I give this cute CGI anime about animal girls...a 74/100.
Now, just from looking at the premise, Kemono Friends doesn't really look like anything special: A girl with amnesia wakes up in a zoo-like park full of anthropomorphized animal girls who are all friendly and nice, and she goes on a journey with one of them, a Serval girl, simply named Serval, to find out who she is and where she comes from. Combined with the low budget CGI, the fact that the original mobile game it was based on performed so badly that it was cancelled a month before the anime premiered, the sudden popularity of isekai anime and light novels, and many other factors going against it, everyone thought Kemono Friends was doomed to fail from the very beginning. Even the company that sponsored it, Kadokawa, deemed it a failure and told the producers to do whatever they wanted with it. The anime itself got off to a rather slow start, with many dismissing it as a yawnfest...and yet, somehow, it became one of the most popular anime of the winter 2017 season. I didn't start watching it until this year, namely because I had attempted to watch Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War, but it kept irritating me with every episode, so I decided to watch this to see what all the hubbub was all about.
And I probably can't begin discussion of the show without talking about the most obvious thing about it: the low budget CGI animation. Personally, I don't think its as bad as people say, as I've seen far worse animation, and the character designs are pretty creative in that they try to blend the humanoid and animal aspects of the Friends, such as tails and ears, and melding fur markings into their hair, or other things, like how the penguin characters' beaks are streaks in their hair instead of being actual beaks. Plus, the animation itself is fairly consistent, even if the movements are about as rigid as a rusty robot. It's about on par with, say, The Dragon Prince in terms of its actual animation and frame rate. But I wouldn't necessarily say the bad animation is the show's fault, as there is a reason why the show looks the way it is. Since the mobile game that inspired it tanked, Kadokawa gave the production team basically no money to speak of. It didn't help that the production team itself consisted of only ten people, the director Tatsuki included, and they worked on the show over a period of 500 days. In fact, the budget was so miniscule that not only could they not hire the voice actors from the game to reprise their roles and had to make do with inexperienced newcomers in the cast (Though that somehow didn't stop them from casting veterans such as Mikoi Sasaki and Tomoko Kaneda), the lip flaps don't always match the dialogue (Even in the Japanese version), and at first, they couldn't animate wheels spinning on a bus in the opening! This last part did get fixed for the DVD release, though. At that point, the franchise was considered a complete failure, and in a way, it was a miracle the show got greenlit.
Just from all that history, you'd probably think that because of all this, the anime itself was absolutely awful in every other way, right? Surprisingly, no. Tatsuki, the director who worked on the first season of Kemono Friends, decided having no animation budget wasn't an excuse to cut corners in the writing, characters, and story department. He probably figured that if KF was going to die, he'd rather have it end on a good note. Considering the rating I gave it, I don't think he entirely succeeded, as I've seen the character archetypes depicted here done better in other shows, but I'll give him points for effort. There isn't much of a story here, as it's just Kaban and Serval traveling through the various areas of Japari Park and meeting new Friends along the way. The real meat of the show is Kaban and Serval's interactions, and while the two of them are rather one note individually, they have great chemistry, and the way their friendship grows and develops is genuinely sweet and meaningful. I enjoyed watching these two bounce off each other, and the series makes optimal use of its twelve episodes to fully develop the bond these two share. The rest of the characters...they mostly appear in one or two episodes with only one or two personality traits and not much else, so they're all kinda bland. They're not bad, but not much to write home about, and many of them feel like they're just there to move the story forward than anything in their own right (Raccoon and Fennec Fox). Don't come into this expecting huge amounts of character development for the side characters.
On the other hand, the music is pretty nice and upbeat, with soft tunes that add to the setting and accenuate the atmosphere, to the brooding dubstep that plays when the Ceruleans, the primary antagonists of the series, appear. The opening theme is another typical moe fest with cute girls singing in high pitched voices, though the ending theme is pretty cool, with an upbeat song set against photos of abandoned amusement parks (Apparently this was a deliberate choice) for great use of contrast and to accenuate that Japari Park isn't the peaceful place it seems to be on the surface.
The series is very episodic in nature, with only very small plot threads here and there that don't get fully revealed until the final two episodes, and is very slow paced. I personally had no problem with this, but others who aren't so patient may not like it, which is understandable. It can be easy to just dismiss Kemono Friends as a cute edutainment show for little kids, and there's nothing in the way of fanservice, save for some characters' skimpy outfits and very, very slight panty shots, but even those don't go beyond the level of, say, 90s Sailor Moon. Of course, some episodes are better than others. I loved episode 3 for its atmosphere and the clever way the characters used their talents to help someone in need, but I wasn't fond of episode 6 because of some characters behaving really stupidly for no reason other than because the writers wanted them to be such. That episode had several characters trying to break into another's fortress fifty times in an attempt to fight someone, but not because the latter is genuinely stronger than them, no. It's because the opposite territory utterly SUCKS at fighting and basic strategy, as they do nothing but charge in blindly. It just infuriates me that these characters not even ONCE think, "Hey, maybe we should change our strategy and use more defense and stealth instead of charging blindly?" after fifty straight losses! Kaban basically has to teach this to them even though they could have easily figured this out themselves. I just find that really idiotic, and an example of bad writing in general. It really says something when the English dub blooper reel points out just how stupid this is.
Even so, I found myself genuinely enjoying this show. Yeah, it's not the masterpiece that people are making it out to be, but even with its flaws, it's still better than most shows in recent times. I won't be watching the second season, as from what I've heard, it's not only really bad but was the result of a LOT of poor decision making by Kadokawa and other creators and one producer displaying a lot of unprofessional behavior towards the fanbase and Tatsuki about his (The producer) decisions for said season. But Kemono Friends proved to be the ultimate underdog, and it doesn't try to be anything but what it is: Just a cute, fun show about animal girls. So if you want a sweet anime to show to your kids, let it be this one. Oh, and watch the English dub, too. It's great, and the blooper reel is an absolute laugh riot!