Oh no, Katt is going to ramble on about Kemono no Souja Erin AGAIN?
Katt: If someone judged which anime series were popular solely based on how much attention they get here at HSA!, there is no way that they’d think that Kemono no Souja Erin was underhyped thanks to the ridiculous amounts of praise I give it. Truth is, aside from a couple of other blogs that regard the series highly, I’m the only one out in the anime blog-verse who has been sticking by this series and singing its praises every step of the way.
What I’m getting at is that, when Minnie announced that our winter countdown would be our favourite underhyped anime series–what else could I possibly choose to rant on? Sit tight, blogees, because another installment of “Katt promoting Kemono no Souja Erin” is coming up! And this time it is more than an episode or a single character or a scene; this time, it’s the whole show.
Introduction to the Series
First of all, an introduction to the series is in order. I want to immediately disregard the standard synopsis for this series because–much like how Minnie felt that the synopses of Bokura Ga Ita didn’t do it justice–I feel that the summary you regularly find of this series is…bland, simple:
“A fantasy series written by Uehashi Nahoko (Seirei no Moribito) about a young woman who is drawn into a war between kingdoms. She has the ability to command certain animals as if she was playing a musical instrument.” (from MyAnimeList)
…Yeah. Far too bland and simple for a series so fascinating and complex. Not to mention inaccurate. Let me rewrite it to give you all a proper introduction to this anime:
Erin is raised in a tohda-rearing (dragon-like creatures) village on the military territory of the country. Through a series of events and fueled by her fascination with beasts, Erin grows up in the country’s royal territory and aims to become a veterinarian for beastlords (huge bird/wolf animals). Her unique way of raising the beastlords draws unwanted attention, and turns her simple goal of harmony into a tool of war, forcing her to become involved in the country’s internal conflict.
–Hard to sum up such a complicated series in a few lines, but there’s my attempt. Interested yet? Well, let’s keep going.
Kemono no Souja Erin is based on the fantasy novel series, Kemono no Souja (The Beast Player), by Nahoko Uehashi. The series originally consisted of two novels, which the anime is based on; however, while the anime was airing this year, two more novels were released to wrap up the series. Unfortunately none of these novels are available in translation in English yet so I can’t compare the two, but it seems that many people who have read the novels have a great love for the anime as well.
The 50-episode long anime series that I adore so very much began airing in the Winter 2009 season. There wasn’t all too much attention drawn to this series when it started airing–it actually took a while for the subbers to get going, and then subbing stopped altogether a ways in and was eventually picked up again; as of now, Crunchyroll has the rights to subbing (much to my dismay). There are two episodes left before Kemono no Souja Erin ends so I might be jumping the gun a little by pushing this series as an overall amazing work, but honestly, even if the final episodes are horrible, this anime has already proven itself as worthy to me. Now I just need to justify why that is.
Deterring factors? Let’s get those out of the way.
There are a few things about Kemono no Souja Erin that deter people from watching it. Before I get into my reasoning as to why this series is amazing, I’m gonna make sure to eliminate these excuses not to watch it. That’s right. You will thus have no excuses not to watch it.
A lot of people have this thing where they will watch three or four episodes of a series and then judge whether it’s worth watching from there. I’ll admit that I do this, too, but it isn’t a fair judgment at all when it comes to a 50-episode long anime like Kemono no Souja Erin. On that note, I will tell everyone something important about this anime now: watch up until episode 7 and then judge whether or not it’s worth watching more of. Prior to that episode the series takes its sweet time going anywhere, comes off as a little simplistic sometimes–really, it’s anything but. Don’t give up before episode 7; the wait is worth it!
And then there is the unfortunate label of “children’s anime”. It’s an automatic turn-off for a lot of people because, well, after a certain age no one really wants to consider themselves a ‘child’ (and yet we still watch Disney movies with no shame at all…). Kemono no Souja Erin is not your typical kids’ series; in fact, it deserving that title is quite debateable. During Erin’s childhood years it might be more appealing to a younger audience, but as Erin matures, the series’ nature does as well. The plotline becomes more complicated, larger moral issues are raised, and the violence becomes very real instead of hidden behind abstractions. Yes, we still have a narrator clarifying events and flashbacks to remind us of things that happened not too long ago, but the tone of this series is undeniably something that appeals to a mature audience just as much as–if not more than–it appeals to a younger one. In fact, most of the fans I’ve seen around are at least in their 20s! I like how one reviewer on MAL referred to it: “all-ages”. An accurate label for Kemono no Souja Erin.
