Overlooked: Kemono no Souja Erin

Alright then, time to push a second anime series that I think deserves more love onto anybody who’ll listen. And don’t worry, I believe this one should have wider appeal than Creamy Mami, even if its woefully low A-P view count would suggest otherwise. I’m talking about Kemono no Souja Erin, a fairly recent addition to my Top 50 anime list.

Plot Summary: Erin is a 10 year old girl who lives with her mother Soyon in a small village. Soyon’s job is to raise and look after Touda, big lizards that are used by the country’s army. Erin is naturally curious, full of questions about everything, and having been brought up watching her mother at work she is particularly interested in the Touda, which she finds cute. But for some reason Soyon isn’t as happy with her job, often looking sad when dealing with the creatures. She isn’t keen on her daughter following the same path, and tries her best to convince Erin that Touda are wild animals, and potentially very dangerous. The series follows Erin as she grows up, learning more about Touda and another type of wild beast known as the Ohju, and their interactions with humans.

What makes it worth watching? If you’re not already sold after reading the plot summary then seeing the above screenshot – they’re not rearing docile sheep or cows here, this job is dangerous! – then maybe a look at the other issues the protagonist faces and at the ‘bigger’ problems of the wider world will convince you.

Soyon has green eyes and green hair, and is from the Ariyo race, or ‘Mist People’ as they are known to others. Erin is only half Ariyo – her mother left her people after meeting Erin’s late father, the son of the chief of the village where they now live – but she still has the distinctive green eyes. Because the Ariyo aren’t trusted by the other people of the country, who believe they have weird and creepy powers, Erin and Soyon are treated as outsiders in the village, even as family members of the chief. This prejudice is made quite clear early on in the series, and becomes important later on.

Erin’s life isn’t all that the series focuses on, either. Politics plays a huge part, as the country is effectively beginning to split into two factions: the Shin-Oh region where the Queen resides, a wealthy and peaceful area of the country where people hate the idea of war; and the Tai-Koh region watched over by the Grand Duke, whose men and large Touda armies protect the country from invasion, but who are looked down upon despite their great sacrifices. As the series progresses and Erin gets older, she is increasingly drawn into these affairs, even though all she wants to do is look after animals.

Most of the human characters can be split into categories such as ‘obviously good’ and ‘obviously evil’. This meant that a lot of the time it was easy to predict the direction things were going to take plot-wise, a minor complaint I had with the series throughout. However, the wild beasts are just that – wild and unpredictable. The Ohju in particular provided some of the more shocking, unexpected plot developments, simply because the smallest things can cause panic and instincts to take over. And those things are HUGE. These moments easily made up for the more predictable ‘plot twists’.

The anime is based on a light novel series by Uehashi Nahoko, better known as the author of the Moribito series. I’ve not read any of her works, to my knowledge they’ve not been translated into English, but I have seen the (far from overlooked) anime adaptation of Seirei no Moribito. The series share many common themes, the similar world and setting being an obvious one, but I also feel Erin has a lot in common with Prince Chagum.

Production-wise, Kemono no Souja has a very different, much more simplistic animation style when compared with Moribito, but it works. The animation style changes from time to time too, such as in dream sequences or when a story is being told, which was very effective. As for the music (you knew this was coming), I adore the soundtrack. Aside from the great OP, ED  and background music, every episode has at least one insert theme, which were all lovely.

Possible reasons for it’s obscurity: …I don’t know. Airing in 2009, I can’t simply say ‘because its old’. Streamed legally in the UK, US and many other countries on Crunchyroll, I can’t say ‘because it isn’t licensed’ (though the lack of dub/DVD release may exclude a few people I guess). All I know is that it has an incredibly low view count compared with other full length TV anime from its season (only exceeding that of Genji Monogatari Sennenki), despite being very highly rated on average by those who have seen it.

Overall thoughts: The predictable human characters remain the only, minor complaint about what was otherwise a perfect series, in my opinion.

Anime-Planet average rating: 4/5 (see, other people like it too!)

My personal rating: 5/5

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