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

Have you heard of the newest craze in Japan? It’s called Kemono Friends.

While to Western audiences, Kemono Friends might seem little more than a quaint cutesy little series about cute anime animal girls doing cute things, in Japan, the popularity of the series is nothing short of a total explosion. Recent trends on social media have people describing themselves and others as “something-something Friends” or repeatedly using the catchphrases, “sugo-i! (amazing!)” or “tannoshi-! (so fun!)” The series has become an infectious subculture phenomenon that has been catching everyone by surprise. So how did that happen?

Kemono Friends is a fairly simple story. It takes place in a fantastical wildlife park called Japari Park, where anthropomorphic animal girls, called “Friends” roam. A mysterious new Friend appears and, together with the serval Friend, Serval, journeys towards the park library to find out what he/she is. On the way, they encounter various other friends and work together to solve problems as they make their way towards the library.

The series is part of the Kemono Friends Project, a multi-media project that included a smartphone game, a comic, anime series, character goods, and more. But it wasn’t until the series began airing that the project really caught fire–the smartphone game was released in March of 2015 and ended its service shortly before the anime series began airing with no plans to restart the game.

Story- and setting-wise, there’s nothing really to indicate why the series has become such a smash hit. In fact, as charming as the first episode was, initial reception among viewers to the series seemed fairly lukewarm. If anything, the popularity explosion was gradual at first, almost like a spreading infection, gaining momentum in an almost exponential rate until before you knew it, it was Friends everywhere.

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

So what did Kemono Friends do to cause this? First off, know that the series popularity caught pretty much everyone by surprise, including the creators. At the premiere of the anime, they stated that their intention was to create an entertaining, light-hearted series that people could enjoy; they did not expect it to become the phenomenon it has. So it was not designed or engineered to be a trend-setter. It just happened to find the winning combination.

Another thing to note is that Kemono Friends does nothing wrong in its execution. While this may not necessarily contribute to its popularity, it helps in that it has nothing to really slow its momentum. No real missteps or negative elements that would turn viewers away from it, so what works continues to work.

Perhaps the greatest factor in Kemono Friends’ infectious appeal is its positivity. Despite potentially being a post-apocalyptic story, the series is ultimately an extremely positive story of wonder, adventure, and most importantly, fun. The basic structure is very simplistic, but it has a purity and a welcoming innocence to it that one can watch and feel their pessimism melt away. The series is earnest in its optimism and playfulness. This is something that the creators were aiming for. The Kemono Friends anime series was created as something that a viewer could turn to at the end of a long day and let wash over them as they switched their brain off.

Their motives were pure, so the result feels unblemished. When something is conceited, contrived, or calculated, something feels a little cynical about it, whereas the shine of a genuinely sincere product is unparalleled. Kemono Friends started out honest and naïve and has continued that way. This is best embodied in the character of Serval, who continues to be genuinely awestruck by every new thing she sees. Everything seems fascinating and fun, and Serval’s emotions transmit to the viewer. It never gets old because she is always honest.

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

Emotions are highly infectious. They’re what get us invested in stories. As we get older, however, and we grow more complex, we tend to understand and to crave more complex stimuli. A story is no longer interesting if it’s plain black and white, good and evil. We know reality, so something that is unrealistically binary becomes bland. We want to know why, but the why brings with it a bunch of other complexities that muddy things up. But that doesn’t mean we don’t respond to pure emotions any more. Given a proper, convincing context, people can accept a simplistic story over a complex one. That, added to a lack of any other similar simultaneously airing series, gives Kemono Friends the perfect stage for viewers to see and enjoy it.

Perhaps an easy-to-understand example for Western viewers would be the 2010 phenomenon, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. MLP was similarly a series that was characterized by its adorably positive overtones. Originally aimed at children–specifically young girls–the series found an unlikely audience in teens and adult men, turning the show into a cultural phenomenon. While Kemono Friends is not necessarily exploding with an unintended audience–it’s very much reaching the audience it’s made for–the resulting effect is very similar.

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

Kemono Friends is a series that has everything going for it, even though no one initially knew that fact. It’s a simple story with an infectiously jovial atmosphere released during a complex time when its audience has no other similar series to watch. It’s earnest in its purpose of letting the viewer shed their everyday troubles, making it the perfect pocket of escapism where its carefree positivity has an almost pleasantly brainwashing effect.

This doesn’t mean that Kemono Friends has found the secret formula for making a phenomenally trending series. As with so many things, timing is everything, and simply replicating the formula out of context destroys the vital element of earnestness. Kemono Friends resonated with its audience because it wanted to be fun and enjoyable, not because it wanted to be successful.