What’s to Love
Where can I even begin? Obviously everyone has very individual tastes when it comes to anime and so no anime can be for everyone, but, well, Kemono no Souja Erin can be for a lot of people. With elements of fantasy, political intrigues, a solid coming-of-age story, and relationships of all different kinds, there’s bound to be something of interest to you, dear reader. You don’t have to be completely enthralled with everything–just loving one element of this expansive story is enough to keep a person engaged.
Watching Erin grow up just adds to one's attachment to her.
To get my point across a little bit, I’m going to look at one of the elements that keeps me so emerged in this series: the relationships. While the story does sometimes diverge into other characters, the main focus is on Erin. This is so different from a lot of other fantasy series out there that have more of an RPG feel, where you meet a huge cast of characters and have to split time between them all; instead, in Kemono no Souja Erin we get to know Erin’s character first and foremost and come to understand other characters more clearly through her interactions with them. Each relationship she has with other characters is unique and shows a different side of Erin, so let’s look at a few of these different bonds…
Soyon and Erin: mother-daughter– The first relationship that you really get to see in the series, and it’s sensible since Erin is only 10 years old when the series begins; of course her greatest attachment will be to her mother. Erin’s bond with her mother really brings out the curiosity typical in any kid, but that is especially abundant in Erin, and Soyon manages to feed that curiosity by sharing her knowledge of nature and the tohdas with Erin. The absence of a father figure brings these two even closer together such that imagining one existing without the other is upsetting to even think of.
John and Erin: adoptive parent/mentor– Tossed out into the larger world, Erin is left in the care of John quite early on in the series. He goes out of his way to help Erin through tough times, always managing to make her laugh and pull her out from emptiness. In time, he becomes her official caretaker and teacher and continues to develop Erin’s interest in nature as she grows into a teenager. While she doesn’t call John ‘Dad’, it is evident that through time and his constant caring, he becomes such to her.
Lilan and Erin: animal and human– An ambiguous relationship, as I’ve found whenever I try to express my thoughts on it in my entries. Everyone has a different idea of what kind of bond Erin and Lilan, the beastlord, have. Some would call it a very powerful friendship, others see Erin merely as Lilan’s caretaker, and then there’s me who likens it to the strong connection some people have with their pets. Until Nanoko Uehashi posts on one of my entries clarifying how this relationship is meant to be interpreted, I’d say that it is left to individuals to decide what the nature of Erin and Lilan’s love is.
Yuyan and Erin: best friends– Erin makes her first real female friend when she is 14 years old, which obviously comes as a quite a change for someone who has, for the most part, spent her life with adults and animals. Yuyan shows Erin how friends can be there during hard times and happy times, midnight chats and ‘girl talk’. While their relationship isn’t as fleshed out as some others, their years as roommates at school show another dimension of Erin’s character (and while I don’t mention Tomura in this post, he is another good example of a friendship Erin has).
Ial and Erin: budding romance– This thought may seem a little weird when you first meet Ial, but trust me, it works! This relationship does not take the spotlight in this series by any means, though it is there and merits moments of ‘aww’ when it’s occasionally placed at the forefront. The fact that the ‘romance’ in this series isn’t emphasized all that much and, when it is, is focused on these two characters coming to terms with their concerns and little spoken-of pasts shows what is most important in Erin’s life–and in Kemono no Souja Erin as a whole.
- Put together by Kitsune.
In addition to the plethora of relationship types seen in this series, the story as a whole is notable for its originality. I often say that this series is a breath of fresh air when all of the anime being released fits into some stereotype or another: standardized characters, predictable events, excessive humour or violence or romance… I won’t say that Kemono no Souja Erin is completely void of these things, but they appear in moderation. For the most part, the characters are unique and endearing; the major events tend to take you by surprise, things going bad or good when you expect them to go the other way; there are moments that make you laugh or cringe or swoon, and they are always included strategically so that you can make the most of them rather than become desensitized to their impact.
