Kemono Jihen is an anime that succeeds in just about everything it aims to do. As a shounen action series with a bit more of an otaku bent than the big traditional Jump titles, it manages to straddle the line between “energetic young kids fighting” and “entertaining character-interaction comedy/drama.”
When a private investigator named Inugami comes to a rural inn to investigate some mysterious animal mutilations, he discovers a boy named Kabane who seems to be hated by his adopted family. Inugami soon discovers that Kabane is actually a half-human kemono (monster) capable of immense strength and with an indestructible body. After faking Kabane’s death, Inugami takes him to Tokyo, where he becomes one of a trio of young teens who work for Inugami’s detective agency. Together, they help to solve supernatural crimes, which sometimes involves having to get their hands a little dirty.
Kabane is in many ways a typical shounen hero: unusually strong and enormously naive. However, he’s not quite a Goku or a Luffy. While I might be dating myself a bit, if you’ve ever watched the old “Coneheads” Saturday Night Live skits (or even the 1990s film), Kabane has a similar kind of tendency to talk as if he’s not entirely sure how words and emotions work, while being both blunt and kind at heart at the same time. The other characters—like the brash yet slightly tsundere spider boy Shiki and the effeminate and social media–obsessed snow boy Akira—provide Kabane with personalities to bounce off of, as well as allies to bond with. A later side character, a kitsune girl named Kon, is my favorite character in terms of her interactions with Kabane, as they’re equally charmingly dim. Kabane and Kon give me a vibe very akin to Denji and Power in Chainsaw Man.
As for the series being more otaku than the norm, I think this comes across mainly in the character designs. They’re not egregiously pandering by any means, but they possess a general cute yet cool aesthetic that seems to be leaving the door open for all manner of fanart and fan interpretations to happen. Which is to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fan base was mostly a combination of those who love fights and those who love young and charismatic characters.
Action-wise, Kemono Jihen stands quite well on its own, and the superpowered fights that do occur are refreshingly straightforward and easy to follow without too many special attacks gumming up the clarity of a battle. The contrast of those cute characters fighting somewhat brutally might not appeal to everyone, but it’s never excessively grotesque.
Will Kemono Jihen stay a relatively down-to-Earth story about investigating mysteries, or will it lean towards escalating power levels and big fights? I actually don’t mind either direction because the characters are so endearing. In a way, that’s some of the best praise I can give.