Somali and the Forest Spirit – Anime Review
Synopsis: The world is ruled by a diversity of inhuman beings, who persecuted humans and drove them to near-extinction. One day, the forest guardian Golem meets a human girl. This is a chronicle of a journey that would bind a member of the dying “human” clan to the forest guardian Golem, as father and daughter. (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Somali of the Forest Spirit manages to impress in the way it straddles the line between pure fluff slice of life content and a more dramatic, emotionally charged tale. We follow Somali and her Golem Guardian in their day to day. Sometimes that means learning more about the world they’re in, what town they’ve traveled to, or even focusing on merely cute interactions Somali and her adoptive father figure. At other times we gravitate towards the tragedy of the Golem one day having to leave Somali’s side, or the fact that Somali’s human origins, should she be discovered, put her in danger no matter where they end up. The series manages to make the shift in tone between these two competing aspects work at every turn, and rarely does it feel like Golem is but two shows stitched together. It’s tonally cohesive and that in itself is impressive.
Linny: Somali is able to give viewers a good idea of what to expect right from the start, for better or worse. While being able to so perfectly communicate its intended experience so early on makes it easy for viewers to determine if the show is for them, it also means there’s little revolutionary content hidden deeper inside. A lot of the tense moments in the show comes from Somali’s incessant habit of landing herself in trouble and that’s where the problem pops up. Somali is the titular protagonist. No matter what danger she is in, the audience is strongly aware that no real harm can come to her or else the story would end then and there. And while Somali being a young child gives the story a great many opportunities and avenues to land her in trouble and in need of rescuing, those with a dislike for the whole trope of children being careless or disobedient for the sole sake of dramatic developments will likely find the show’s reliance on said trope off putting.
Tom: Another frequent source of drama is the remnants of conflict between mankind and monsterkind. Namely this manifests in all of the anthropomorphic animal and monster people populating this world having a taste for humans. This is one way in which Somali is in constant danger, and it’s that sense of worry that someone will discover she is human that probably accounts for the show managing to flit between more fluffy content and a sense of unease so successfully. Also, the deeper we get into Somali the more we learn about a previous war between these creatures and humankind, one that saw man devoured or driven from the lands. Unfortunately, for as much as that puts Somali in danger for merely being human, whenever the show turns itself towards addressing that conflict in earnest we start to see the confines of Somali’s writing. There’s little room for nuance or ingenuity here, spouting the same naively altruistic message you’ll find across so many series that attempt to address hate or race driven conflict. What’s here isn’t bad, but it’s simplistic, and quite predictable, making it difficult to really sing the series praise, other than acknowledging that while predictable, Somali is still competent in its presentation.
Linny: While a lot of Somali is predictable or plays out with a familiar feel, it does manage to have a shining moment where it presents a convincing moral tragedy specifically through the character of Haitora, a fellow traveler who they end up spending part of their journey with. Haitora eventually comes to reveal a deeply tragic past, which feels sincerely tragic without becoming overly dramatic. It also serves the purpose of truly selling just what a dangerous and savage place this fantasy world is, as up to that moment, the most actual danger we’d seen happened when a non intelligent carnivorous plant tried to attack Somali but was almost immediately and instantly defeated. In a show that often has stories that quickly fade from memory due to a strong slice of life vibe or a predictable path, this development serves to shake things up and make the show feel much darker and serious, even if for just a moment.
Tom: As someone who isn’t a massive fan of the slice of life genre, often finding it too bland and uneventful to hold my attention, I appreciate the series’ attempt to build towards a dramatic finish to cap off the season. This shift into something more akin to a horror or thriller series works thanks to all the groundwork weaved in-between the more easy-going aspects of the series. Unfortunately, this heavy turn towards the dramatic fails to surprise. The final episode is so predictable that you’ll likely have guessed where the series ends up from the pen-ultimate episode’s cliffhanger alone. For as exciting and fantastical as the conclusion gets, it still borders on unmemorable because it feels so conventional and expected.
Linny: One of Somali’s major plot points is the Golem’s race against time. Thanks to all golems having a set ‘expiry date’ when their body will give out and they cease functioning, Golem’s quest to find Somali a new family is filled with urgency. And given the limited number of days he has, combined with the knowledge that Somali will be far too young to be able to deal with the death of her father figure on her own, adds to the drama and heartbreak. These factors strongly point to an extremely tragic ending and might have some viewers looking forward to or dreading it. But because the source manga is still ongoing, the anime decides to end on a soft note that is by no means terrible, but thoroughly unsurprising and possibly disappointing to anyone who wanted a more emotionally impactful conclusion. It might surprise you to then read that despite all my criticisms, I think Somali is still worthy of my recommendation, especially to anyone who enjoys slice of life with a heavy emphasis on heart and emotion. Yes, it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel but it manages to dole out a story that packs in just enough heartwarming and tragic moments to make for a mostly entertaining show. This isn’t a show you should pick up for intelligent or deep drama but if following the adventures of an unlikely father-daughter traveling duo sounds appealing, you might be the perfect audience for it.
Tom: Somali and the Forest Spirit’s greatest achievement is how competently told it is. This series is well-crafted, filled with emotional beats, a sense of danger, and soft light-hearted moments to let you unwind now and again. If you’re not looking for something to reinvent the wheel, or feel truly unique, then Somali and the Forest Spirit absolutely succeeds. It’s just not likely to win any anime of the year material.
Somali and the Forest Spirit is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.