The artwork in this series is another original aspect of it. While it might not be on the highest caliber, it stands out without a doubt. The characters designs are easily identifiable, especially for the main cast. The backgrounds are all unique and beautiful, especially those depicting nature. And then the most distinct aspect of the art: the stylized images used to show history, animalistic violence, and at times characters’ haziness of mind. They are like an upgrade on ancient art, taking an older style with added details and tons of popping colours. It’s an added touch of originality to an already-matchless anime. The nature backgrounds that I mentioned are really stunning in two ways: visually, of course, and symbolically. The symbolism isn’t subtle at all; it’s always placed starkly next to the relationship or conflict that it is meant to reflect. In the first episode, for example, we repeatedly see a mother and baby bird whose actions reflect those of Soyon and Erin, and then a weasel appears at the same time as a tohda does in the storyline. It gets its point across bluntly, but manages to fit the mood of the series perfectly and reminds us of the importance of nature in Erin’s life.
And then what is probably the series’ strongest factor for me: the emotion that it manages to evoke. Through events that we can associate with from experiences in our lives and even those that are completely fantastical, Kemono no Souja Erin has the uncanny ability to manipulate the viewers’ emotions. Tragic moments really hit hard, unexpected twists can make your heart stop, and moments where everything works out are just so serene. Everything is just so well thought out that it is all the more effective. The background music in this series adds to effectiveness as well, notably in the calm scenes. There isn’t a huge amount of diversity in the music, but after so many episodes, hearing the same songs becomes a sort of comfort, especially the vocal inserts (Aoi Hoshi and Lalalila Lalila). The anime’s OP is also heard as a few different versions, coming up at dramatic moments and having a great effect. Sometimes the music influences the tone of a scenes, and at other times the scenes themselves are so powerful that a person’s reaction to the music can change. Whichever way that it goes, the emotions that Kemono no Souja Erin brings out in most of its viewers are incredible and, along with the other notable attributes I’ve mentioned, serve to make this an unforgettable series.
Don’t take my word for it…
Even if Kemono no Souja Erin is grossly underhyped, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anyone else out there giving it praise. If that were the case, well, then I wouldn’t be able to blame anyone for ignoring my constant pushing of this series because you’d think that I was just some crazy rambling lady with poor taste–but because it isn’t the case, you all have no excuse!
For instance, Kitsune is always emphasizing his fondness for this series at his blog, as is psgels at the Star-Crossed Anime Blog. While these are the only two consistent reviewers that I’ve seen around, that isn’t to say that other people out there in the internet haven’t taken notice of Kemono no Souja Erin’s greatness. Yumeka has an entry of the same nature of this one, promoting Kemono no Souja Erin as an underhyped and underrated series. Then there’s steelbound who shows that once you get to episode 7, love for this series blossoms, and Shinmaru wrote a great post on the much-debated “children’s anime” label. Even a writer at animenewsnetwork gives the series good regard for its first half–and to think that it only gets better from there! Just look at the variety in these bloggers who have all found enjoyment in this single series; it really has appeal to so many different kinds of people.
Wrapping things up:
If you have read up until this point, I’d like to think that you’re interested enough in what I’m saying about Kemono no Souja Erin to give the series a shot. I really can’t do it justice in a blog entry. It’s something that you need to experience first hand to understand why this series deserves much much muuuuch more love and attention than it gets. It doesn’t matter what stage of your life that you’re in; you’ll certainly find something to move you in this series. To watch Erin grow up, endure hardships, make life decisions and friendships and mistakes…these are things that we all experience brought to a fantasy stage, distanced from reality but still so easy to connect to. Ah, I sense some rambling starting up again. I’d better cut myself off and give my concluding thoughts in short:
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3
That should make my point loud and clear.
I hope that everyone is enjoying our winter list of underhyped series so far. With the diverse tastes of all of the writers here, there is sure to be something to appeal to anyone. …of course, you really needn’t go any further because Kemono no Souja Erin is all that you need. In all seriousness, tomorrow is day #4 of our winter countdown, and it will be brought to you by our favourite harem leader Steve. <3 Will there be lolis involved in his favourite underhyped series? I’ll be disappointed if there aren’t!