Kemono Friends has been setting viewing records since its debut earlier this winter, but it’s taken time for more particular anime fans to get into the computer-generated show. As its first season draws to a close, many viewers are finally on board — because it’s really starting to look like this run-of-the-mill, kind of ugly-looking anime is actually, secretly brilliant.
The anime is part of a larger media franchise, including a mobile game and manga. It ostensibly follows a crew of cute girls living in a zoo, all of whom have been transformed from endangered and extinct species. One member of the group is trying to figure out just how she ended up in this strange place.
Yet, since January, the first episode of Kemono Friends has been streamed more than three million times on major Japanese streaming service Nico Nico Douga. It’s well on its way to becoming the most viewed episode ever on Nico Nico, according to Crunchyroll’s news outlet. It’s also become extremely popular on Twitter and has spawned several memes, becoming a viral internet sensation (largely to its creators’ surprise).
Crunchyroll users have also watched Kemono Friends in huge numbers; the show is simulcast worldwide on the service. The pilot has attracted a lot of eyes, but it also received some serious hate for its 3D animation. Critics call it a low- or no-budget look, and Kemono Friends’ growing fandom just turns other anime fans off even further.
But there are plenty of reasons to get into the show, as the video above explains. There’s the fact that these cutesy female leads aren’t sexualized, sure, but people who have paid close attention over the past four episodes are picking up on a darker subplot that may elevate this show from silly to serious.
(The images below may be spoilers for anyone who’s still watching the show, so feel free to scroll past if you’re not there yet.)
The anime seems to be set in a post-apocalyptic world, based on several clues fans say are hidden throughout. A variety of threads on the anime subreddit highlight the disturbing clues, which come from the ending animation and certain scenes of the show itself.
There’s reason to believe that Kemono Friends’ poor quality animation is actually intentional, according to the amateur sleuths online. It does a good job of hiding the creepy background images that seem to hint that the anime’s way darker than its adorable exterior suggests.
But more on-the-nose is the show’s story. Kaban, the one non-animal-based friend, sure does look human. No one calls her that, though, until midway through the first season … when one of the friends remark upon how they thought her race had “perished.”
It’s all freaky stuff, but it just may help this fairly maligned success story win over even more fans. Kemono Friends is ongoing, but viewers hope that their theories are proven one way or another sometime before the season’s end.