Kemono Friends is quite possibly the cutest post-apocalyptic anime you will ever see.
The anime series takes place in a mysterious, abandoned theme park. At a glance, Japari Park would appear to be similar to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park or other zoos.
The name is apparently a play on “Japan” and “Safari.”
There are all sorts of animals roaming around Japari Park — many of which you would normally expect to see living on different continents. The park also contains things such as a cute animal-themed tour bus, a monorail and various theme park buildings ranging from a cafe to a hotel. These things are in various stages of abandonment and disrepair.
The park clearly used to be some sort of huge zoo or wild animal park. At some point before the beginning of the first episode, the humans disappeared and the animals of Japari Park were left to fend on their own.
Oh, and all of the wild animals are cute girls.
These are no ordinary animals. Some of Japari Park’s animals have been transformed into “Friends,” who look like human/ animal hybrids.
For example, Serval is basically a catgirl, with serval ears and a serval tail. Her hair resembles serval fur. Her outfit includes a serval-print skirt, serval-print gloves, a cute serval bow tie and serval-print tights.
Caracal’s outfit is similar to Serval’s outfit. Many of the Friends follow this pattern of animal traits and animal-themed accessories — ears, tail, tights, gloves, etc.
Gray Wolf has heterochromic eyes (yellow and blue). Her outfit has a gray, black and white theme, much like real wolf fur.
The animal-theming only goes so far. Fennec fox wears pink and her companion Raccoon wears purple. But both characters have recognizable ears and tail.
What’s going on?
It’s hard to explain exactly what is going on at Japari Park. But, part of the appeal of this series is trying to figure out all of the mysteries. We are thrown “in media res” into a situation which often makes no sense.
What happened to the park? Why was it abandoned? Who or what are these mysterious alien creatures known as the Ceruleans? Why have all of the animals turned into girls?
Some of these mysteries are less mysterious if you are familiar with the video game that the anime is based upon. Still, the anime can be enjoyed even if you haven’t played the game.
One of the bigger mysteries in season 1 is the main character, Kaban.
Who is Kaban?
Season 1 revolves around Kaban and her adventures in Japari Park. Kaban is a cute girl like the animal Friends, but she is not an animal. She has no cat ears or a tail. She wears a safari hat, but her clothes are not animal-themed.
From the very start, it should be obvious to the audience that Kaban is human. However, this isn’t immediately obvious to the characters on the show, many of whom have apparently never seen a human before.
Kaban doesn’t really know who she is, either. She’s trying to find what sort of Friend she is, and where her home is. Her name was given to her by Serval. (“Kaban” means bag or backpack, which Kaban has.)
In the first episode, Kaban is “attacked” by Serval (this turns out to be just a playful game by Serval). Serval is the first of the cute animal girls that we meet. She’s energetic, enthusiastic, playful and perhaps a little air-headed.
(It should be noted that many of the Kemono Friends characters should logically be carnivores and hunters. However, all of the characters are happy to eat “Japari buns” instead of meat.)
Upon meeting, Kaban and Serval quickly become friends. Serval is happy to help Kaban on her quest.
These two run across all sorts of animal girl Friends on their journey. In each episode, we learn a little bit about each one of them — and their real-life animal counterparts.
Kaban and Serval are helped on their journey by a Lucky Beast. Lucky Beasts are little robots. Lucky Beast can provide Kaban with information. He also drives the tour bus.
Interestingly, Lucky Beast doesn’t speak unless Kaban is around. The Friends refer to Lucky Beast as “boss.”
Ceruleans and a cliffhanger
Kaban, Serval and the other Friends often have to fight Ceruleans, mysterious alien-like creatures who have invaded the park. The Ceruleans cause a lot of the problems at Japari Park.
Ceruleans can take many forms. In the video game, one takes the appearance of Serval, and causes trouble for the catgirl. This “Fake Serval” gets nicknamed Cerval, and eventually becomes friendly.
Ceruleans who resemble Friends also appear in the second season of the anime.
Both the Ceruleans and the Friends were created from Sandstar. Sandstar erupted from a volcano. Some of this information is more clear in the video game.
Season 1 ends on a cliffhanger. Kaban, Serval and some other Friends are out at sea. Kaban was trying to reach another region of Japari Park. But their vehicle has run out of power.
The implication seems to be that the adventure will continue in season 2, with Kaban and Serval exploring a new region. However, that doesn’t happen.
Controversy over season 2
Starting in September of 2017, controversy swirled around the production of Kemono Friends.
It started when anime director Tatsuki announced on Twitter that he would not be working on season 2. He blamed the anime publishing company Kadokawa for replacing him. Kemono Friends fans reacted angrily; they supported Tatsuki.
The facts are complicated, but both Tatsuki and animation studio Yaoyorozu did not return for season 2.
In season 2, the cliffhanger plot with Kaban and Serval in the ocean is abandoned. Kaban is replaced by a new protagonist. Serval seems to have vague memories of Kaban. At first, it’s not clear how much she actually remembers.
The new hero is similar to Kaban. He is timid, and he has lost his memory. He is searching for his home. Serval and Caracal decide to name him Kyururu, because his stomach was growling in the first episode.
A lot of season 2 is similar to season 1. Kyururu explores Japari Park, and helps various Friends. There are Ceruleans to fight, and problems to solve.
Kaban returns halfway through the story, although she doesn’t stick around. She looks older, which suggests that time passed between seasons 1 and 2.
Unfortunately, the controversy between the two seasons makes the differences stand out more. For example, take Serval’s leaky memory. Since Mirai, Kaban and Kyururu were all friends with a Serval, shouldn’t Serval know more than she does?
At one point, it is explained that the anime Serval is not the same serval seen in the video game — so this Serval doesn’t know Mirai. (But she might know the other Serval.) But it is the same Serval in seasons 1 and 2.
(Some of Serval’s forgetfulness could be explained by battles with Ceruleans. Ceruleans can revert Friends to animals, and make them forget things.)
Kaban also acts differently in season 2. But, she is older and wiser this time.
Eventually, Kyururu’s origin is explained — and his origin is similar to Kaban’s. It’s something of a spoiler. Serval does remember Kaban in the long run.
In the end, Kyururu decides to explore Japari Park some more.
Kemono Friends started with a Nexon video game in 2015. The game was made for iOS and Android.
In the game, the player is helping a park guide, Mirai, and the Friends fight the Ceruleans.
There was a manga, Kemono Friends: Welcome to Japari Park! (also known as Kemono Friends: Youkoso Japari Park e!), from 2015 to 2017.
The manga apparently takes place after the video game, but before the anime. The park is still running, and a new character, Nana, is the focus. Mirai is Nana’s boss.
The first season of the anime ran in Japan from January to March 2017. This was followed by the second game, Kemono Friends Pavilion in 2018.
Also in 2018, a short animated series, Welcome to the Japari Park, tried to explain previous events which happened at Japari Park. The little side series uses the clever plot device of actually being old recorded video from the park.
The series offers a funny recap, with narration by various characters, including Mirai. It seems to be based more off of the video game, rather than on the anime.
A third game, Kemono Friends Picross, came out in October of 2018.
The second season of Kemono Friends ran in 2019.
The video game Kemono Friends 3 came out in September of 2019. A third season of the Kemono Friends anime has not been announced yet.