A Centaur's Life
Himeno Kimihara is a centaur girl living in a world where six-limbed beings came into dominance, and she's attending school alongside other humanoid species like angelfolk and various other half-animal beings with different types of wings, ears and/or horns. Like... her two friends Nozomi and Kyoko is a part of the dragon and goat people respectively, with Nozomi having the wings and Kyoko having the horns and ears for their parts.
If you thought my synopsis was a little bit odd, then the first episode of this show will similarly weird you out. Past the theatrical play (that was introduced a little bit later in the manga), we get a short rundown of how this world came to be, where all these race variations are living under one sky. A Centaur's Life (though Centaur no Nayami apparently translates more accurately to "Centaur's Worries") is kind of that, but also kind of a slice-of-life. Honestly, Hime's biggest concerns seem to be along the lines of most stereotypical girls; not gaining weight, worrying about whether she -- or individual parts of herself -- is being unattractive, both for herself and for the opposite gender. She seems almost blissfully unaware about anything else, save perhaps the weird undertone of their world being a false utopia under the watchful eye of the government. I say "almost", though even high-school students seem to know that showing any signs of racism or exploitation of other races can have dire consequences. Indeed, it's a relief to me that I'm not the only one who's picked up on and joke about the whole "be nice, or you'll be sent off to the Friendship Gulag" angle the show seems to have. (Although the show refers to it as a "correctional clinic", which just serves to make the whole thing sound even more sinister. "If you fall, we'll be right there to help you step in line.")
It's this weird disconnect that gives the show a rather unsettling tone, not helped by its willingness to take this world and its characters, and basically drape all of it over our own world's history. Yes, this world had a World War 2 too (and presumably a World War 1 as well), and it often brings up the subject of human rights abuses, racism and other crimes against... uh, humanity? Whether all of this is what brought about this government-involved utopia project isn't outright spelled, but it's there, and it's not entirely for the faint of heart.
Then again, most of the show's accolades are earned by the show's willingness to portray our history as starkly and politically neutral as possible, even if it sort of piggybacks on our own history. Aside from World War 2, the show seems to borrow the Napolean wars as a liberation fight for centaurs, who were being used by angelfolk as slaves -- mostly as war steeds, but also physical labor. I'd argue that Centaur's Life is being a bit lazy by doing this, as it doesn't have anything to do with "monster" people specifically, but shoehorning different fantasy races into this must've presented its own share of challenges, so I'm going to give it a pass on that. Mostly because there is a lot of different discussions to be had about the various characters in this show that IS about their "monsterness". Of particular interest is the Antarcticans, who are basically a race of snake-like people. They aren't really snakes -- or so the show says, comparing them more as a race of bird people, bringing to mind the theory that dinosaurs had feathers on their bodies instead of leathery skin -- but they are by far the most mysterious of the races due to their seclusive lifestyle as some kind of tribe in the frozen Antarctic regions. Quetzalcoatl Sassassul, the most prominent member of said race and affectionately shortened to "Suu-chan", is the one who gives us most of the lowdown on the snake-like race; that all their children is laid as eggs by their one Queen, and that they more or less function as the Vulcan race from Star Trek, though a curiously emotional one. Of course, their mystery, though the real-life-parallell lens of A Centaur's Life, the show also lays on the table that before they took any effort to contact the non-Antarctican races and create diplomatic relations with them, said races would create movies like this:
It's the kind of unintentional hilarity that stings when you sit down and think about it for a while. I don't even know whether I'd call it subtle or not. Maybe both? As it stands, Suu-chan does actually have a rather calming effect on people, though her presence also seems to remind us that that calm -- coupled with a world where people are reminded at all times not to be racist or prejudiced, lest you'd be sent off to the Correctional Clinic, and while most people seem to live their lives in relative peace, you can still sense a feeling of dread hanging over this world; in clothing stores where the clerks feel uneasy about altering clothes to fit someone with as large a tail as Suu-chan, or a teacher who teaches classes on equality and tolerance, which is only going to come across as insincere if you have to enforce it through force. I'd like to think I'm overreacting, but one of the characters in the show did that "harmlessly light karate chop to the forehead" on Suu-chan to let her know she was acting in a ridiculous manner, and that resulted in this:
The secret agents are everywhere, ready to gun you down when the situation calls for it. Or at least making sure you join them in the Correctional Clinic without too much fuss or arguments.
