If you’ve followed this blog for a while now, you might’ve remembered me talking about this particular topic in a post of mine on my old, deleted site. However despite discussing about this before, I think now is a great time to look back to this particular string of events, mainly because there have been some really interesting things that have resulted from this whole situation in the past few months.
That being said, allow me to talk about 2017’s biggest anime-related controversy: Kemono Friends and the firing of the well-respected director, Tatsuki.
First off, let’s get some background info: what exactly is Kemono Friends?
Kemono Friends (JP: けものフレンズ) is a multi-media franchise created by manga artist Yoshizaki Mine, and it revolves around a world where many different species of animals are anthropomorphized into cute-looking female characters called “Friends” and live in a zoo-like environment properly named “Japari Park”. This franchise started off as a mobile game developed by global game publisher Nexon, but had a short lifespan from March 2015 to December 2016. The mobile game was essentially Kemono Friends’ roots, as many other types of media have grown from it such as multiple manga and anime series.
However the Kemono Friends franchise wasn’t always popular and loved like we see nowadays during its early beginnings. Other than the mobile game being shut down one month before everything would change, studio Yaoyorozu and director Tatsuki faced some tough challenges as they began to work on the anime adaptation. They had to work with a very, very small budget for art and animation, only 10 staff members were working on this project, entire production time was 500 DAYS, and realize the fact that they were making an anime off a pretty much dead and hopeless-looking IP (intellectual property). Not only that but when the first few episodes of the anime started airing back in the Winter 2017 season, the initial reception from viewers was not nice. People bashed the anime for its cheap-looking CGI animation, shoddy voice acting performances, and the first few episodes simply weren’t interesting enough for viewers to want to keep watching.
But hope was not lost for Tatsuki and his team, since their hard work and creativity went unnoticed later on in the Winter 2017 season. Viewers who stuck with the series despite all the criticism realized around the 4th or 5th episode that it genuinely became a much more interesting and worthy anime. To paraphrase some folks’ thoughts: the post-apocalyptic world of Kemono Friends was just so compelling, the world-building was fantastic, wholesome characters and story line, a great expression of adventure, a soundtrack that pairs perfectly with the setting… the list goes on and on.
Support for the Kemono Friends anime and franchise boomed throughout 2017, with many examples showing so. According to Google Trends, the “Kemono Friends” search term spiked in Japan, even being more searched than the very well-praised Little Witch Academia, the first Blu-Ray release was the #1 most pre-ordered product in Amazon Japan’s “Book” section, and even tons of fans flocked to the Saitama Prefecture’s Tobu Zoo when the establishment collaborated with the Kemono Friends franchise (which probably made them a ton of money lol).
One funny thing about that last fact: you might’ve heard of that viral story where a penguin at that zoo named Grape-kun actually became obsessed with Hululu, one of the Kemono Friends cardboard character cut-outs at his exhibit. The Internet had a fun time appreciating Grape-kun’s love of his cardboard waifu and it certainly was an amusing story. Grape-kun did unfortunately pass away from natural causes later in 2017, with many tributes of him and Hululu being made by fans.
So pretty much, Kemono Friends was very popular. But as the saying goes: all good things must come to an end… although the “end” of Kemono Friends was FAR from a pretty one.
On September 25th, 2017, KF anime director Tatsuki suddenly tweeted out that Kadokawa (the publishing corporation Kemono Friends was under) terminated him from the project for good, only months after the announcement of the second season. The news came out of absolutely nowhere, with many fans of the show immediately showing their support for Tatsuki, as well as their negative opinions regarding Kadokawa.
Amid the massive backlash, Kadokawa tried to defend themselves, only to keep digging a deeper hole with each attempt. First, Kadokawa at first released an very vague statement shortly after Tatsuki’s tweet, not being clear on the reason why they fired the director. Their whole argument was that Tatsuki and Yaoyorozu used and released works relating to Kemono Friends without Kadokawa’s permission, accusing the studio for infringing on copyright. Some of the supposed examples of the studio not following the rules are regarding the KF collaborations with different companies such as Nissin and the Japanese Racing Association, as well as the unofficial “Episode 12.1”, all in which were posted online for free by Tatsuki and studio Yaoyorozu. However, some conflicting evidence against Kadokawa’s argument did surface later on such as creator of Kemono Friends Yoshizaki Mine stating that he did give Tatsuki permission to release those bonus shorts. And if you want one more (scummy) example of how Kadokawa tried to get out of this rut, they essentially put up a “shield of seiyuu” and actually made the voice actresses of the anime main cast apologize for the whole situation during a live stream, in an attempt to calm the angry crowd down. Worst part of it all was that it really did sound forced and truly a desperate move by the corporation.
So as you can probably suspect, this was greedy ol’ Kadokawa seeing the sudden success of Kemono Friends and going, ‘there’s no way we’re not taking advantage of this hidden gem’. I mean, even Tatsuki publicly tweeted out that he didn’t even get a single yen for writing the screenplay of the first season. But the chaos carried on, as fans continued to express their hatred and emotions over the unjust firing of Tatsuki and his crew. As a matter of fact, Kadokawa’s stock actually suffered a 6% drop after the controversy so… they definitely got bit back lol
But let’s fast forward to today and the past few months since it was essentially the reason why I wanted to look back to this interesting incident.
In the Winter 2019 season, among the popular shows like Promised Neverland and Kaguya-sama, lied two shows that had an interesting connection between each other: the Tatsuki-less, Kadokawa-controlled Kemono Friends 2 and Yaoyorozu’s newest anime Kemurikusa. Was it a coincidence that those two would be airing in the same season? I’ll let you decide for yourself 😛
But as expected, Kemono Friends 2 would not be perceived as a good sequel, let alone a good anime. Fans trashed the show even before it began, as KF2 producer Numata Shinnosuke tweeted that his studio was receiving many forms of harassment which caused work delays. As of now, KF2 does have a whopping 5.97 on MyAnimeList, not only because of what Kadokawa did but viewers didn’t think it was that good in general.
Meanwhile, Tatsuki and Yaoyorozu picked themselves back up and were working on a sci-fi fantasy anime by the name of Kemurikusa: a show about three sisters living/surviving in a post-apocalyptic world filled with red fog and robotic bugs called ‘mushi’. This show obviously got a lot of support from Kemono Friends season 1 fans but people later found out that this anime was actually well-written and had that Tatsuki creative charm many people love. Hell, a year and a half after Tatsuki was fired from working on Kemono Friends, his new work was in the top 3 best selling Blu-Rays on Amazon Japan. Good for him.
So, yeah. This one was definitely a doozy, not only because of what happened to the Kemono Friends franchise itself, but how it affected many other things such as Tatsuki later finding massive success once again despite everything being taken away from him by a giant corporation. I never really thought Kadokawa was a bad and evil company, at least I never heard them do anything unjust before this situation. But as I learned more about this controversy, I can tell why many people despise them now. It sucks that a guy who was creative in his own right and made people happy with his work had to deal with something like that but at least Tatsuki experienced a very positive outcome. Hope he continues to be successful!
If you’d like to learn more about this whole controversy, here’s a VERY detailed write-up on everything that happened.
Thanks for reading!! 😀