(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)
2022 has been an extremely chaotic year for animation. Starting with Netflix trying to put out a forest fire as big as Texas, they canceled mostly all of their diverse shows and a mass majority of their animation projects. Not to be outdone, the awful Warner Bros. Discovery pretty much canceled 90% finished projects and screwed over every known talent in the entertainment and animation industry, and that’s not even counting everything else. Seriously, on top of all of this, we are now seeing the anime demand bubble pop via the struggle to keep a healthy group of animators working in a consistently awful work environment, and English dub actors getting screwed over via the Mob Psycho 100 incident. The overall animation industry is also getting scapegoated by inept greedy number-crunching executives that are putting more and more of their hopes and dreams on IP-driven work. It’s heartbreaking to see such an industry use a vibrant medium of storytelling as a bad faith argument of what people actually want to see. Because sooner or later, those pieces of art that are more focused on preserving popular brands are going to die out. Now more than ever, you need to support original projects, and you do that by ignoring and not taking part in the discussion/discourse of whatever new based-on-an-IP thing is out right now, and instead, giving your support to new and original projects like Oni: Thunder God’s Tale.
Directed and created by Daisuke Tsutsumi, written by Mari Okada, and produced by a collaborative effort by Tonko House, Megalis VFX, Dwarf Studios, and Marza Animation Planet, this four-episode limited series is about a young girl named Onari, voiced by Momona Tamada. She lives in a village full of Kami with her father Naridon, voiced by Craig Robinson. She is training to bring out her true powers along with her fellow friends who are being taught by Mr. Tengu, voiced by George Takei. As Onari discovers her true powers and who she is, things start to unfold as they have to protect the village from a group of monsters. Can Onari and Naridon save the day? What exactly is up outside of the village? Are the monsters actually threats? What is the true connection between Onari and Naridon?
Let’s start with the animation. The visuals and delightful designs are drop-dead gorgeous. This is mostly stylized CGI that is animated like stop-motion. That’s wildly impressive, because the sets they use, the designs, the textures, and what have you, look so darn good! It almost looks like real stop-motion. Yes, they aren’t fluidly animated in their movements, but you can still get the point across about their expressions and actions. It’s not like what they are thinking isn’t readable, because it is. The entire look of the show is a pleasing gift for the eyes as we see heavy uses of lighting, shadows, mixed-media elements, and how it just looks like you could reach in and touch the characters themselves. You can tell that the studios involved with bringing life to this limited series were all working with a cohesive goal in mind in how they wanted this to all look. The designs are all adorable, and all have very distinct personalities and diverse ways of movement. Even the designs of what the monsters turn out to be are handled well and don’t clash with the designs of the kami, which is very helpful when you craft up a consistent look and feel for the show. You never want to see a character that absolutely doesn’t match up with other designs in the show or film.
The voice cast is stellar. The one that left this writer impressed, outside of Momona Tanada’s powerful performance as the excitable yet vulnerable Onari, is Craig Robinson as Naridon. When you usually see Craig, he’s typically playing a version of himself or a more cartoony version of himself that we see most of the time he shows up. Not to say that’s bad, because it isn’t. What’s so fascinating about watching this show is how Naridon doesn’t say a single word, but his movements, grunts and noises, and facial expressions tell you everything. It’s all through visual storytelling and that’s so cool that they went with that for one of the show’s main characters. The other characters are also likable, funny, quirky, and have fun little visual gags that are attached to them. The rest of the cast includes some heavy hitters like Omar Benson Miller, who is just killing it in the voice-acting game right now, Archie Yates, George Takei, Tantoo Cardinal, Yuki Matsuzaki, Brittany Ishibashi, Anna Akana, Charlet Chung, Seth Carr, and Robert Kando rounding out an incredible cast. It’s also an interesting twist on some of these actors who are having to play something fairly different than what they usually get cast in. It’s refreshing to see how much certain actors show that they actually have range.
Now, as for the story, it’s a very sweet tale that tackles themes of found family, discrimination, the power of fearmongering, and how to become strong to overcome your fears. It looks like a very child-friendly show, but it finds a way through the four episodes to weave in more complex moments, emotionally complicated moments, and quiet moments to let the characters breathe, and allow you to become enveloped in this show’s atmosphere and world, due to how amazing the animation is. It’s a show that joins the current generation trend of animated entertainment by being made for everyone. That’s because, as we really need to jab and ram into every executive’s head, animation is not a genre, it’s not just for kids, and it can be made for everyone and not just one side or the other. Oni: Thunder God’s Tale is one of those entities that is able to be there for everyone. Young kids will enjoy the cute designs and visuals, whereas everyone else can spot some fantastic visual gags and absorb the themes and commentary that are being told and shown throughout the show. It’s the power of animation, it is for everyone.
In a year where we have had some rather impressive feats of animated storytelling with stuff like Lost Ollie, The Legend of Vox Machina, Inu-Oh, Bee and Puppy Cat, and Entergalactic, we are still not done with this year as we are about to get a string of fantastic-looking films, and with this limited series that Daisuke Tsutsumi has crafted with their team with Oni: Thunder God’s Tale. It’s four episodes full of charm, wit, laughs, and themes about family, discrimination, saving the environment, and finding your inner strength to take down the fears that are inside all of us. It’s a beautifully crafted world with some of the year’s most distinct and visually stunning and unique animation with its combination of stop-motion, CGI, and some 2D elements as well. It’s on Netflix, and while Netflix has been making some very frustrating and questionable decisions, they still let Daisuke Tsutsumi craft a beautiful story about a big ol’ goofy ogre and his daughter. It maybe could have had one more episode to pace everything out a bit more, but if that’s the only criticism that can come out of this writer’s brain that is essentially saying “I want more of this”, then that’s saying something. Definitely give this incredible series a watch. It’s one of 2022’s best new shows/event series. Now then, next time, we will be taking a trip through devilish punk rock vibes and encounter everyone’s new favorite mortician magicians and their human cohort in the next review.