The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Kemono no Souja Erin

Title: Kemono no Souja Erin aka Beast Player Erin aka Erin
Genre: Drama
Company: Production I.G.
Format: 50 episodes
Dates: 10 Jan 2009 – 26 Dec 2009

Synopsis: The kingdom of Ryouza is a long standing economic and military power where the Queen and her secluded family are the rulers in name, but true authority lies in the Grand Duke’s military. The army’s decisive strength relies on Touda, enormous and ferocious lizard mounts that are raised and trained only for the Duke’s military. In a small village that raises Touda lives a young girl named Erin. Her mother is the chief Touda caretaker, or “beastinarian”, and despite her mother’s wishes Erin’s curiosity and natural intuition prime her to follow in her mother’s perilous work. When an unknown illness suddenly kills the village’s largest Touda, Erin learns both the tragic responsibility of beastinarians and her mystical heritage, truths which set her life on a course that will shake the most powerful nation in the world to its roots.

The Highlights
Setting: Rich and fully realized.
For kids: Easygoing pace and storybook artwork.
For adults: Sophisticated writing and affecting story.
Erin: Realistic, compelling; the best anime heroine in years.

Kemono no Souja Erin is storytelling of a dying breed. It eschews eye-popping CG spectacle and insert pop single tracks. Erin has none of the flash, fanservice, or self-aware humor popular in the medium today, and anyone looking for those easy appeals of entertainment will have to find that elsewhere. No, Kemono no Souja Erin is a straightforward fantasy story of a child who grows up into a mature young woman. Simple kids’ stuff, right? Predictable and boring, right? Hardly.

Adapted from the novels by Uehashi Naoko (author of the renowned fantasy novel-cum-anime Seirei no Moribito), the first thing that jumps out about Kemono no Souja Erin is its look and sound. Visually, it emulates illustrations from a children’s storybook, with simple characters short on design exaggerations and backgrounds drawn with charming, solid colors and fuzzy, rough lines. The soundtrack is filled with pleasant solo instrumental tunes by acoustic guitar, piano, and harp, while the OPs and EDs feature lyrical songs and abstract animation. Although technical aspects of its production aren’t particularly noteworthy, the aesthetic style adds another layer of folklore and myth to its fantasy construct. Taking cues from much older, classic anime like Dog of Flanders or World Masterpiece Theater works wonderfully for Erin’s presentation and tone.

Like Uehashi’s other anime adaptation, Erin is set in a rich and thought-out fantasy world. It goes at length to detail the flora and fauna in the environment, mixing real animal, plant, and insect behavior with mythical creatures to show how nature feasibly works. People, main or otherwise, move with purpose and logic, and Erin is able to create a real culture and history in this fictional world. Erin takes slow, consistent steps to flesh out humans and beasts alike, confident that the merit of its material and the salience of its statements are compulsion enough to carry its audience’s interest.

However, building a vast, detailed setting and telling a deeply intertwined story takes time. Gladly, Erin takes no easy shortcuts, but does at times move slower than necessary. The story can be clearly divided into three arcs, which would’ve perfectly fit into three cours; yet the narrative is drawn out into four cours, probably so younger viewers could still follow. The middle arc, Erin’s stay at Kazalm, particularly loses steam simply because she stays in one place for such a long time. Erin could’ve benefited most from a tighter, snappier script and quicker paced plot.

A few minor quibbles however take nothing away from Erin’s greatest strength: the maturity and convincing realism of its writing. Though her life is constantly trying and tinged with tragedies, neither Erin the character nor the narrative itself participates in hysterics or gross overreactions to generate drama. A steady hand guides this series’ writing, which shows how Erin’s insightful, empathetic, and mature personality and uncommon knowledge (traits alone that put her in league with the most admirable of anime’s strong female leads) are rooted directly from observations and experiences she has had throughout her life. Her mentors, sage mother Soyon, jolly beekeeper John, and strict headmaster Esal, all speak with the weight of knowing responsibility of molding a curious, intelligent mind. Finally, not only does the series construct a working alternate world, it touches on some examinations of society at large.

I could go on and on about Kemono no Souja Erin, its imaginative world, maturely characterized cast, and sound, responsibly written story, but that would take away from the experience of seeing it yourself. This is what “children’s anime” should be. It’s not necessary to be sanitized, dumbed down, or an ADD product commercial. Erin stays kid friendly only by avoiding sheer graphic excess. Erin is a rarity of modern visual storytelling because its strength is not in technical fireworks or gimmicky presentation, but in measured, methodical writing that’s endearing, engrossing, and trusts keenly in the audience’s own intelligence. Erin might superficially look like a juvenile escape into fantasy, but it’s actually about learning to understand the people and world around you with tools called “love” and “care”. These qualities free Erin from being a product of its time, so that it will be as relevant and profound ten years from now as it is today.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: kadian1364

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