The Other Side of Animation 265: The Deer King Review

(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!)

Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from GKIDS. I received no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you GKIDS for this opportunity.

Something fun to see with Chris Williams’ The Sea Beast was a return to the grand fantasy epics in animation. With the upcoming feature film Strange World from director Don Hall and writer Qui Nguyen, we are entering a phase of having non-comedy-driven experiences. The world of animation is big enough to have every kind of genre. That doesn’t mean I want to stop seeing comedies, but let’s start jazzing up the scene in every way we can. That means we should be supportive of films that come out and do offer something different. For example, let’s take a look at the newest GKIDS-distributed feature from Japan, The Deer King. 

Directed by Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji, written by Taku Kishimoto, and produced by Production I.G., the story follows a man named Van, dubbed by Ray Chase. He was a captured slave who worked in the salt mines of a nation that has taken rule of a neighboring country. This is, of course, all while a horrific plague is brought upon by a mass of wolves that infect one nation’s people, but not the others. Van encounters a young girl named Yuna, dubbed by Luciana VanDette. He goes on a journey with her escaping the mines to find a better life and to learn what exactly is going on. This is, of course, all happening while a scientist is traversing the land to find a cure for the plague named Hohsalle, dubbed by Griffin Puatu. Will Van be able to start life over again with his newfound family situation? Can Hohsalle find a cure for this plague that has cursed an entire nation? How will these characters’ stories be connected? 

Let’s get this out of the way first. Everyone and their grandma has been comparing this film to the Studio Ghibli classic, Princess Mononoke. To be honest though? It’s only similar if you haven’t seen the film yet. Yes, there are male lead characters that ride on a deer. That’s about the only way they are the same. Comparing them is like comparing apples to oranges. Both might be fruit, but you aren’t going to call an apple a copy or rip-off of an orange. Whereas Princess Mononoke is the complicated and philosophical battle of humans versus nature, The Deer King is more about humans battling and dealing with human nature. The big bad of the film is the human drive for war and bloodshed. What’s so fascinating about this film is how it has come out during the pandemic period of history, because the director did take note of how the different nations’ civilians have dealt with the plague that sweeps the nation of Zol. It’s very critical of people who are against science and vaccines or those specific people who let “faith” make the judgment call on whether someone lives or dies from this plague. On top of this film being a big fantasy epic and a medical thriller at certain junctions within the story, there is a huge human element to the overarching plot. Much of this film is about Van finding peace after losing his family to the plague and the war. It’s a journey of letting go of loss, not letting rage and revenge take the reins of your destiny, and embracing love and passion for life as he tries to protect Yuna from the grasp of both the empire, a hitwoman, and the source of the said plague. The film takes a substantial amount of time to make that the focus. It’s interesting, because you could assume from the trailer that the film is action-packed and thrilling, but it’s not. It has its big action moments, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call this an action film. It’s more of a drama, due to how the film focuses on dialogue, character dynamics, and more politically charged elements. There is a reason it earns its R-rating, and it’s not for the few minutes of blood that you see in the film. 

Animation-wise, since this has a Studio Ghibli alumni, you can expect the animation to look not only amazing, but carry some of that Ghibli DNA through its lush visuals. There are superbly detailed backgrounds, grounded human designs, and fantastic physical animation in how things squash and stretch at points. It has a lot of those little character beats you would see in the director’s previous experience in animation. The designs may have a Ghibli touch, but they still stand on their own with Masashi Ando handling the character designs as well. You will find your eyes traversing dark caverns, misty swamps, snow-covered patches, beautiful grasslands, small fantasy villages, and ethereal forests. It’s also nice to see a lead character who doesn’t look like someone in their late teens or early 20s. It’s very rare we get animated films with adult characters, which is a bummer that being an adult lead character in a film is so rare, not only in anime but in animated films in general. The voice cast is also great. You have Ray Chase, Griffin Puatu, Erica Schroeder, Luciana VanDette, Doug Stone, Neil Kaplan, Frank Todaro, Keith Silverstein, Luis Bermudez, Chris Hackney, Doug Erholtz, Xander Mobus, and many others. Seriously, look up this cast. It’s fantastic. They do a great job alongside the original Japanese cast that includes Shinichi Tsutsumi, Ryoma Takeuchi, and Anne Watanabe to name a few from there. The music by Harumi Fuuki is quite elegant. If their name sounds familiar, it’s because Harumi composed music for Miss Hokusai, The Wonderland, Forest of Piano, and Tsurune. It’s a beautiful soundtrack that flows between pieces that are elegant, grand, imposing, and loving. 

