Kemono Friends’ Success: Cultural Differences or Something More?

Kemono Friends was the surprise sleeper hit in 2017, almost being completely ignored by the Western anime community while being loved in Japan from the day it aired. What is the secret behind its success?



Kemono Friends was the most popular show of Winter 2017, but only in Japan. One look at its MAL popularity ranking and it becomes clear that this show failed to grab the attention of most western anime fans. Why was Kemono Friendssuch a hit in Japan while going relatively unnoticed in the rest of the world?


Let’s examine the animation first. Kemono Friends uses 3D character models in front of 2D backgrounds. To put it bluntly, the animation is amateurish at best. Most of the time, the characters don’t mesh well with the backgrounds and appear to be in front of their world rather than being part of it.

最初にアニメーションを調べてみましょう。 けものフレンズは、3Dキャラクターのモデルを2D背景の前で使用します。 手短に言うとアニメーションは良くてアマチュアレベルです。 ほとんどの時間、キャラクターは背景とうまく調和せず、その一部ではなく世界の前にいるように見えます。

This is a big turnoff for most people in the anime community since 3D anime aren’t exactly well-liked by fans of the medium. However, this isn’t the case in Japan because 3D animation isn’t nearly as looked down upon as it is in the West. The fact that a show has 3D animation, regardless of animation quality, isn’t an issue for the Japanese audience. Considering this trend, the main reason why this show went unnoticed in the West becomes clear: 3D rendering turns many people away.


If animation was the only thing that counted, Kemono Friends would be a complete failure. However, everything in life has two sides that balance each other out. Balance between work and free time, between time with friends and time alone, and between being lazy and working out. Thus, it should come as no surprise that such a balance also exists within anime: the balance between writing and animation.

もしアニメーションがその一点でしか価値を判断しないものならけものフレンズは完全に失敗していたでしょう。しかしながら、人生のすべてには、互いにバランスを取る2つの側面があります。 仕事と自由時間のバランス、友人との時間と独りの時間、怠け者でいる時と働いている時。したがって、アニメ内にもこのようなバランスが存在することは驚きではありません。:脚本とアニメーションのバランスです。

Since the animation isn’t the main draw of Kemono Friends, the writing needs to be very strong in order to make up for the show’s drawbacks.


In the case of Kemono Friends, the writing delivers and even manages to incorporate the amateurish animation into its narrative. The premise of Kemono Friends is that a long time ago, all of the animals in Japari Park were transformed into half-animal, half-human beings called “Friends”.

けものフレンズでは、脚本が物語をもたらし、稚拙な映像表現にも関わらず物語に没入させることさえあります。(※) けものフレンズの前提は、遠い昔ジャパリパークの全ての動物達がフレンズと呼ばれる半分動物で半分人の生き物に変身したというものです。

※ KEMさん(@KEMKEMat) から翻訳案を頂きました。 https://twitter.com/KEMKEMat/status/1033821990304411648

One day, an amnesiac girl named Kaban wakes up in the savanna area of Japari Park and meets a cat girl named Serval. Together, they go on a journey to the Japari Library in order to discover Kaban’s identity, all while meeting many different Friends along the way.


On the surface, this sounds like a standard setup for a fun adventure for kids filled with educational undertones about animals—and that’s mostly what it is.


Every episode features one or two new characters that either need help from Serval and Kaban or help them get closer to the library. What actually elevates this series to something greater than that, however, is its setting and presentation.


Japari Park is a giant amusement park built by humans long before the beginning of Serval and Kaban’s adventures. However, something happened that caused the park to lie in shambles and erase any trace of its human inhabitants. The ruins of this former park are then explored by Serval and Kaban, giving the whole show a dark and unsettling atmosphere that contrasts with the cheerful adventures of the two heroines.


The cast’s childlike ignorance towards their surroundings further enhances the atmosphere. Here, the animation adds to the strangeness because the characters do not blend with the world they are supposed to live in. Apart from the lore surrounding the setting of Kemono Friends, there are also other mysteries which Serval and Kaban encounter during their travels.


While there are still many mysteries that remain unsolved until the end, the show never loses focus on what it wants to be. It makes it very clear that the fun adventure through Japari Park is the main event, which makes the show enjoyable for both kids and adults.


However, this is the exact reason Kemono Friends didn’t catch on in the West. For the first couple episodes, the eerie atmosphere of the series isn’t present yet, leaving the animation to rob the spotlight. Because of this, many people simply judged it as a kids show with bad animation.


Lastly, there is another aspect that draws people to this show: the characters, or more specifically, the character designs. The Friends are based on animals, but they look distinct while still resembling the original animals they are based on. Cat and fox girls are already proven to be popular, so throwing more animals into the mix seems like the logical choice. And while fondness for particular characters is always subjective, the cute and memorable designs of the Friends effectively help cement the show’s appeal.

最後に、このアニメには人を引き付けるもう1つの側面があります:すなわちキャラクター、より具体的にはキャラクターデザインです。 フレンズたちは動物に基づいていますが、元の動物に似ていても見た目は特徴的です。 猫とキツネの女の子はすでにポピュラーな存在となっていることが証明されているので、より多くの動物を投入することは理にかなっているようです。 そして、特定のキャラクターに対する好みは常に主観的ですが、フレンズのかわいい印象的なデザインはアニメの魅力を効果的に強固にしています。

Let’s return to our initial question. While Kemono Friends‘ popularity in Japan has something to do with the Japanese anime community being more accepting of 3D animation than western fans, it’s also because of its other positive elements that keep viewers engaged and wanting more. Thus, Kemono Friends‘ success shouldn’t come as a surprise since it’s the natural consequence of the show being good.

最初の質問に戻りましょう。 日本におけるけものフレンズの人気は、日本のアニメコミュニティが西洋のファンよりも3Dアニメーションを受け入れていることとは関係があります。それはまた、視聴者の関心を保ち、より多くのことを望む他の積極的な要素も要因です。 このように、けものフレンズの成功は驚くべきものとしてではなくただ単純に番組が良かったからという理由によるものなのです。