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Firechick's Anime Reviews: Somali and the Forest Spirit



I give this lovely anime about a forest golem and the human child he adopted...an 89/100!

The thing about anime is that you're pretty much allowed to write any kind of story you want and it'll be sure to air on TV, and pretty much anything goes. Japan's standards for cartoons are much wider and higher than places like America and France, though even this is changing somewhat. Many studio executives in America seem to believe that cartoons are just aimed at children and that they have absolutely no merit or value whatsoever, and anything made for adults is just crass, gross-out comedy, like South Park or Family Guy. Japan has all kinds of shows, from blood pumping monster killing action, to experimental horror, lighthearted slice of life shows, or fantasy shows that aren't always about swords and sorcery and medieval knights. Hell, Japan is totally okay with airing TV shows about little kids just living their lives out in the country (Non Non Biyori)! Some cultures have different standards for their cartoons, and let me ask you: Where else in the world can you find a sweet, wholesome show about a golem adopting a human child and having it be one of the nicest, most charming, most heartwarming shows ever? Yeah, while not without the occasional bump in the road, Japan has better standards for their cartoons, and Somali and the Forest Spirit is no exception to the rule.

In a world where demons, goblins, and monsters rule the roost, a forest golem finds a human child in his abode, lost and alone. Taking pity on her, as a human child can't survive all on its own, he decides to adopt her as his own, naming her Somali (Yes, it's explained that he's the one who named her Somali). But he knows he can't raise her in the forest, as she needs to be with other humans, so he and Somali, disguised as a minotaur child, decide to travel all over their world, searching for a place where Somali can live freely and be safe. However, there are two big problems. One is that humans are scarce in this world because the monsters either keep them as slaves or eat them, having done so for centuries due to prejudice and vitriol on both sides. The second problem is that golems have a set lifespan of a thousand years, and Somali's adoptive father only has a little over a year to live. In a world that's hostile towards humans, the golem needs to find a place for Somali to live before his life ends.

Now the premise itself is nothing new in anime. Stories of single parents adopting a young child have become a dime a dozen in anime, but it's rather rare to see one done in a fantasy setting, especially if said father is a thousand year old golem with no concept of emotions living in a monster dominated world where humans are considered slave labor or food. But I gotta say, the world Golem and Somali live in is incredible. A world ruled by monsters, all with their own personalities, rules, cultures, beliefs, cuisunes, and so on. The animation makes great use of bright colors, detailed backgrounds, different locales, and every character, major or minor, all has a distinct appearance and design, so you never see the same background character twice in a scene. The setting is lushly detailed, from a town in the center of a giant crater, to the absolutely stunning witch village illuminated by glowing flowers in a sewer bog. Everything in this series is a visual feast for the eyes...except for one thing: For some reason, somebody thought it'd be a great idea to put sunbeams in every single exterior shot during the daytime, except when the characters are inside a building or cave. It's one thing to have them show up every once in a while, and I like sunbeams as well, but Somali uses them in practically every single outside scene, to the point where they start to make everything look gaudy and garish.

But you can't have a setting come alive if you don't have good, well defined characters to back it up, and thankfully, Somali definitely delivers on this front. The entire heart and soul of the series are Golem and Somali, and they couldn't be more different. Golem is a wise, stoic, unemotional being who always thinks logically and rationally, almost robotic in a sense, whereas Somali is a little kid who's bouncy, energetic, curious, and is always in awe of the world around her. Characters with very different personalities and views on life are a recipe rife for stellar character development if done well, and the chemistry these two build throughout the show is always a treat to watch because they're so well written. Golem always speaks bluntly most of the time, using big words around Somali that she can't understand, but in stark contrast to many main characters these days, Golem is also smart, rational, and down to earth. Seriously, this guy is a better main character than nearly every other male lead in certain other anime that have come out in recent years. Somali is similarly versatile and likeable, especially since children tend to be very hard to write. She acts childish and cheerful, but it's never to the point of being obnoxiously cute or annoying. Her behavior often gets her and Golem into trouble, and the fact that she's a human in a world of human-hating monsters makes her an easy target, but she's still smart enough to know when something's wrong and puts others before herself when the situation calls for it. It could have been very easy to make her an annoying little brat, and while she does have her moments, the show helps you understand where she's coming from while taking care not to make her obnoxious. But Golem and Somali aren't the only characters who are fun to follow, as there are quite a few side characters we get to know, all of whom have multiple sides to them and feel fresh and charming, with solid characterization all around.

Do be warned, because as sweet as this show can be at times, it can also be really dark, not just in its atmosphere but in its themes. Both various humans and monsters are deeply prejudiced towards one another, and the world Golem and Somali live in is very prejudiced towards humans. The series doesn't try to hide the fact that both humans and monsters don't get along, and the lengths they go to show just how much they hate each other can get pretty graphic at times, with episode 6 being one such example. But for the most part, the series is fairly light hearted, with a few conflicts sprinkled in here and there, only going all out when there's actual danger. Because of Somali's lighthearted atmosphere and general lack of conflict, this isn't a series for everyone. I personally had no problem with it, because stories like that can be great if done well, as I feel is the case here, but others might find Somali to be rather dull or feel as though it's constantly trying to avoid any real sense of danger or urgency. There are also times when the characters don't always question various events that have huge red flags, but even those are very few and far-inbetween, though when they show up, you kind of have to scratch your head. I suppose whether you like this show or not is purely a matter of personal taste.

In spite of its few flaws though, I still feel this is a wonderful anime that deserves all the love it can get. Definitely check it out if you want something sweet but substantial to watch. I know this anime's going on my top favorites for sure!
Tags: anime, forest, review, somali, spirit
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