Kemono Friends 2
A human child is disovered in Japari Park by two animal friends, Serval and Caracal. Since said child has no memories of their past lives, but still retained enough of their faculties to know they were searching for their home, Serval and Caracal joined our main protagonist on their journey, helped by the sketchbook owned by the human in question. They name the human Kyururu due to a sound coming from his or her stomach.
This is not going to be a fun review to write.
In fact, it's going to be pretty much impossible to write about this show without going into the rather massive controversies born from the events that lead to the production of this season, mostly because I was -- and still am -- a part of that, mostly through my own feelings about the original Kemono Friends and how this new addition compares to that. If you just want to read about this show itself, just skip to the red line further down.
I realize I once rated the original show three stars on account of it looking cheap and sounding too much like a children's show, but the sheer amount of audience love that it gained can not be overstated no matter how far you take it. Kemono Friends -- that is, the first season -- was a massive audience draw despite its middling production qualities (and budget, presumably), and it was also a fascinating show in so many ways. Fans went absolutely gangbusters over it and its characters, to the point where even a non-human fan of one of the characters drew fan attention for seemingly falling in love with one of the characters in the show, or a cardboard cutout, as it were. Grape-kun's eventual passing even lead to the show's many fans to mourn him and his almost impossible dream. The legacy of this amazing show -- which serves as one of the better examples of why you shouldn't put too much stock in star ratings, but rather take in the review itself -- is one that practically gave Kadokawa the opportunity to print free money, and they decided to answer this call by throwing the director of the first season, Tatsuki and the animation house Yaoyorozu, off the project and replacing all of them with people largely unrelated to the earlier season.
And fans did not take that well.
Like with most corporate culture and its decisions when it comes to profitable franchises, it's hard to glean much details out of what was going on. Seeing as TATSUKI was taken off the project for working on it without Kadokawa's permission, I think it's safe to say he wanted to continue working on the story he had created. However, the misstep was made, and Kadokawa went into full damage-control mode when they learned that the fans weren't going to take this decision lying down, pretending that it had never happened. Some of those attempts did naught but add more fuel to the fire that was fan outrage. For the record; I'm with the fans in most of those issues, but I was less pleased hearing about how the new director and animation company had to take a lot of the brunt of said outrage. There's also the fact that, on a technical level, even Kadokawa didn't do anything illegal per se. Massively assholish and kind of backstabby? Sure, but that's corporate culture for you, but my point is basically that nobody should take their anger out on the poor sap who were saddled with the impossible task of pleasing their fanbase. Leave that outrage for the person making the incredibly stupid decision to throw the original creator off the project. But no death threats. Seriously, those need to stop, regardless of who gets them.
But enough about that. How does the show fare?
Kemono Friends 2 seems a bit too new-viewers friendly, so people who never watched the first season and weren't caught up in the controversy might wonder what the fuss is all about. Aside from the addition of Caracal, meaning our human lead is now making friends with two cat girls instead of just one, the first episode of this season is an almost perfect copy of the first episode of the first season, down to the "don't eat us" callback to the very first line spoken by the main protagonist. The character designs are a little rounder and cleaner, but it still shares the awkward character to background movement issues of the first season, and in fact, the neater and cleaner art style even makes the awkward character movement stand out even more. Compared to Kaban, who just wanted to figure out what had happened, Kyururu seems to have a much clearer goal in mind. The sketchbook serves as an interesting angle to keep the group moving, but at the same time doesn't make much sense insofar as to why it only contains drawings of places and never any people in it... with the exception of the drawings he makes during the show itself now that he or she is meeting so many new and interesting friends.
Speaking of genders; while all the animal friends in the show are still female, Kyururu's gender is a bit more ambiguous. I did think of our main lead as a boy at first, but the more I think about it, the harder it is to recall if the show itself ever confirmed Kyururu's gender. It's not really a big concern for me whether Kyururu is a boy or girl outside of me wanting to know how whether to refer to Kyururu as "him" or "her". A bit binary, I know.
