Atsumi TanezakiDaisuke MotohashiHaruka ShiraishiEmi Miyajima
A Centaur's Life
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2017: C
Also known as: Centaur no Nayami
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2017
Director: Fumitoshi Oizaki, Naoyuki Konno
Writer: Touko Machida
Original creator: Kei Murayama
Actor: Akane Kiryu, Atsumi Tanezaki, Daisuke Motohashi, Emi Miyajima, Haruka Shiraishi, Honoka Kuroki, Mei Kanna, Seria Fukagawa, Takaki Otomari, Tomoya Yano, Yuki Kuwahara, Yuna Kamakura, Yuu Ayase
Keywords: anime, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=19402
Website category: Anime 2017
Review date: 24 September 2018
Centaur no Nayami
It's a monster girl series where everyone's a monster. "Human" as used by these people includes centaurs, satyrs, fauns, cat-people, goat-people, mermaids, angels, devils (draconoids?), frogs, scary snake leech people from Antarctica and other colourful creatures, but not Homo sapiens. We never evolved. There's even a giant Dagon thing in ep.8. The show's main selling point is how much thought it's put into its multi-species society, down to details like the extra layer of underwear required by girls with tails. It's fascinating just seeing how a centaur puts on a bathing suit in ep.7, for instance. Personally I found the Antarctica People the most interesting, by the way. Occasionally I'd find the show's explanations disappointing, e.g. angels' haloes are made of hair and could be cut off at the hairdresser's, but I respect its determination to avoid magic or the supernatural and instead keep its world completely grounded.
The show has one problem, one high point and one mild hobby-horse.
PROBLEM: the show runs out of steam. The early episodes are a pretty good slice-of-life series, but then it starts going off on weird tangents from the second half of ep.8 onwards. Those later episodes mostly (although not entirely) ditch the core protagonists we'd been following and instead turn to a mermaid fish monster, a talking frog, Nazi death camps and the Holocaust (seriously), an exploration of modern art, small children talking about maths and flower names, tail training exercises, more small children (this time looking for someone prettier than their sister), a fantasy bit where the core cast become bikini warriors in a fantasy RPG and then finally an arm wrestling contest. That last one gets even Himeno asking what the point of it all is.
HIGH POINT: the Antarctica People. Quetzalcoatl Sassassul is my favourite cast member (although they're all likeable), because she actually has dramatic motivation (whereas everyone else is Just A Schoolgirl) and because she's different even in the world of this series. The Antarctica People are mysterious. No one really understands them and international governments think it's a big deal when Sassassul decides she wants to attend a Japanese high school. (She'll be trailed by secret agents for the rest of her stay.) They've got unexpected biology, a culture that grows from that and odd details like blinking the wrong way. Also, importantly, Sassassul herself is here to try to improve cross-species relationships and learn about how the rest of the world sees her. Sassassul's introduction in ep.5 was the one where, for me, the show suddenly (but temporarily) found a point.
HOBBY HORSE: the author wants to bash political correctness. Sometimes he gets some good jokes out of this, but he's also guilty of treating this fairly shallowly (i.e. merely as a source of jokes that don't warrant significant exploration) and/or himself making some questionable decisions.
The good jokes come from the fact that this fictional world suffers from extreme political correctness. Discriminating against others can get you arrested and sent to a correctional clinic. That might sound noble, but this definition of discrimination ignores the opinions of the people involved and can even have you arrested for discrimination against yourself. (Angels mustn't cut off their own halos.) This might well be justifiable, given the tensions of trying to avoid conflict between all these very different races, but the implication is that this world's history is the same as ours (e.g. World War Two) and a speech in the Holocaust episode is specifically shooting down the idea that prejudice has anything to do with observable human differences. "There will always be prejudice. Even if everyone looked identical, we'd just start hating people who wore different clothes."
Anyway, the jokes involve sanitised versions of children's entertainment, e.g. ep.3. There's a children's TV show called Magical Girl Pretty Horn where the heroine's transformation catchphrases promote ethics and end with a utilitarianism quote from Jeremy Bentham. Similarly a fairy story ends as follows: "The hero returned to his homeland, where he drew up a constitution and lived a long, democratic lifestyle with the former princess and all the animals."
On the downside, though, the show never actually discusses any of this. It just makes jokes and assumes that we agree with it. "Just talking like this is illegal," someone might say, then they'll start talking about boys or whatever. That's why ep.5 was my favourite, because it went beyond those jokes by (I'd guess unintentionally) being fairly offensive and hence engaging with these themes. Himeno's scared of Sassassul because of a horror film (a bit like The Thing), in which the Antarctica People are being portrayed as monsters in a manner that in real life would be outrageously racist. How do our heroines tackle this issue? Answer: THEY SHOW THE MOVIE TO SASSASSUL. Later they ask offensive questions to her face. All this is genuinely interesting, I think, because it's clearly inappropriate behaviour and offense is only avoided because Sassassul is saintly... but equally one could argue that being willing to face and talk about such things is the only way to engage properly with them. There was something similar (if far more sensitively handled) in "Interviews with Monster Girls", which showed how distancing and even upsetting it could be to have everyone obviously walking on eggs around you. You can't establish a human connection with anyone if even your very identity is being regarded as a taboo topic.
...and then in ep.9 the show gives us the frog called Jean Rousseau, who's French. Ho ho ho, my cultural sensitivity.
Oh, and obviously there's a further debate to be had about the merits of what's under discussion here, not to mention the fact that going off on PC-bashing in itself is likely to make a fair few people wary of you. Well, at least in the West. There have been too many knuckle-draggers spewing too much nastiness under that banner (even though personally I don't think this show is frothing at the mouth at all).
Also, for what it's worth, that frog story is an analogy for the historical dilemmas of many indigenous American cultures, especially around the Amazonian basin. It's tackling colonialism and a story that really happened to people. This is a gentle, sensitive and liberal (if increasingly meandering) story that believes in everyone living together and being nice to each other, but is also hostile to overly aggressive attempts to force them to do so by legal dictat. I don't think it's particularly good, to be honest. I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the show, but it does lose its thread later on and turn into a rather ungainly collection of randomness. However I respect that unpredictability, at least, and it is at least more ambitious and interesting than the slice-of-life fluffiness a casual viewer might easily mistake it for. (Monster girls! Adorable children! Plot-light storylines that are basically an excuse for Cute Schoolgirls Having Amusing Conversations!) It's also noteworthy for being a sort of good-ish Chinese anime, incidentally, although it's not particularly Chinese since the show has a Japanese director and Japanese producers while being based on a Japanese manga. The only Chinese thing about it is that it was commissioned by Haoliners Animation League... but hey. For Haoliners, it's a step forward.
Did I keep the episodes? Nope. I deleted them. However I quite enjoyed the show and it's pleasant to watch. Sometimes it's funny. It's exploring odd little ideas, e.g. "what would it mean to be a horny teenage merman when all the mermaids around you are topless?" (That's in ep.8, in case you're looking for Blu-rays with animated nipples.) I won't pretend that that's a question of deep importance to my life, but I like the fact that this is a show that creates a detailed fantasy world and then goes looking for eccentric monster-related questions to answer in it.