The characters in the show are by and large likable enough. Hime, who might otherwise have ended up being a bit of a Mary Sue, is a bit airheaded, but an otherwise sweet girl. She isn't talented at everything, but rather has a selection of positive qualities that balances her out more alongside her friends. The class president Manami Mitama seems more along the lines of the perfect girl, although she's rather strict and hard to please, which is presented as more of a neutral thing; it can be used for good, as the very first story arc shows us, but it can also be taken too far, as seen by her treatment of her father coupled with a discussion she has with one of her friends late in the series. Due to the death of her mother (said father's wife), she has to at least partially take her place, and she is one of the few anime characters in an important position who actually puts family first, which as far as I understand is one way to get yourself laid off from said position, especially if you're a woman. Even if the society in A Centaur's Worries doesn't really subscribe to old, outdated gender roles.
Where the show really exels, though, is in its portrayal of children. Shino is generally kind, but she shows definite signs of being spoiled, and has a selfish streak when it comes to her close family. On the other hand, their hilarious directness serves as a good way to bring up more problematic topics, (mildly) sexual or otherwise. Manami's three little sisters are downright adorable because they hit that middle ground quite nicely. They're generally nice towards everyone, but has that more generalized selfishness about themselves that most kids have, yet they do understand when they've gone too far and feel bad about that. They're like three little cat-Yotsuba's. And where the teenage cast react with various levels of apprehension or rudeness concerning Suu-chan, the kids just love playing with her supposed scariness; where Suu-chan's snake grin makes Hime faint, the kids play the hell out of that pretend-fear with screaming giggles, and it's great.
Outside of the whole thing with the Friendship Gulag, the show is quite liberated in its views on relationships between characters. The show has at least one official lesbian couple, and are hinting at a few more, and nobody in the show really care. Manami does seemingly argue against it in one episode, but you could probably chalk that up to her not wanting to explain difficult topics to her three willful and extremely inquisitive kid sisters, since she seems to nurture a female on female relationship on her own. (Though how romantic that relationship is... that's still a bit ambiguous, but most likely another case.)
A Centaur's Life also does a good job at character interactions in general. Aside from Hime and her friends and classmates natural ways of teasing or even blackmailing each other, we get a random meeting with a couple where the man is a cat boy and the woman is a mermaid. Since she IS a mermaid and they're dating on land, he has to "Princess-carry" her everywhere. At first glance, she seems a bit bossy and maybe even smug about it, but right after that, she almost apologizes for the fact that he usually does this. So when he states that he doesn't really mind, and she (and by extent, the audience) might think he's just saying that to make her feel better, a later scene shows her looking at walking aid for mermaids. She voices her desire for one of those to him, adding that she can get government support to help with the expenses, his sad look finally makes her understand that he really doesn't mind carrying her (as mermaids are supposedly not very heavy due to their hollow bone structure), and in fact enjoys the intimacy from it.
Speaking of intimacy, and if you were wondering; yes, they included the "horse vagina" chapter that started out the manga, perhaps wisely deciding to delay it until later in the show. It's a rather awkward chapter that's made worse when you don't really know the characters in it. It's a part of one's self-image, so it's understandable to some degree, but it's still rather awkward as chapters go. Said chapter further annoys by primarily being about a boy giving hime a love letter, which, as it turns out, he gave her because he liked her big boobs. And while I'll agree that guys' interest in boobs is probably among the world's worst kept secrets, I still find it ridiculous that this is a guy's sole selling point for giving someone a love letter. Then again, I guess that's just Japan being incredibly formal over asking someone out on a date, so maybe I'm just overthinking this. A love letter isn't a proposal, after all.
