Kemono Friends (Animal Friends) is a surprisingly popular anime currently being broadcast every Tuesday from 1:35. The word ‘popular’ is often used to describe new anime, but it might be too hasty to express Kemono Friends’ growing fame with this word.
In this article, I would like to write about the reasons this anime is gaining tremendous popularity. It’s spreading fast almost like some kind of pandemic, or as we may call it ‘Kemo-Fre Pandemic’.
I went on a trip around the world to see with my own eyes how much otaku content and other Japanese culture themes have spread throughout the world. During my travels, I have met and spoken with many people. Therefore, I would first like to draw on my experience and knowledge to analyze the reactions of anime fans overseas to Kemono Friends.
※Spoiler Warning: The following contains spoilers from Kemono Friends.
First, let’s try to quantitate its scale of popularity.
About 2 months have passed since the Winter 2017 anime started, and now I want all of those anime fans out there to think back on what anime you predicted would become this season’s ‘dominant anime’.
（※Just in case you do not know, ‘dominant anime’ is the term we use to indicate the anime that has accomplished great success in terms of sales of the anime’s Blu-ray/DVD, its original works, and so on. However, you can just think of it as ‘the anime that was a great hit’ in this article.）
My predictions for the supreme anime nominees were these three anime: ‘Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World! 2)’ with its definite hilarity and good tempo, Youjo Senki (Saga of Tanya the Evil) with its unique theme featuring a small girl and the military, and Kobayashi-san chi no Maid Dragon (Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid) , the first 30-minute anime written by the popular 5-minute anime maker Cool-Kyou Shinja. If you’re a big anime fan, I’m pretty sure you made similar predictions.
Now, let’s look at how these nominees have been picked up on social networks (especially on Twitter) since their initial broadcast in January. I have used Yahoo! Real Time to make the following observations.
These graphs show how many times the anime titles have been mentioned on Twitter. For example, on February 10, 11,745 tweets including ‘Maid Dragon’ were recorded.
Let’s suppose that the number of tweets represents the ‘heat value’ of the anime. Each anime’s heat value is high on the day before and after it airs. Also, a common fact for the ‘supreme anime’ nominees is that all three have already gotten over ten thousand tweets in just about a month.
So, making ten thousand our standard number, let’s check out the heat value of Kemono Friends. Although the anime is very popular now, the heat value after its first airing was not so high. The number of tweets only went up to about 3,000, and a lot of them included negative comments, such as ‘It’s an anime for small children’ and ‘The 30 minutes felt awfully long.’
However, the anime’s heat value got higher and higher as the story progressed. More and more people started to discuss the secrets hidden behind the anime, and the existence of the ‘Discussion Team’ strengthened.
After the anime’s fourth episode, the tweets about Kemono Friends surpassed 7,500. Fans started to create many different kinds of fan fiction works and also started to use internet slang related to the anime. The popularity pandemic started to spread.
The tweets about Kemono Friends reached 100,000 within a week of the airing of its fourth episode.
For those of you who are not anime fans, it might be difficult to understand how surprising it is for anime-related tweets to suddenly go over 100,000, so let me explain this significance using an example key word.
Recently, there was a day when the word ‘Niku (Meat)’ appeared in over 100,000 tweets. This was on February 9, which is known as the ‘Niku no Hi (Meat Day)’ in Japan, and is a kind of festival where many people eat meat. Imagine a tweet going over that number in a niche that has significantly less followers than the sum of Twitter users who know about the festival.
‘Japari Park’ is an enormous zoo which exists somewhere on this planet.
In this zoo, the animals started to transform into ‘Animal Girls’ due to the powers of the mysterious substance ‘Sandstar’!
Then, the Animal Girls started to spend fun times with the tourists who came for visits.
Time went by and the Animal Girls were living their ordinary lives.
However, one day, the girls meet a lost girl who seems to need help.
So, do the Animal Girls help the girl look for her way home?
No! Together, they go on a big adventure!
── From Kemono Friends’ Official Website
Now, let’s make an observation on the anime’s contents and figure out why the tweets went over 100,000 in such a short time span.
The first episode starts with the lost girl, or ‘Kaban-chan (Bag)’, walking alone in the savanna carrying a backpack and then meeting Serval, the serval cat. Kaban-chan did not know what animal, or ‘Friend’, she herself was, so the two decided to head towards the library to find out the answer.
As I have previously mentioned, the reactions from the viewers were favorable after the first episode.
However, I believe that there were already many key factors included in the first episode, which we may call ‘mysteries’ to keep the viewers’ attention, such as the scene where Lucky Beast, the guiding robot which was thought to have no language ability, suddenly speaks to Kaban-chan. Also, in the closing credits, the voice actor of Lucky Beast was ‘???’; another mystery.
At this point, the viewers had no clue what these ‘mysteries’ were for.
Then came Episode 2. In many anime these days, the first episode goes right into the story without an opening song, and instead, the opening theme is used at the end. The same method was used for Kemono Friends.
Therefore, the second episode became the first unveiling of the ending theme. The song was catchy band music, and strangely, the closing credits showed photos of many ruins of buildings around the world.
After this episode, the members of the ‘Discussion Team’ started to get interested in the mysterious factors set in the anime, and heat value started to increase.
In the third episode, the Japanese Crested Ibis, who loves to sing songs, appears for the first time, and she mentions, ‘When I’m a ‘Friend’ (human), it is difficult for me to sing. I think there is a proper way to sing using this body.’ This line indicates that she used to have a different form.
The big jump came when the anime’s fourth episode, which became the driving force of Kemono Friends’ pandemic, was aired on TV. From this episode onwards, the viewers become completely aware of the mysterious factors in the anime.
On their journey, the girls had walked through many natural fields including the savanna and the jungle, and this time, in the fourth episode, they were walking through the desert.
However, about ten minutes into the episode, the story faces a turning point. While walking through the desert, the girls suddenly find an underground passage, and Lucky Beast tells them, ‘This is a bypass road. We can go to the library using this path. ’
A bypass road…?
Up to this scene, of course, it was already obvious that the world was civilized in some way, for the characters were using human inventions such as the bus. However, this was the first scene in which the viewers became completely aware of the advanced civilization that existed in the world.
The girls walked through the bypass road, which had obviously been paved by humans. Then, they suddenly reach the entrance to a huge underground escape attraction.
Welcome to the Underground Maze. Will you be able to reach the goal? Hahaha.
The ‘Friend’ that made the announcement was a Tsuchinoko, an unidentified mysterious animal (think of it as a Japanese version of Bigfoot or Nessie)
On top of this, the characters find an exit which is clogged by lava, and an ‘Emergency Exit Sign’ that we are familiar with in the real world. This fourth episode was full of new information, and had a completely different atmosphere from the previous episodes.
What was the message hidden in Episode 4?
I would like to share some unique theories from the members of the ‘Discussion Team’. One person says, ‘The maze might be an enormous ruined building made for human beings.’ Another theory was that ‘the setting might be the world after the death of humans and civilization.’ Another says that ‘it might be a world inside a social network game whose service has ended.’ The fans are having great discussions.
The fourth episode left the possibility for all of these theories to be true. The airing of this episode was almost like throwing a fire-bomb at the fans, causing their discussions to get hotter and hotter.
From watching the scenes of the bus in episode 2 and the ruined buildings in the ending, I myself had been aware of the close link between the story and ‘civilization’. I just couldn’t stop my heart from beating fast watching this fourth episode.
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