[There’s so much more I want to say, but this topic got too big sooo… eh, hit publish and move on.]
A deserted island centered on an active volcano, the ruins of civilization hiding an abandoned laboratory, a dangerous forest where animal-human hybrids lurk, and a sole survivor trying to escape back home to make sense of it all.
Am I describing H.G. Wells’ 1896 sci-fi horror classic The Island of Doctor Moreau or the beloved children’s anime Kemono Friends, or … oh, I guess the title gives it away, so um… both, apparently!
Of course, I’m exaggerating the similarities. Kemono Friends is a cute and friendly and upbeat while Doctor Moreau is lurid and horrifying and intensely pessimistic. For all of their differences though, I couldn’t resist the urge to re-read The Island of Doctor Moreau after watching the first three episodes of Kemono Friends’ second season. It’s one of my favorite books, so how better to pair it than with one of my favorite anime?
Along with The Time Machine, I think Doctor Moreau is Wells’ most philosophically interesting scientific romance. It goes beyond the simple moralizing tale against the cruelty of vivisection (surgery performed on living subjects, often without anaesthetic in the 19th century) described on the dust-cover to explore deeper issues rocking late-Victorian Britain after the publication of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution; issues like the social control function of religion, the fragility of scientific and civilizational progress, and the uncertain status of humanity in the animal world.
For now, I’m most interested in that last issue for its connection to Kemono Friends. As a simple children’s show, Kemono Friends doesn’t engage in the same sort of serious philosophizing as Doctor Moreau. But like the novel, it does imagine a world populated by human-animal hybrids, whose very concept recognizes a categorical difference between the mixed groups (by analogy: you can hybridize a golden retriever and a poodle to make a golden doodle, but you can’t hybridize two purebred golden retrievers). However, in light of evolution’s assertion of a common origin for all animal species, that’s a pretty heavy-duty assumption! The question that Doctor Moreau asks explicitly, Kemono Friends asks implicitly: what distinguishes the human from the animal?
So let’s set off on a Japari Safari to explore what it means to be human among the adorable anime(-al) girls of Kemono Friends…
…and what it means to be animal on the blood-splattered operating table of The Island of Doctor Moreau.
[A couple quick housekeeping notes: I read the public domain, plaintext HTML version of Doctor Moreau from Project Gutenberg. It doesn’t have page numbers… so I guess Ctrl + F is my citation method. On Kemono Friends, I’m restricting myself to the first three episodes of season 2 because it’s currently airing and I just don’t have the time to rewatch the whole first season. Both seasons follow the same formula though, so they are quite similar thematically. **Edit: maybe they aren’t, see the comments!** And yes, yes, I know I’m being silly trying to compare a low-budget children’s anime to a classic of English literature, but as Doctor Moreau itself concludes, in a post-evolution world we all have to distract ourselves from our animal existences somehow. And Good God knows I’m bored.]Continue reading “Being human, or animal, in Kemono Friends and The Island of Doctor Moreau”