While it has some superficial elements to the Ghibli classic and can be a touch long at times, The Deer King stands on its own as a grand human journey. It’s a rock-solid debut for  Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji, and if this is what they can do with one film, people will be back for their next one. Hopefully, if you can, you should watch this cinematic journey of man’s conflict with human nature. Next time though, we will be talking about a film that has been in production for over a decade and switched studios to finally get released, and, well, we will have to see how things unfold when we finally talk about Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank

Rating: Essential

Fall 2020 Anime Season Impressions Finale

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(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 keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Here we are! We are at the finale of the impressions! If you have yet to see Part 1 or Part 2, I will hyperlink them in this sentence. Now then, let’s get started!

Good: These are the anime that may have their flaws, but are still really fun watches.

Adachi and Shimamura (Funimation)

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Impressions: Based on the light novel and manga by Hitoma Iruma of Bloom Into You fame, directed by Satoshi Kuwabara, and animated by Tezuka Productions, this girl-on-girl romance anime starts on a bumpy first impression. It comes off like it wants to tell a super intimate teenage romance story, but is constantly fighting against a director who is too horny. The first episode is covered in so many thighs, butt, leg, and bust shots that it drags the intimate genuine parts down. However, once you get past the first episode, the character dynamic between the two leads is full of realistic angst and love. It’s a beautiful-looking anime as well, and I can see myself wanting to find out if it sticks the landing. We will just have to see.

Tonikawa: Over the Moon For You (Crunchyroll)

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Impressions: Out of all of the Crunchyroll exclusives I have seen so far this season, while flawed, Tonikawa: Over the Moon For You is the best one of the bunch. Based on a manga by Kenjiro Hata, directed by Hiroshi Ikehata, and produced by Seven Arcs, this romance anime begins on a rocky start, where the lead falls in love with a woman he barely knows and then gets married. Technically, when he asks her out, she says she won’t go out with him unless they get married, and then ironically, they don’t see each other for a few years. The entire base of their relationship is odd, and I don’t know if I still understand it. Even the fact that between the marriage offer and when they finally hook up, has a three or so-year gap doesn’t help covey to me why they should be together. Still, as the show has gone on, the relationship between our leads Nasa Yuzaki and Tsukasa Tsukuyomi is cute. They do love each other and they do bond as they work their way through being a young married couple. The side characters also have a lot of fun energy and add a bit of mystery to the situation. I’m honestly invested to see where this story goes and how it makes its landing. It might not be the most visually stunning anime of the Fall season, but it has a pretty great opening song. Still, if you had to check out a Crunchyroll exclusive, I’d recommend this one over Gibiate and Noblesse.

By the Grace of the Gods (Funimation)

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Impressions: Based on the manga and light novels by Roy, the anime is directed by Takeyuki Yanase, and the animation studio behind it is Maho Film, this is another isekai where someone from our world overworked himself, died, and is now reincarnated in a fantasy world. All things considered, it’s cute and pretty laid back so far, but it also doesn’t have too much else to make it stand out from others. I do like the laid back nature of the show’s tone, and I like that this lead character helps not through fighting, but using slimes and magic to solve problems. It doesn’t have the best animation, and it’s pretty basic-looking. Luckily, the show has started to show some depths, and there was a scene in episode 4 that was heartwarming. It’s slowly becoming one of my favorites of the season.

Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Funimation)

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Impressions: This show is based on the urban mystery novels by Ira Ishida, which was then adapted into a drama series by Tsutsumi Yukihiko, then a manga written by Ira Ishida, and now an anime series directed by Tomoaki Koshida and produced by Doga Kobo. So far, it kind of reminds me of Yakuza in terms of this more urban-set series, where we follow a young man named Makoto who helps out the G-Boys, a gang within Ikebukuro with different situations. He’s more of a middle man that tries to keep everything at peace within this city between the G-Boys and other gangs. It’s fun to watch the stories unfold as we watch Makoto and the G-Boys try and solve what the problems are, and why the clients came to them and whatnot. While maybe not supporting the best animation, it still looks pretty good, and the stories themselves are interesting enough to keep you, well, invested. I’m still waiting for the shoe to drop at some point, but I recommend this one if you are into some crime-solving with an urban flair.

Fantastic: These are the anime that may have a flaw here and there, but have stories and characters worth watching.

The Gymnastics Samurai (Funimation)

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Impressions: This is fun, an original anime by Studio MAPPA, directed by Hisatoshi Shimizu, and a lot of the teams behind Zombieland Saga and Yuri on Ice about a gymnastics athlete who doesn’t end up retiring and wants to keep going for his daughter. Oh, and a wayward ninja is living with them as well, after the athlete saves him from immigration. So, yeah, this is a weird anime, but it has a surprisingly grounded and wholesome vibe with the main character being a single dad, which is something we don’t see a lot of in anime. Much of the cast is great. With that said, it is a shame that the show stumbled in the second episode by introducing a gay doctor character who reinforces toxic homophobic stereotypes. Hopefully, they dial him back and make him more endearing, because your first introduction of a character like this shouldn’t be groping the lead without his consent. It’s a shame because the rest of the show has been pretty fantastic otherwise. I love the drama, the internal battle the lead has with himself, and the other gymnasts he interacts with.

Yashahime: Princess Half Demon (Funimation/Crunchyroll/VRV)

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Impressions: It is a sequel to the important and nostalgic fantasy action series Inuyasha, based on the franchise by Rumiko Takahashi, and directed by Teruo Sato. It follows the “next generation” storyline like Boruto, but instead of the maligned sequel to Naruto, Yashahime: Princess Half Demon is good. I honestly love the fact we have three tomboy protagonists who must save the day by traveling to the past and stop evil forces from taking over the world. It has pretty good action and animation from Sunrise, and the character chemistry and dynamics are interesting! It also has a pretty great opening song. If you have any nostalgia for Inuyasha, warts and all, I highly recommend watching this show. Just know it doesn’t make the best first impression with the first episode easing the old fans into this new batch of heroes.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina (Funimation)

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Impressions: Based on the light novel by Jougi Shiraishi, the manga by Itsuki Nanao, directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka, and animated by C2C, this might be the most polarizing positive anime of the entire season. On one hand, the first two episodes have brought a different energy to the overall witch and magic world that is different enough from stuff like Harry Potter, and to a lot of degrees, better. I love the more laid back observant vibe the anime brings to the table, the lead is interesting, and I adore the less action-packed storytelling. On the other hand, after the first two episodes, the show and story go into, well, dark fairytale/Aesop stories with our lead more of a storyteller who journals her experiences in travel. I think this wouldn’t split people down the middle of it if it also didn’t make the lead look like a passive observer who could have saved some people or done something. Some of the stories are dark, and I don’t blame people getting miffed at the sudden tone change. I don’t agree with every part, of course, but I do get the divisiveness of the show. I think there is more to it than what the detractors are saying, but that’s just me. If you love and want a different take on magic and witches, then I recommend this show.

The Best: The best of the best of the season!

Dragon Quest: The Legend of Dai (Crunchyroll)

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Impressions: Based on the hit video game franchise and the manga by Riku Sanjo, this new incarnation of the story is directed by Kazuya Karasawa and animated by Toei Animation. What’s so fantastic about this show is how earnest it all is. It’s not trying to do something new, be edgy, or go the mature route with the franchise. What it does do is be a very entertaining, compelling, and charming action fantasy series. It also has a great mix of 2D and CGI animation that matches well with one another and while it might not reinvent the wheel, it executes that wheel in style.