Kemono Friends is currently making ripples in Japanese social media. It may not be THE series that goes down in history as a game-changer, but for now, it’s doing exactly as its creators intended and given people a place where they can sit back, forget their troubles, and enjoy a happy, lighthearted little adventure.

So fun!

Kemono Friends can be viewed with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.

Comments (14)
  1. Ugh, You’ve got to be kidding me.

    This is why anime will die one day.

    • It’s not made for you, gaijin!

  2. You can’t be serious. I watched a couple of episodes of this anime when it first starting airing. Not only was it probably the most boring show this season, the cgi animation is absolutely dreadful, characters slide around at times instead of walk. All the motion is really awkward and janky. The voice acting is dreadful. If hand shakers didn’t exist this season this would probably the worst produced show of the season

  3. It’s one of my favorites this season. I completely expected Kemono Friends to fly under the radar and fade away with low sales, and so I was surprised when my order for the OP single was cancelled because it was sold out. The following day I read that the series has exploded in popularity along with the OP.

    It’s no surprise Kemono Friends is unpopular in the West (currently 1,663 viewers on MAL, no discussion whatsoever about it on ANN), but even I’m a little taken aback by how hysterically negative many of the responses have been, like RealFantaselion’s meltdown over here. People are angry because once again someone dared to make an anime that isn’t pandering to mainstream Western interests such as ultraviolence, torture and rape.

    • English-speaking fans’ opinions don’t matter in any sense. First and foremost, Nihon only cares about Nihon. It’s made for them. Secondly, English-speaking countries aren’t EVEN CLOSE to being anime’s biggest foreign market. China and Korea matter way more than us. We’re not even on the map.

      I just enjoy how these people like that one person you pointed out think their opinion lines up with the people in the industry in Japan. Anime is bigger than ever. It’s not going to die, and the only people who say that are the moronic half-brained two-bit foreigners who think that just because every anime of the season doesn’t have Gary Stu’s, blood, torture, gore, and “psychowogical deconstwuction hurr hurr im smart” nonsense, that anime is ” dead”.

      True stupidity, but always entertaining.

  4. I find the show very charming. Sure the jankiness of the CGI is pretty bad, animation is off sometimes, ect, but the infectious personalities of the friends are why I keep coming back, along with the desire to see just what new animal will show up next. Heck, we got a TSUCHINOKO, a yo-kai/cryptid!

    The post-apocalyptic story is also gripping me in ways I enjoy, the closest comparison I can think of is School Live!/Gakou Gurashi, which also started out cutesy, but quickly showed its true colors.

    The difference, as stated, is this show takes everything lighthearted so far, and that’s just awesome.

  5. Non-Japanese people are very split over this anime whether this anime is one of the most awful CG anime to ever grace the industry or the CG and animation are the charms that make this anime cute. Either way, Japan is clearly loving Kemono Friends. We have gone from cute tanks to lovely raibus and now here we are falling in love for safari girls. I find this to be bad at first but as the show moves on, this is really getting entertaining.

  6. great article. i agree with pretty much all the points you made about the series. i was at first turned off from the series by how bad the cgi and animation was, but as i continued to watch it, the infectiousness light-heated tone got to me and now i love the show.

  7. I’ve been enjoying this series and I think the review does a really good job of identifying why. It’s simple, gentle and fundamentally good-hearted, and may end up supplanting “Adventure Time” as the most upbeat post-apocalyptic story ever.

    The first hint I had that it was starting to take off in Japan was when Sankakuhead (mangaka, “Himouto! Umaru-chan”) posted sketches of Serval on twitter:

    https://twitter.com/sankakuhead/status/831696868560154625

  8. this show is one of my favorite show along with maid dragon.i’ve been exicted when the anime announced to be aired on 2017 since i play the game for quite while. at first i really thought this anime will be the most underated anime like soushin shoujou matoi or even hated because how bad the CG is. but everything really out of my expectation, japanese viewer is actually really enjoy the series and make kemofure become popular as konosuba and maid dragon. it started with meme “if you watch kemono friends, your IQ will going down” so everyone start to watch the series to laugh on it. but after actually watch the series everyone start to enjoy the anime and found it very entertaining and educative. and i would say influence from this anime is really positive, everyone start to visit the zoo because of this anime to see the actual animal that showed on the show. and i really agree with “Perfect timing”.

  9. すごーい!

    • たっのし~!

      • …If anybody was wondering what it’s like at the Anime Now offices…

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