Image source: けものフレンズ@公式アカウント on Twitter

A cute, light-hearted romp through a wildlife park to discover one’s identity. No, it’s not a spiritual walk through the outback. It’s Kemono Friends. But underneath that cute exterior, something potentially extremely tragic may be hiding.

Kemono Friends Is Animal Girls Galore

Kemono Friends is the story of the fantastical wildlife park, Japari Park, and the various anthropomorphic animals–called “Friends”–that inhabit it. One day, a strange Friend appears with no memory of who–or what–she/he is. Together with Serval, a serval Friend, they head out to the Japari Park library to understand what this strange new Friend, named “Kaban,” is.

Note: This article contains spoilers for Kemono Friends.

On its surface, Kemono Friends is extremely lighthearted and fun. Episode to episode, Serval and Kaban travel through various areas of the park and encounter other cute Friends and interact with them.

However, as the episodes have progressed and more bits of the world have been revealed, something seems amiss about it all. Strange and malevolent creatures roam unchecked, a bridge has long since been washed away by a river and not been repaired, a tour bus lies abandoned, a mountaintop café and ropeway access have also been abandoned, various portions of an underground maze are overrun with cooled magma, and so on. For what seems to be a safari amusement park, everything seems in disrepair with no sign of anyone or anything maintaining it.

There’s also Lucky Beast. Called “Boss” by the Friends, Lucky Beast speaks in an echoing mechanical voice and acts as both a navigational guide and an information terminal for the traveling Kaban and Serval. However, Lucky Beast’s knowledge seems out of date. Interestingly, Lucky Beast will only speak around Kaban and otherwise remains completely silent–a fact that amazes all the various Friends, as they had assumed Lucky Beast was incapable of speech.

Then there is Kaban. While all Friends seem to have various physical abilities based on whatever animal they are, Kaban is physically unremarkable. Kaban isn’t strong, can’t jump far, can’t climb well, can’t fly, can’t hear well, etc. Kaban’s only outstanding attributes are his/her ability to create and use tools–something no other Friend seems able to do–and her/his ability to recognize patterns in images and signs. Characteristics that seem rather… “human,” one might even say.

Finally, in the latest episode, after an encounter with a Tsuchinoko Friend, the Friend observes Kaban’s ability to recognize a secret exit from a sign over it and seems to have a private epiphany as to what Kaban might be. The Tsuchinoko friend then remarks in amazement that they had thought that “all of [Kaban’s race] had perished.”

Image source: けものフレンズ@公式アカウント on Twitter

From all the hints that have been dropped so far, we can paint a rather grim picture as to what may have happened in this world preceding the series itself. It seems that, while on the surface Kemono Friends is a cute enjoyable odyssey through a whimsical land, it may in fact be a post-apocalyptic story where humanity has either been wiped out or all turned into Friends, with Kaban as possibly the last full-blooded human alive. It’d be almost terrifying if the series weren’t so cute about it all.

This may not be true. The series hasn’t actually given a definitive answer as to what animal Kaban is–only, like, 99% of one–and just because the park has been abandoned doesn’t necessarily mean that all humanity is gone. However, what we’ve been given so far doesn’t really give me much hope for an alternative theory. I guess we have yet to see. As it stands, though, Kemono Friends is the cutest, most light-hearted post-apocalyptic story ever.

Kemono Friends can be viewed with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.

Comments (1)
  1. Latest episode on Crunchyroll at time of posting, Episode 7 – Japari Park, has confirmed that Kaban (Bag-chan) is human. Two owl friends at the Japari Park Library confirm that either all other humans are extinct, or are hiding somewhere they can’t find/access.

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