Perplexed and Bursting with Emotions: The Broken Anime Production Model
Boy, am I pissed off. While I had prepared myself for the lack of any sequel/split course announcement at the end of this finale, it still hit like a ton of bricks. I’m utterly conflicted here because I want to be positive about what was a truly great final episode. But Kemono Jihen not getting a sequel doesn’t just suck on its own terms (which it most definitely does) – it also exemplifies just how utterly and maybe irretrievably broken the current anime production model is. It’s very hard to sort out my feelings at this moment because they’re all jumbled together.
The Case of Kemono Jihen and Anime’s Broken System
There were two shows this season that I truly loved, this one and Kai Byoui Ramune. But despite both of them getting only a single cour, my emotions could hardly be more different. Ramune is a short manga and the sort of quirky oddball that would never have been a major hit. But it’s different with Kemono Jihen. This is a great series, yes – in my view vastly superior to the Shounen Giants getting multiple seasons and movies by the truckload. But it’s also a series that should be a hit. It has what should be plenty of mainstream appeal and indeed is very popular (4.2 million manga volumes in circulation in February, #7 in overall sales).
Yet, here we are.
You can look at two shows, this one, and Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun, to see why anime is broken and probably screwed. Look at those series getting one cour, and look at the mediocrities all around getting multiples. For most of anime’s history, these two series getting multiple seasons wouldn’t even have been a question, just based on their commercial appeal. But that was before the stranglehold the production committee system has on anime tightened to the point where creative ambition has been largely suffocated. In a healthy, sustainable creative ecosystem, these two series would be slam-dunks for multiple seasons. In the current one, they’re one and done.
It’s not impossible that Kemono Jihen will eventually get a sequel, of course. Hell, it’s not even impossible that Hanako-kun will. But it shouldn’t be in any doubt, and the signs are frankly not promising. Aimoto Shou only tweeted “If you want to continue the story, please read the manga from Volume 6”. And there are no hints to be found from anyone in the production committee that more is in the works. It’s a travesty, frankly – not only because this is such a stellar shounen, but because this is the sort of show that should be the backbone of anime as a medium.
A Phenomenal Finale: Highlighting the Consistency of Kemono Jihen
Yes, there was a finale. And I really should talk about it because it was, you know, great. Kemono Jihen was extremely consistent, but it must be said that both its premiere and finale were among the very best episodes, which is a marker of a strong adaptation. While the Akira origin story and indeed the entire cour are basically prologue, with the main story only now starting (must…contain…rage…) this was a great way to conclude things. Akira and Yui’s story connects with Kabane’s backstory (obviously the main event) more directly than Shiki’s, which is why Aimoto-sensei placed it later in the narrative.
One of the great things about this is that all of these characters are really interesting and complicated. Nobimaru has some great moments in this finale, from calling Inari a “bitch” to refusing treatment for his mangled hand as an “admonishment”. It’s always interesting to see him and Kabane working together because they’re so different and, in a sense, they complement each other tremendously well. Kabane could not be more direct or Nobimaru more duplicitous, yet they’re a dream team. And the eminently practical and detached Nobimaru seems to genuinely like this aspect of Kabane, probably because it’s so antithetical to what he and his kind represent.
Kabane’s willingness to put himself in Nobimaru’s hands and Nobimaru’s ruthlessness is what allows the pair to eventually overcome Yui. Forced to hold back from killing Yui, even Nobimaru is probably overmatched in solo combat. Together, however, they fight ice with fire and triumph just as Akira frees himself and comes to his brother’s rescue (unnecessarily, in truth). The most crucial part of this sequence is what happens when the ever-selfless Kabane uses the Lifestone to try and extract the Nullstone from Yui’s body. What results – eventually dubbed the “Kemonostone” by Inugami-san – is something quite unlike even the tanuki or Inari-sama has seen before.
My favorite part of the aftermath is Kabane’s “Yokatta!” reaction when Akira makes it clear that his act was just that, an act. Kabane is quick to forgive, but it’s obvious that being loved is important to him, and Akira is someone who shares that commodity freely. Yui shares, too – some information about the Nullstone and the history behind it. Kabane’s goal is to find his parents, and Yui’s story about the “Kemono Jihen” – the great Kemono-human war a thousand years ago – suggests that those parents could be important individuals.
The Real Story Begins: Kabane’s Search for Family
And so, the real story of Kemono Jihen can begin. While Shiki and Akira stay behind to rebuild their family relationships, Kabane sets off for Shikoku to try and find his own family – in the company of the ever-nurturing Inugami, of course. There’s another passenger on the Shinkansen, though. Kon (the world’s worst actress) has been given the task of getting Kabane to voluntarily hand over the Kemonostone as a means to restore her place at Inari’s side. Inugami leaves her acceptance up to Kabane-kun, and he’s certainly not going to say no.
It’s a cliche by now, but truthfully, the anime has just scratched the surface with Kemono Jihen. The best part of the manga is still to come, but I think the anime did a wonderful job of capturing its appeal. It was a super-faithful adaptation of the first 21 chapters (only Chapter 16 and part of 10 were omitted), with near-flawless execution. A couple of the casting decisions (not the most important ones) were borderline for me, but apart from that, the adaptation pretty much never put a foot wrong. This is a great shounen, plain and simple – like Hunter X Hunter one with strong seinen accents. Kabane is a fantastically loveable protagonist, and the supporting cast is uniformly top-notch.
Now, I suppose, we can only fall back on the old standby – “read the manga”. It’s a wonderful one and no consolation prize by any means, but it truly is a crying shame that it gets anything less than a full anime adaptation. It lends itself to the medium beautifully and indeed represents the best of what shounen anime has historically been. I wish I could bask in the glow of a pitch-perfect final episode like that with unreserved happiness, but the state of anime in 2021 just makes that impossible. Still – that’s why I’m first and foremost a manga fan at this point in my life. Now – what are you waiting for? Go start reading.