
But as sick and tired as I am of adult society, I still love children, and it’s unfair that they continue to inherit every single mess we’ve made. Such is the case for Somali, who Golem initially finds in broken chains. She dons an adorable horned hoodie so he can pass her off as a minotaur child and carefully safeguard the secret of her true species. And though Golem claims not to have emotions, his intense protectiveness of her maybe indicates otherwise.
My knowledge of child development is a blessing and a curse when it comes to media featuring children. When children are portrayed accurately, with everything that makes them delightful and funny and weird and intensely frustrating, I get a kind of joy out of it that I doubt adults who don’t know about children could understand. On the other hand, I have precisely zero patience for idealized, moefied, cutesy-poo characters who could easily be replaced by a not-particularly-intelligent hamster.
After one episode, I’m genuinely unsure of where Somali falls on that continuum. She’s cute as a button to be sure, but still has more personality than a sedated labrador puppy. I love the way she bounds curiously through the world, climbing under the bed to watch a spider and taking in the sights and sounds of the marketplace.
She’s usually pretty good about staying with the Golem, but is prone to wandering off when something catches her eye. It’s pretty developmentally appropriate—goodness knows I’ve had to stop a number of children from wandering onto the bike path that goes past our playground—but for Somali, the consequences of being caught could be quite grave.
Remember how I disliked If It’s For My Daughter, I’d Even Defeat the Demon Lord? Well, Somali and the Forest Spirit is the opposite of that. I can’t guarantee it’ll hold my interest, but all signs so far have been positive.