Akudama Drive (Funimation)

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Impressions: An original anime directed by Tomohisa Taguchi, animated by Studio Pierrot, and written by Norimitsu Kaiho, this cyberpunk action/heist anime is oozing personality and originality out of every pore of its body. It also carries heavy Danganronpa vibes, which shouldn’t be a shock with how some of the team members that worked on this show, worked on Danganronpa 3. It might have characters that have one defining trait to them, but they take advantage of that one trait for each character and run with them. This ends up making the characters super likable and fun to watch, which is funny since they are all literal dangerous criminals. The character dynamics are fantastic, the action is intense, the world is fascinating, and it’s a show that knows what it wants to be and doesn’t sway from it. It’s easily one of the best anime of the Fall 2020 season, and if you have yet to watch it, please do.

Higurashi: When They Cry GOU (Funimation)

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Impressions: So, it might be a pseudo-sequel to the critically acclaimed horror franchise by 07th Expansion and is directed by Keiichiro Kawaguchi, but you can easily drop into this show without seeing the previous one. Sure, you could probably get more out of it if you watched the previous series, but I never felt confused, which is more than I can say than when I watched Noblesse. Anyway, if you loved the horror/murder mystery franchise that is known for its memorable characters, unsettling scares, and an incredibly compelling story, then you should check out the newest show in the franchise.

Talentless Nana (Funimation)

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Impressions: If I was organizing these anime on a list, then this anime, Talentless Nana, based on the manga by Looseboy, directed by Shinji Ishihara, and animated by Bridge, would probably be at the top of the list. This twisted take of My Hero Academia is so much fun to watch. Very much like Moriarty the Patriot, we might be following the villain around for this story, but it’s so compelling, that you are going to be okay with that. Not every show or film needs to have a heroic main character, they just need to be interesting and worth investing in. I can’t wait to see where the rest of this series goes.

Jujutsu Kaisen (Crunchyroll)

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Impressions: Every season of anime has its shonen action show, and Jujutsu Kaisen is that show. Luckily, this anime based on the manga by Gege Akutami, directed by Sunghoo Park, and animated by Studio MAPPA is a cut above the rest. Think of it as a new generation Yu Yu Hakusho. I know some may be weary due to the fact that most anime fans were disappointed by God of Highschool, and how Kaisen has the same director, but I wouldn’t worry. Jujutsu Kaisen has more meat on its bones than God of Highschool. It’s more Yu Yu Hakusho and My Hero Academia, and less Black Clover. While both Kaisen and Highschool shows have amazing fight sequences, the characters so far seem to be way more weighted and interesting in Kaisen than most of the anime in this category of, well, anime. It has slick production values, endearing characters, great action, and if you need anything else to convince you to watch this show, it has a talking panda. I think that should make everyone watch it!

Moriarty the Patriot (Funimation)

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Impressions: One of the funniest things my co-host of the Tooned Up (soon to be relabeled Renegade Animation) podcast brought up was the fact three of the best anime this season have antagonists as the main characters, and that’s no different here. Based on the manga by Ryosuke Takeuchi, directed by Kazuya Nomura and produced by Production I.G, this murder/mystery anime follows Sherlock Holmes’ most dangerous adversary with Professor Moriarty. Like Kilmonger in Black Panther, while not someone you should worship as a “hero”, you understand his motives. The world he lives in is run by rich corrupt individuals, and the people below them suffer. Who wouldn’t want to make the people that have made your life worse pay for it? Even if this anime didn’t come out at a very volatile moment in time, I would still consider this to be one of the season’s best anime. Also, the opening song is amazing.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle (Funimation)

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Impressions: Finally, we have what is the funniest anime of the season, and probably of the year with Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle. This fantasy comedy is based on the manga by Kagiji Kumanomata, and the anime is produced by Doga Kobo with Mitsue Yamazaki directing, and Yoshiko Nakamura writing. Instead of being a traditional fantasy anime, we get a comedy, where the entire plot is the captured princess going on quests around the big demon castle to get a good night’s sleep. What works about this anime is the very universal and broad style of comedy. It has clever dialogue, but it uses more physical comedy to get the jokes across. It doesn’t hurt that the princess herself is adorable and delightful. Every joke lands, every joke is satisfying, and while it might not have the best animation, the animation is still fan-friggin-tastic. It fits with what the show needs, and the execution of the comedy is sublime. If it wasn’t obvious, watch this show.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!