This review really should have come out on Father’s Day.
What’s the Story?
Humanity has ended, mostly. Driven to the brink of extinction after starting a devastating war, now the survivors are little more than food for the many other creatures that populate the world. Such is the life that young Somali find herself with, that is until she comes across a forest guardian, a golem. Nearing the end of his life cycle, the golem takes it upon himself to escort Somali on a perilous journey across the world in the hopes of finding more humans, before his time runs out…
I’m really not sure how to feel about this series. I definitely enjoyed watching it, it has a gorgeous use of colour and backgrounds, the designs of the characters are all really interesting and, let’s be honest, this show was designed to hit you in the feels. Maybe that’s the problem though, I did tear up at certain moments throughout the show, but that’s all they were, moments. No matter what dark subject matter the show brushed up against, no mater how tear jerking the situation was, I never felt like any of the characters were truly in danger and knew they’d make it out the other side, somehow. I never believed that the show had any intention of ever harming Somali because, well, she’s so cute and precocious that the Internet would be in uproar if anyone so much as touched her. There’re plenty of shows that take cute characters and apply the pressure to make its audience squirm (Made in Abyss jumps to mind), and its fairly obvious a few episodes in that that isn’t the kind of series Somali and the Forest Spirit is interested in being.
Somali and the Forest Spirit is a more gentle and simple series, it’s about the places and the people that Somali and Golem meet along their journey. There’s an air of quiet melancholy and spots of tranquil happiness peppered throughout the story. Despite the time constraints that Golem is under to get Somali to a human settlement, things are often taken at their own pace, admiring the surroundings. All of which is perfectly fine and I can see a great many people enjoying this series exactly for those reasons. For me though, I can’t help but feel that there’s something missing. Going back to the idea that I never felt Somali was in any danger, it’s not that I wanted the series to be like that, but it needs something and I can’t quite put my finger on. However adorable Somali is, and she is adorable and exactly the kind of slightly wild, adventurous kids I usually like in stories, a part of me doesn’t care, when it normally would. Same goes for Golem, he is immensely cool and watching his emotional growth as he comes to terms with his feelings for Somali was wonderful to watch, but at the end of episode, I was hardly in a rush to get to the next one.
Maybe it’s the simplicity of the stories and the world that are the detriment to this show. Now, a simple story is often a good idea, the last thing you want is for your audience to be confused over what’s going on or why people are doing things. Keep it simple is a rule, but not too simple and I think that’s the line Somali and the Forest Spirit has crossed. The design of places and people are often really cool, but I very rarely get a true sense of the culture of the places Somali and Golem visit. No matter what the locals look like, they often act like any other generic fantasy village. Maybe that’s the point it was going for, no matter what the people look like we’re all the same. It ties in nicely with one of the central themes of the series, that treating people differently based purely on how they look is extremely wrong, and while I think this series is a bit unsubtle with that message, given what’s going on in the world at the minute, yeah, a little unsubtly feels called for.
For me, this series had two options to really get me to care about Somali and Golem, it either needed to make the danger to Somali viscerally real, or it needed to create a rich and deep world for me to get lost in. Unfortunately the series wanted to play it safe for the most part, if you love this series I get it and I’m really, really glad for you. This show just never grabbed me. As I said, this show did make me tear up on occasion, but that was more for the ideas at play, like a father knowing he’s going to die soon even though he promised his daughter he’d stay forever, rather than the fact that it’s Somali and Golem going through this. This show is good, it’s well designed, well acted and looks gorgeous in places, but am I going to remember it in another month’s time? I’m not sure.
In the end, Somali and the Forest Spirit, is a well-executed show. It has some really good design work, a lot of the backgrounds and the uses of colour are really gorgeous. The story is emotionally effective and I can see a lot of people balling their eyes out at this show, but for me it just plays it a little too simple and safe. If you’re after a gentle wander through a slightly strange land with some feels along the way than check this series out. If you’re after something a little more hard-hitting though, then I’d suggest you journey somewhere else.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.