And if you're wondering whether Kemono Friends 2 decided to sever its bonds completely with its own prequel, the answer to that is... no. Even as Serval and Caracal first meet Kyururu, Caracal brings up Kaban and talks about a journey they once went on. You're only seeing her silhouette at first, coupled with the revelation that Serval only vaguely remember her or their journey together, but as it turns out, we do meet with Kaban later in the show. Surprisingly, this Kaban is clearly a lot older than her season 1 self -- I mean... just look at the two pictures right above; the left being her from this season and the right being her from the first -- which brings up some questions on why Serval herself doesn't look like she's aged any, but a scene between the now older Kaban and the Serval who can barely even remember her serves as a reminder of what we once had and what a lot of angry people would have liked seeing a continuation of. If you never watched the first season, this might come across as mildly bittersweet, but given the very open ending of said first season makes this scene into more of a slap in the face for those who loved the original. It's entirely possible Ryuichi Kimura tried his very best, and he certainly didn't deserve being the main target of peoples' ire for Kadokawa, but Kemono Friends 2 feels more like it's trying to reinvent the wheel with recycled materials from the first wheel, and a lot of the original ideas it threw out ended up making no sense.
For one thing, the ceruleans in the original series were mostly just random geometrical shapes with eyeballs on it, and it was only the last of the ceruleans that started resembling anything in particular. And then Kemono Friends 2 comes along and makes them ape various items at first, like cameras, pottery and various types of vehicles, which wouldn't be so bad if the CG models weren't as unflatteringly ugly as they are. That could've been salvageable by itself, but the show then proceeds to link everything up to Kyururu's drawing book in a way that beggars belief.
I guess you could say that, by itself, Kemono Friends 2 isn't outright terrible. Again, it all depends on which side you're standing on in the great "I loved the first season" and "never watched any of it before" divide, and I'm not going to blame anyone if they enjoyed this. They certainly tried classing it up a bit with an almost Broadway-like intro sequence, and to be fair, they actually struck gold with a really charming and lively ending theme. (I was never really fond of the original's opening theme, and the ending theme, while good, had that unsettling "nuclear fallout fairground" feel to it.) But it's hard to get rid of this bitter aftertaste, especially since we DO get to meet Kaban again, including scenes where she's clearly sad about being mostly forgotten by Serval. And of course episode 8 has to be yet another idol vessel for our Kemono Friends idol stars, PPP, and their manager. More than that, Kemono Friends 2 seem a little gung ho about tourist traps. In the first season -- and in this one too, I suppose -- Japari Park served more as a giant wild reservation. Idol aspect aside, the friends who took over various human settlements in season 1 did that more as a way to settle their own curiosity, like Alpaca Suri's little mountaintop cafe. But here, the animal friends seem a bit too happy to be a part of the tourist trade, like the dolphin and seal friend in episode 3 who are a little bit too into performing tricks for human beings. Given the revelation about what's going on in various seaworld parks that makes dolphins, orcas and seals perform tricks for their audience gives this show yet another source of that sour aftertaste that will not sit well with everyone. And now we have several kinds of lucky beasts too. We got pirate lucky beast, mexican stereotype lucky beast, ninja lucky beast... it's so diverse.
Is it really so alright to be this average? Kemono Friends 2 does continue with some of the more interesting facets of animal behavior and how that influences them now that they're humanoid "Friends". And then it decides to introduce us to "fiends", which, apparently, is when an animal is turned humanoid, but doesn't gain a human-like personality to go with it, latching that aspect on to the weirdest moral lesson -- that is to say the lesson is sound enough, if it wasn't already contradicted by an earlier episode. I also mentioned Kyururu's notebook earlier and the effect it has on the ceruleans, but the show also brings underwater volcanoes into the equation; an interesting prospect given that sandstar came from the volcanoes in the original as well, but aside for some metaphysical claptrap about "the sea being angry", nothing much comes from that.
To add insult to injury; if you hoped that Kyururu's story would at least come to a conclusive end, then I have more bad news for you. It's entirely possible that it does, for what it's worth, but it only does so by completely abandoning its main goal after one of the weirdest and most conveniently-for-the-moment paced action and fight scenes that felt more like padding for time than anything else. In fact, a lot of things here feels like it's lying around close by for convenience's sake. Kaban had to conquer a mountain for a battery. What Kyururu needs at all times is usually always within hands' reach.
It's kind of aggravating that your enjoyment of a show is going to be dependent on you being entirely new to a franchise, never mind being entirely blind to the influence the first season had on so many things.
"No Tatsuki, no tanoshii" indeed.
If you never got caught up in the controversy and never saw the first season, you might find this serviceable enough to add another star. If you did watch the first season, however, Kemono Friends 2 is a bitter pill to swallow. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Since this season does a lot of rerunning of the first, the levels of violence and peril is about the same. There's also some very mild fanservice through some of the friends's costumes.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Kemono Friends 2 © 2019 Tomason
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