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REVIEW | KEMONOZUME – Densha Onna

REVIEW | KEMONOZUME

【Halloweird week 💀】

Kemonozume is a show I’ve discovered randomly, like 80% of the anime I watch. When seeing the visuel, I immediately thought of Mind Game : a bit ugly, a little rough, the “really-looks-crappy” and “it-doesn’t-make-me-want-to-look-any-further” kind of anime…

🇫🇷 VERSION FRANÇAISE ICI

However, just as Mind Game, I felt like it could take me by surprised,  like a diamond inside a rock (at that moment, I didn’t know it was the same director). After watching the 13 episodes, here are my two cents. Wish you a pleasant read.

ID card : KEMONOZUME

Type : Seinen
Genre : Romance, comedy, horror
Original title : ケモノヅメ (kemonozume)
Director : Masaaki Yuasa
Studio : Madhouse
Release date : 5 august 2006
Duration : 13 episodes of 25 min ∼

Trailer (original) :

kemonozume_trailer

Synopsis :

Since ancient times there has existed a race of flesh eating monsters called shokujinki (食人鬼?, lit. “Man-Eating Ogres”) that can assume human form or otherwise live in the shadows while feeding on humans. The Kifūken (鬼封剣?, lit. “Ogre-Sealing Sword”) martial arts style school was created to hunt down those creatures and its teachings have been passed down through the generations to the Momota family. The story revolves around the forbidden romance between Toshihiko, the latest heir of the Kifūken school and Yuka, a young woman who is also a shokujinki.

My review :

– Foreword –

After 5 minutes of watching and given the numerous similarities between Mind Game and Kemonozume, I had to make a google-break in order to research a possible link between those two pieces. This is what Google told me :

It’s the same director, Chrys

Then, I resumed the viewing with a feeling of “I don’t know what to expect but I’m gonna be dazzled”.

Let me explain briefly : I discovered this movie during the 2015 Japanimation Night. At first I thought it was shitty as hell, because of the repulsive design and the rather dark atmosphere… But it was the complete opposite : Mind Game was brilliant, creative, hilarious, deep… you name it! That’s the reason why I approached the first episode of Kemonozume in a state of pre-satisfaction, rather than a negative mind such as I guess I’m gonna lose 20 minutes of my life when I could have spent them doing more interesting things, like folding my socks, for example”.

13 episodes later and to my great non-surprise*, I can only conclude that this is Mind Game’s little brother, in that technical aspects, content, depth, psychological reach are treated with similar approaches.

*non-surprise : as the name does not suggest, it’s not the fact of not being surprised (many negations in that sentence). It’s a term I’ve just invented in order to express that double effect, when you’re shocked at first but then you realize it is not that surprising, when you think about it. Or equivalent, that feeling you get when you know what to expect, when you see “the thing” coming, without really knowing what. Am I clear?

– Technical aspects –

With disgusting drawings and choppy animation, the visual aspect of Kemonozume is clearly not the asset of this anime. However, I wouldn’t say it is a weakness either, as you clearly feel the artistic statement behind as if the production wanted to say “don’t be fooled by the packaging, focus on content” or “we are nuts… and we’re happy about it”. You can also find the creative signature with the addition of textures (through collages, photos, videos…) and the use of an interesting play on colors (from vibrant/saturated to pale/dark).

kemonozume / ケモノズメ 3

Regarding the sound, the job is much more “neat”. The soundtrack is to be noted : heavily jazzy with a nice spectrum of sub-genres, including the exceptional opening which deserves an entire article for itself… but in purpose of conciseness, I will just say this is a swing jazz opening with a touch of punk, played by 勝手にしやがれ (Katteni Shiyagare, which roughly translates as “do as you like, damn!”). You can hear an excerpt in the trailer above ; the full version can be listened here.

Finally, a special mention for the voice actors who breathe life into the characters. You may think “well, this is their job after all” but I found it remarkably well done.

– Content –

Let me use the words from the trailer :

Violence and action!
Violence and action
Love story and comedy!!
Love story and comedy
Kyodai monsta, robotto hēki!!!
Giant monsters and robot weapons
Jū, ken, bijo, saru????!!!!!
Guns, swords, beautiful women, monkeys???!!! 

The guy from the trailer didn’t lie nor embellished or exaggerated. Kemonozume is an unexpected mixture, an organized mess : it goes in all directions but you’re never lost because everything is well interwoven. Besides, it includes humor, violence, horror, WTF, romance, sex.

kemonozume / ケモノズメ 4

On the last two points, I find the work particularly well done considering the numerous love triangles, which brings spice to the story and reinforces the characters psychological development. Regarding sex, a mature approach is taken : realistic and straightforward, almost raw… It falls neither in the fictionalized cheesy stuff filled with undertones, nor in the hentai. As for the nudity, it is portrayed in a simple and crude way, there is no attempt to make fan service or infantilize the audience.

– Depth –

The themes are abundant and focused on the human character. It’s astonishing to see how a 13 episodes “messy” series can, with brilliance and relevance, deal with serious topics : self-acceptance/belonging, family relationships, racism, exclusion, self questioning, betrayal, failed relationships, struggle between individualism and altruism…

– Psychological reach –

Closely linked to the previous paragraph, the psychological reach occupies an important place throughout the episodes. Character development is one the most (if not the most) polished aspect. Despite the main plot and all the mess, the story constantly emphasizes their behavior, their attitude towards each others, their mindset, their conflict, their evolution.

– Conclusion –

Despite of being 13 episodes long, you have more than enough to eat and drink… with leftovers you can put in the freezer : it’s brief but intense! It’s eclectic yet well put together.

It’s not gonna appeal to everyone, it’s pretty daunting at first but I really invite you to discover this series which in my opinion is really risk taking. And honestly, I don’t know if I should use the expression risk taking because the originality is so strong… it’s a whole statement. It’s not as if the director wanted to tell us “I try, we’ll see,” but rather “I want to do something never seen before, I wanna go in an unexploited direction. I don’t want to be a precursor, i want to be unique”. Well, that’s my interpretation.

Overall rating, totally subjective and non-binding : 9/10

To paraphrase my conclusion, I would say Kemonozume has much to offer despite a short format. The anime is entertaining and technically well done. The few weak points (drawings, history dragging) are quickly swept away by the originality, humor, the abundance of themes. I recommend without hesitation.

See you next time,

Chrys Prolls

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