I’m totally hyped about seeing the first episode of The Tatami Galaxy (Yojohan Shinwa Taikei). It finally aired this evening in the beloved noitaminA block and is already streaming on Funimation‘s video site, but… I’m region blocked! It’s been a while since I’ve been excited enough about a series to feel as frustrated as this, but, alas, rather than implode, I’ve decided to start writing this post instead! (However, if you’re based in North America, you can stream The Tatami Galaxy for free, like, right now! You guys are so lucky!)
It’s fair to say that the creative staff “working on” (more like playing with) Kemonozume must have had so much fun, from flying heads and sexed up monkeys to a perverted old man shoving a pair of severed female arms down his skanky speedos – this is a show that clearly had no pretension of sensibility and instead embraces insanity, playing out like a giddy reimaging of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s apocalypse. If there is an on-going theme, it is love; and the sad things that love can do to you! The end result is a spectacular if rather superficial show, it leaves us with no sense of tragedy or enlightenment, but one can’t help but be enthralled by such an enthusiastic and eccentric stab at animated story telling.
It’s important to note the word “animated” here. A lot of anime seems to revolve around depicting everyday cold, hard realism – so much so that we almost forget that this is actually animated. It’s a shame because the beautiful thing about animation is that anything is possible, why the need to ground us in reality when there are no limits? Actually that’s wrong, the only true limit is the artists imagination, and imagination is rare. Just look around – most anime looks the same, borrows the same boring old archetypes and sticks to tried and test formula. The industry is still looking for a new Miyazaki; an innovative and important new director able to speak to fans beyond the typical otaku crowd, but they struggle because for years they have been stuck recycling shounen, slice of life, harem and fan service anime for the masses.
In the sea of generic trash that largely makes up today’s anime and despite its somewhat limited popularity even within anime fandom, Kemonozume is one of the few shows unique enough to find a lasting audience. If there is hope for the future of anime, it’s to be found in a show like this or Mushishi, where whimsical and exciting animation takes precedence over easy money.
Since we’re now hitting the final couple of episodes, Kemonozume is building up to an action packed climax. The villain, or “big boss”, has turned out to be the fat Ohba – I liken his bizarre appearance to that of a clown, and deep down, we’re all scared of clowns – their smiley made-up faces covering a deeply seeded malevolence. Just ask Stephen King! Ohba wields a double “Kemonozume” too; both his arms are transplanted claws ripped from innocent young flesh eaters – so no doubt, he will prove a fearsome opponent for Toshihiko. He is a vile and nasty piece of work.
As for Toshihiko, he’s off training with sex-starved monkeys and eating fish with giant detectives. When I’m watching Kemonozume, I hardly noticed how fucking strange this series is. Yuka has been abducted by Ohba, so he’ll need to power up if he’s going to get her back.
Artistic and mad is a word I’d use to describe Kemonozume’s typically staggering opening few seconds – this time, I imagine it could be a tripped out dream sequence seen through the warped perspective of an insane and drunk Adolf Hitler. It’s like watching a fragmented, dizzy replay of a drunken memory.
To honest there’s no easy way to sum up Kemonozume’s visual epilepsy. You really have to see it to understand how damn colourful it is; so do that. Go and watch Kemonozume.
Still on the run from the Kifuuken, we join the love birds Yuka and Toshihiko aimlessly wandering down vast and empty roads when they are offered a lift by an old married couple. Their journey (squeezed inside a white van) is a chance for them to reflect on their young relationship, inspired by the beautiful and reflective scenery, and of course they can’t help but stare at the old couple still head-over-heals in love with each other after decades of marriage.
Later that evening, Yuka and Toshihiko take a walk down by a rocky beach but return to find tragedy; the old couple, having taken some strange medicine, have transformed into grotesque monsters and are biting chunks out of each other. Toshihiko tries to stop them, but Yuka is attacked and this in turn triggers her own transformation. The old couple end up dead, the medicine sold to them by the Kifuuken. Utterly horrified at having feasted on the old lady, Yuka leaves Toshihiko and runs crying into a near-by forest. Here she bumps into the frog like old man from the Kifuuken. He has a sick, greedy look on his face; grinning widely as if to suggest he has finally found his prey.
There is a lot of talk here about love and what it means to love someone regardless of their physicality. Subverting and repressing your nature, attempting to become something you’re not, this inevitably leads to heart break. Yuka is a flesh eater and she must accept this fact if she is ever to become happy.
This was another fine episode – noted for a particularly symbolic and beautiful scene where the characters find themselves walking on blue sky and fluffy clouds; a completely flat, shallow river that reflects the sky above. The novelty of a 60+ year old woman dreamily discussing sex not withstanding.
At the beginning of this episode a boy student is excitedly kissing his innocent girlfriend for the first time. They hold each other in an emotional embrace, it is a pivotal moment in their lives, “Ah the day has finally come, Takako-Chan’s warm, soft, slippery thing is in my mouth…”. But the boy gets too excited, “What’s this?” he wonders aloud, sensing something wet and sticky. He opens his eyes to realize he has accidentally bitten Takako-Chan in half. Whoops. Turns out he was a flesh eater, and along with a bucket load of her blood, the top half of Takako-Chan’s corpse dribbles from his fanged jaws. “What’s this?”
Kemonozume is the coolest show airing right now. It’s an adult anime, it has sex, it has attitude and it looks so completely different to everything else. With that said, it clearly isn’t for hard-line anime fans; the art is simply too eclectic and weird for most – fluid and evocative, it lacks the mundane and familiar beauty of typical anime, yet bursts with a free wheeling and fun loving spirit.
I have my doubts about the durability of the story – namely Romeo (Toshihiko – human) and Juliet (Yuka – flesh eating monster) are still on the run from their hunters – these characters, for all their swagger, feel as though they lack a compelling substance. I love that they are eccentric, passionate and unpredictable. All the characters in Kemonozume are fun to watch, but something still feels hollow; a gaping sense of empathy I’m still to locate.
Though these are just nagging doubts; so far Kemonozume has been a fiendishly successful experiment in dripping, post-noir style. Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings. This is the bleeding edge of modern anime.
The moment I clapped eyes on its highly evocative promo art, I knew I’d love Kemonozume. It just looks so damn cool, completely in another league to the typical “doll face” anime style; here characters look and move like real people, the fluidity of movement and facial expression oddly fascinating. Forget following the narrative- simply watching Kemonozume in full flow is enough of an immersive experience, the animation is wonderful. Like Noein, where the sheer visceral speed of the moving characters somewhat deforms their cliche anime “beauty”, Kemonozume plays with some raw but undeniably vivid art to evoke a thick, gritty atmosphere, sparkling with gems of fleeting beauty amidst an other wise grimy, street-wise setting.
I’ve said a lot about the art of Kemonozume because it is that important. The story is interesting if a little predictable- a male demon hunter falls in love with his beautiful “prey” and they have passionate forbidden sex (yes, actual sex in modern anime, who would have thought it?!)- tragedy surely awaits them. I hope I’m not the only one to notice how similar the premise is to Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s erotic horror Wicked City. Masaaki Yuasa’s colourful, hyperactive and quirky directing style elevates Kemonozume above mere gothic territory and offers up some truly (monkey loving) zany moments, offsetting the grim horror with important touches of light (offbeat) humour.
Though its unique style won’t be for everyone, Kemonozume is an experimental horrific delight that completely shuns the contemporary anime style in favour of delicious gut-munching innovation.