If you choose to pick up this year’s anime adaptation of Kemono Jihen, keep in mind ‘tis no light series you’re diving into. While the characters look cute, there are grim tones that emerge, even in this first episode, and I imagine will stick through as the series progresses.
Before I share anymore, keep in mind that I have not read the manga and nor do I intend to. A little like Kimetsu no Yaiba, I want to sit back and truly experience the world, characters, and story arcs as they unfold. There’s a lot I’ve yet to fully comprehend, including my own feelings around the premiere, but I can confidently say that I’m intrigued. Me and ghouls, we get along well. I’m a real sucker for the supernatural and if you didn’t know that, I’d recommend you read up on my previous reviews for Kimetsu no Yaiba’s first season here.
Set in a little town a few hours drive away from Tokyo, we’re thrust into two young boys’ seemingly calm and settled country life. One boy dreams of seeing the city and latches onto the news of a visitor from Tokyo and another quietly works the fields.
As I mentioned earlier, there are darker underlying tones to the series including bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse, child labor, and potentially more to come… Dorotabo (Kabane) is our young victim. Battered and abused, he knows nothing of kindness. For as long as he can remember, he’s been told that he was abandoned by his parents and unwanted. With only a cruel aunt and cousin Yataro to ‘care’ for him, he slaves away and works the land of his estranged family’s small-time country inn, and is named after the stench he emits from being covered in manure after working all day.
The first episode also introduces us to Inugami Kohachi (Suwabe Junichi), a detective of all things occult. He comes into town from Tokyo and boards at the small inn during his time in the village. He’s told by the innkeeper, Kabane’s aunt, that there’s a creature in the town terrorizing and ravaging the livestock and other local animals and she’d like to get rid of it before the larger community finds out.
Low and behold, there is an actual monster in the village- correction, two if you count the cousin who went red rage jealous at the thought of Kabane (Fujiwara Natsumi) going to Tokyo in his stead. But demons? Well, there were three. The demon-deer culprit, Kabane, and our very own occult detective Inugami.
I’ll spare some of the more in-depth detail about the episode as I’ll navigate them more in the next section but if you haven’t yet had a chance to watch the episode, stop here and give it a whirl. It does do a great job at pulling you in and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the experience.
Initial episode impressions
Jealousy drives this story forward somewhat or so it seems. Yataro is attached to the idea that he’s destined for bigger things in the city so when he hears that a man from Tokyo is visiting, he sets his hopes high and boasts about himself openly to the guest. To me, it seemed as though Unigami was turned off by the brat and wanted someone a little quieter while he was around. When Unigami spent the next five days interacting and getting to know Dorotabo instead of Yataro, I thought it endearing. Here we have a young boy with absolutely no idea what it is to be treated fairly and an older man perhaps looking for a pupil while he’s working a job. Perhaps he sees potential in the kid.
So far, the random twists and bits in this first episode are what drew me in. Like many of you who watch anime, it becomes an annoying and unconscious habit to predict the key beats in an episode. So I very much value the ability this show has in keeping my expectations in check. It makes for a much more enjoyable watch with “ooh’s” and “aah’s”.
The montage of our two main characters bonding, and actually most of the episode’s pacing, was calm and steady and paired up nicely with the soundtrack. There was just always something out of the ordinary that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At RandomC, we read so many different series previews before they air so I had already wiped most of the premise from my memory before watching the show with the exception of the genre. So it came to me as a surprise that Dorotabo had been hiding among humans all his life as a half-human, half-demon hanyo. And I can say the exact same for Inugami.
But outside of the supernatural abilities hidden throughout, it was disheartening to watch Kabane navigate his life. Can you imagine living a life where you were told day in, day out that you were a burden or a cause for concern for everyone around you? When you’re told that your lifeline, the person responsible for you, requests that you die, what else do you have to live for? When Kabane, such a gentle kid with so much more to experience, refuses to fight for his own life, he’s basically saying it’s not worth fighting for and that really hit a mark. There’s really no other way to interpret that.
There’s a definite ‘rise from the ashes’ theme happening here and I’m all for watching how this unfolds in the next episode. I make the series sound really dark but in all fairness, it has a weirdly wholesome feel to it and I think it comes back to the characters being so adorable, a little like my favorite Nezuko. It’s still a little early for me to say whether or not I’ll be following for the entirety of the show but you’ll be the first to know.
Oh! Our very own Kemono Jihen manga reader Enzo sez Ajia-do nailed it.
ED: 「-Shirushi-」 by (Sayaka Sasaki)