Beast Player Erin
Erin is a young girl, living with her mother in the tiny village of Ake. There, they worked - well, her mother did - as caretakers of the Tohda, giant lizards used for war. Erin mostly learned as much as could be expected of a somewhat rambunctious ten year old.
After her mother's sacrificial death due to one of the Tohdas falling ill and dying, Erin eventually comes into the care of John, a bee keeper, and picks up a love for learning, which eventually leads her to Kazalm, a school seemingly dedicated to teachings of the wild; including the plants and the beasts that live in it. There, she meets Lilan, a captive Ohju.
Stig: There are so many more things I could have said about this show that wouldn't even constitute much of a spoiler. One I might've granted a bit ahead of time is the death of Erin's mother, but that was one of the things we kind of saw coming long before it happens. I've mentioned the poor survival chances of parents of shonen heroes before, and Erin is, sadly, no exception.
Tim: Usually with an anime synopsis on this site, we only cover the first or so episode. But Beast Player Erin has so much going on, it's hard to do that. So much goes on in these 50 episodes, simply writing about the first few episodes' plot wouldn't do this series justice.
In a sense, Beast Player Erin is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Its visual style carries the feel of a children's show, with relatively simple character designs and an odd background style, where the backgrounds look like they were drawn and colored with crayon. Just by looking at the show's still art, you could probably be forgiven for thinking it would be completely innocuous, akin to other children favorites like Dora the Explorer. It's an understandable assumption, but it's also wrong.
However you peg this show and its inhabitants, there's just no getting ready for the layers and layers of stark, mature portrayals Beast Player Erin unloads upon you. Don't pat yourself on your back for figuring out that Erin's mother will face an imminent death; it's how that counts, and there's just no getting ready for that. There's an astounding amount of politics at work in the world of Erin, and while most of that will make its appearance in the later time skips -- and yes, there are time skips -- they are both horrific and beautiful in their execution. For instance, we will eventually be taking part in John's past, and it's not an easy ride. But its starkness is neither played out for sensationalism nor laughs, and neither of us could see its consequences coming.
And you have to understand how weird that is; this odd disconnect where it's revealed that the guy who, up to that point, tended his bees and unloaded all of the show's fart jokes, used to be a very important person to many, many lives. This weird disconnect also includes the characters of Nuk and Mok, who end up becoming the show's go-to cast for comic relief. Their antics, as well as John's farts, is the sort of thing that would fit in well in a children's show, but feels kind of out of place among the shady dealings and skullduggery going on in the world of Erin. We could at least understand the farts, but these two and their roles in Beast Player Erin quite frankly confounds us both. Thankfully, their roles don't detract (or distract) too much from the show itself. Case in point; where the series gets very serious near the end (and it gets very serious), they're almost entirely absent. (So yeah, kudos to learning when and when not to have comic relief in your series, Production I.G.! And I sincerely mean that. - Tim) The rest of the cast are generally portrayed quite realistically and convincingly, including Erin's fellow students, the teachers, and the ruling body of Erin's world, for whom she will have lots of dealings with as the show creeps towards its end.
Feminists in particular will probably be quite satisfied with the show. Erin is a female lead one can easily be proud of. While she has her bouts of childish rebellion in her youth (to the point where Stig and I joked about her tendency to do what she was specifically asked NOT to in the synchro sessions - Tim), she becomes quite the important part of the university she eventually attends. She also becomes the caretaker of Lilan the Ohju, a winged beast that kind of resembles a bird with a wolf's head and a rat's tail. This is a position she wrestles out of the hands of its former caretaker, a young man named Tomura. And while he didn't take too well to it at first, it was never done out of any kind of malice, but an honest love for these beings; so eventually, he sheds those feelings of jealousy and mistrust and becomes her closest aide. The show itself is relatively unconcerned with gender roles; though Erin is at some point told she should stop whatever she's doing and concentrate on being a good wife, it's not really brought up very often. To put it simply, this show have many good role models of either gender for both men and women.
There are some nitpicks we could throw out. Like how the show's naming conventions can make it a bit confusing in the long run, with names seemingly made up for this world alone, along with its legends and mythologies. There's also the aforementioned comedic aspects that feel a bit out of place in this show. There's also a few things the show never really explains, like why the beasts are given something called "alimentary water", a concoction that actually serves to weaken them, which seems more like a critique of the prospect of domesticating animals in a certain way. It's an allusion, at least, and we don't want to write it in stone because we're not entirely sure if that's what the show is trying to say, or if it's just how we interpreted it. Which is actually a plus in the show's favor; it has the decency to be vague or divisive about something. Far too many shows are too hung up on having its lead be right about everything, but Erin might allow you to love and admire its female lead without necessarily having to agree with everything she says and does.
And lastly, Beast Player Erin flat out states that Erin's mother is one of the People of the Mist, but we're never really told who they are or what they do. Erin is occasionally visited by one of them, a man named Nason, who advises her against working with the Ohju in fear of what her teachings will bring. While his warnings are understandable to a certain point, he -- and by extent the People of the Mist -- kind of come across as a bunch of sanctimoneous stagnatists, and his lines about how he's "looking after her" is a joke, given that he does nothing other than berating her throughout the eight year time period this series takes place in. As such, he comes across as kind of a patronizing asshole. Erin's mother looked after her. As did John. Nason did not do anything as such.
Stig: I don't know if it's a reflection of my own personal tastes, but it's not often a show honestly surprises me like this. The world of Erin is a wild and untamed beast in all its oddly crayon-speckled glory, and it's been a joy to see it all unfold, flinch in its sharpened presentations of actions and consequences and follow it all to its uncertain end.
Tim: Beast Player Erin is so much more than the "kids show" look it gives off in posters and screen shots. It's a surprisingly mature, heartfelt series about a girl growing up. And despite the occasional sidetracking on other characters, it's mostly about Erin and her trials. I won't say I was hooked on every minute of this series, but the superbly crafted story and balancing of themes are among the best I've seen in anime.
It's not a perfect five star show, but it'd feel like a copout to give it just four. Beast Player Erin is a unique gem of a show with a female role model you'd otherwise have to turn to Studio Ghibli to find a match. Top stuff. — Stig Høgset and Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: This show can get surprisingly violent at times, both in its portrayal of war and in its past, and how that influences any Tohda/Ohju meetings. The show also touches upon the subjects of political assassinations and skullduggery, as well as suicides and the dangers and consequences of dealing with beasts of the wild.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (50/50)
Beast Player Erin © 2009 Nahoko Uehashi / Kodansha / NHK ・NEP
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