Artwise, the show does a pretty good job both with its characters and scenery art. The animation is weirdly stiff, though, but much to my surprise, I later found out that the animation is done by Emon Animation Company. If that name doesn't sound familiar to you; they're the studio behind the Chinese co-productions Bloodivores and Fox Spirit Matchmakers, two shows with almost laughably horrible animation. Compared to those two, A Centaur's Life's animation is downright fantastic, supremely backhanded compliment as that may be. And to be fair, the manga has nice art too, but wasn't very good at presenting action scenes without looking really awkward, so I guess you could call that consistent to a certain degree.
A bit inappropriate too, as a later "Frenchman" is portrayed as a frog humanoid, but as it turns out, he's actually a member of an African tribe of sorts, but somehow ended up in a position of power in this world's version of France. It seemed a bit at odds with its otherwise almost opressively politically correct tone (beware the Friendship Gulag) and tendency to have secret service people everywhere who seemed perfectly willing to pull guns on someone if they even suspected them of taking an Antarctican to a love hotel, or even boinking them lightly on the head for acting weird, and presumably shooting them if they actually did. The show is weirdly obtuse about its political leanings, which makes it the starkest opposite of shows like GATE, which gives A Centaur's Life this rambling tone that doesn't seem entirely sure where it wants to go. It's nice to have some openness in a show's viewpoints, but this series seems to be so happy to argue with itself that it leaves nothing for the audience to talk about because it has already done the job for you. And so the audience latches on to its eccentricities instead.
Also, parts of the show's tendency to approach everything in a scientific manner is just making the show look stupid at times. The angel folk have halos? Well, those are made up of their hair, that supposedly grows up from one single strand that somehow creates a halo over their heads, and if you cut that strand off -- even by accident -- then it's off to the Friendship Gulag with you, and the one whose halo got cut off need PAPERS that show they didn't do it on purpose, or they might share a similar fate. The show hilariously point out that it looks stupid when growing back, as if it didn't fully grown. There's also the theory the show starts out with, about how six-limbed beings rose to dominance because they had more legs to carry their weight with, but at the same time, a lot of people there only have four limbs. Only centaurs and those with wings can arguably be said to have six limbs all in all. And it really shouldn't matter all in all. There is also the way the manga brings about weird aliens and other odd asides that the anime hasn't covered, at least not yet. It IS odd, because in many ways, said scientific angle sounds sensible, like most of the things centered around Suu-chan; how she eats, how she works in general on a biological level and the Antarcticans in general. Like... it makes sense to not make her a cold-blooded person (even though that lent itself very well to Monster Musume's Miia and much of the comedy centered around her being half snake), because she and her people live in the frozen South. The show even takes a, if not purely scientific, at least a very pragmatic approach to even religion.
Weirdness aside, I had a pretty good time with A Centaur's Life. You can easily take its lack of political leanings despite being heavily topical about it and just enjoy how a somewhat large group of teenagers are dealing with it all. its quiet slice-of-life segments are working quite well, and just about all the kids in the show are adorable as hell. Suu-chan even lends a mildly alien twist to the proceedings as a representative of a race of people that most of the others are at least mildly wary of, but she's a real sweetheart at heart. Despite the opinions being thrown around, the show isn't all that lecturing or pushy (aside from the Gulag thing), so it's easy to have a good time here if you can ignore or laugh off the somewhat sinister undertones.
A weird, sometimes awkward show about a bunch of generally good kids. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: There is some mild fanservice, including a light-beam censored shot of Hime in the shower, as well as the fact that the mermaid tribe apparently has this nudism-based lifestyle where their "porn" is CLOTHED boobies. (That, and the fact that mermaids are generally incredibly busty, at least some of the male mermaids seems to prefer smaller breasts, of which Eri is a rare mermaid example of the type.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs
Review Status: Full (12/12)
A Centaur's Life © 2017 Kei Murayama / Tokuma Shoten / Beyond City Thought Education Committee
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