Kemono Jihen is a supernatural mystery story set in modern-day Tokyo. It follows the exploits of the Inugami Detective Agency, a secretive group populated by kemono (yokai/demons that can take human forms) who investigate strange happenings related to rogue members of their own species. Their newest member is Kabane, a half-kemono who possesses a powerful stone called a “life stone” and desperately wants to find his missing parents who left it with him. It sounds like a neat little concept on paper, but does this anime do anything new and exciting that you can’t find elsewhere? Let’s find out!
If there’s one thing that this anime does exactly right, it’s worldbuilding. Kabane’s backwater village where he gets treated like dirt, the cramped house Shiki lived in and the shed where his uncle conducted experiments, as well as the lonely mountain where Akira and his brother were trapped with the yuki-onna all radiate an aura of sadness and pain that starkly contrasts with the detective agency that serves as their new home. With Inugami (and his pest of a housemate, Mihai), they have the freedom to act like kids and express themselves in any way they choose. We particularly like the “cubby” bedrooms that Shiki and Akira have decorated to reflect their own interests, as well as the adorable homemade chore chart tacked up on the wall. It feels like a place where people actually live instead of just a backdrop made as an afterthought.
The city itself also thrums with life, from the vain face-stealing kemono in the shopping district to the carefully detailed shops in the background to the police that Inari the kitsune has wrapped around her little finger. It’s a perfect setting for all sorts of fascinating phenomena to occur!
The Characters Lack a Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi
For some reason, though, all of these wonderful little pieces don’t fit together to make a satisfying whole. We know that many people love this anime, and we honestly wish that we could love it as much as they do, but the storylines themselves just feel hollow most of the time because the characters aren’t thought through all the way. Kon’s hunger for validation would’ve been more palpable if Inari was a better-developed villain, Shiki’s relationship with his newfound sister could’ve held more emotional weight if she hadn’t turned into a joke character by the very next episode, and Akira’s struggle to prove to his brother that he’s capable of independence would’ve made more sense if he was ever actually useful in a fight.
But the worst offender of all is Kabane himself, who has no emotions and doesn’t even get to search for his parents like he said he wanted to. He doesn’t act much like the main character of a shounen series, instead just fighting and flatly reacting to things going on around him. This lack of polish makes Kemono Jihen a slog to get through sometimes, even though we’re actively trying to get invested in the plot.
If you love Kemono Jihen and think that we’re crazy for thinking that the characters are a bit flat, then we’re glad that you could enjoy this anime in the way it was intended. But we think that if the characters’ relationships and motivations were more realistic and nuanced, this anime could’ve stood up there with some of the greats from this season like Jujutsu Kaisen. As it stands now, you can get a better “dark shounen” experience from so many other anime that Kemono Jihen isn’t really worth watching. If it ever gets a second season, though, we’ll be excited to see what new elements it can bring to the table!
What did you think of our review? Do you think that Kemono Jihen is flawed or not? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!