I Wish I Jumped Into This Faster
This film is a major case of “why didn’t anyone tell me about who was behind the source material?” Ok, part of that is my fault because I wasn’t interested in Deer King for a while so I didn’t read any sorts of posts or reviews about it. But still, I wish I knew that Nahoko Uehashi was the one behind the novels this series was behind. Why is that important? Same novelist behind Moribito and Beast Player Erin; two anime series that I absolutely love. I think it really shows how unpopular Moribito is that not many people, besides those who are fans, would know about it sadly.
Then we could jump into a lot of the production staff behind this series too. For instance, this is a Production I.G. film which is great because I really like their work in general. It was also directed by Masashi Ando who was an animator for a lot of Studio Ghibli projects and works like Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, Masayuki Miyaji who at his highest credit was an assistant director for Spirited Away. Taku Kishimoto is the writer and before he left ghibli, worked on the screen writing behind a lot of popular anime like Erased and this latest version of Fruits Basket. The entire film is led by a lot of people who you need to research to find interesting.
Story Elements of The Deer King
Ten Years after an awful war which the Zolians took most of the Aquafa’’s land. One part of Aquafa is still free and that is The Fire Horse Territory. An area of land where wolves who spread a virus called “Black Wolf Fever” still reside. This film starts at a time period where the wolves are starting to attack once again. Mainly Zolians who dominate the land at the moment while the disease continues to spread amongst them. A major detail being that no one hit with that disease is still alive. Except for one man who worked underground as a slave since the war survived it and left the mine he was enslaved in with a young girl named Yuna.
The man’s name is Van and he is being hunted down by the Zolian government because his blood might be the key to finally creating a cure. Something which is desperately needed considering that more and more Zolians are dying by the day. There is a lot of political intrigue and mystery thrown into this film while the discovery of what the virus is and how it is affecting our main many Van comes into play. This is a story that doesn’t really fit the two hours of time it has been given because it’s one that is filled to the brim with plot. Almost nothing got enough time to just sit and soak in the setting other than one moment.
Deer King’s main plot is centered on Van and Yuna because the best moments of it are when Van and Yuna are together doing something. Part of that is because that is where this film slows down and allows itself to soak in the setting it is. Van and Yuna quietly join a small town outside of Zolian rule but also a non aggressive group that just live off the land and tame animals. When the plot enters the scene, it’s very rapid paced and you don’t get to connect with characters during exposition until they get smaller moments in between all of them. That’s why it feels like there is something always lacking in the film too.
A Pandemic Film
I watched this film when I was sick with Covid and needed something to check out. So I was a bit shocked when not only was there a pandemic sort of thing, but why would a production crew make a film about a pandemic during a pandemic? Is it to reflect on what was happening or a way to really define it in some way there? While pandemic films have existed for a long time through zombie films and otherwise, I wonder if that is actually going to be a trend in the future and I wonder if that was why the source material was chosen for a film. Maybe this is something that I’ve thought too much about, but that’s just who I am.
There are moments that feel like they are direct commentary on things that have happened during the pandemic. For instance, some Zolians are treated like anti vaxxers who die pretty immediately after being bitten by a wolf because they refuse any help to ease their disease. Those being Zolian elites who are more religious instead of being scientific minded Aquafa people who are trying to find a cure in some way. But I don’t think that may have been as deep of a hook as it could have been because after some of those scenes, the pandemic just becomes something to stop people we don’t know from dying. Yes, a character is trying to find a vaccine but it’s a supernatural disease.
This All Sounds Familiar, Yet It’s Not
One reason I picked up that there was some Moribito stuff going at least in the backdoor of this film, is that I would have guessed about 75% of what was in the film or what it was about without even looking at any sort of synopsis. Let’s see, the conflict between traditions and the culture of colonizers, the young daughter that is attached to something magical and cultural based, a tracker that looks like Balsa, and trying to connect to past traditions to attach all of it, and probably a lot of things. It’s not Princess Mononoke just because our main guy rides on a deer and knows about them. I really don’t like it when people say something like that.
Here is the thing though, I like all of that. It is handled slightly differently to where it is. Van is such a different character from Balsa not in just gender, but how he carries himself and how he connects with people faster than Balsa would ever do. The conflict is phenomenally different because of the virus aspect that creates a larger thing out of all of it. Also, that bit of difference comes from how long one culture has conquered the other for. The Deer King actually still has that open conflict between both sides because the Zolians do not trust the Aquafa at all yet while Moritibo has a conquered civilization that is slowly disappearing.
In case you are wondering, that is such a huge difference in setting even if the similarities are still there. Is the other culture still alive or has it been crushed so long by the dominant one that it’s disappearing? When you write a huge political fantasy like Nahoko Uehashi makes, every single detail matters because those are the things that inform the kind of story we are going to watch. Characters will act differently based on these scenarios which is why all of them are so different. This is something that I see so many people just not mention in their reviews or blog posts about this movie and it’s disappointing.
I wish this was a television series, but alas…
The Deer King would make a great television series. Visually, making it a movie has allowed the entire film to be visually stunning and create such a good tone that helps make the film feel more fleshed out then one would think. The character animation is great and the action is just wonderful there too. But everything else was so crammed into a fantasy adventure film that it really isn’t. There feels like some need for more relaxed storytelling to where the story slowly soaks in while we get to know the characters and how they live in this world. Otherwise, they become something like this film where things feel like plot points then things that matter.
Still, I enjoyed this film well enough. Part of that is because I know the main writer behind it. Another part is that I bought the entire relationship between Yun and Van in this film just from those quick moments that was established in a lot of the film too. The strong silent type with a soft side is a great character type that could have been pulled from there too. For this being a film with a lot of stuff going on in it, somehow there was also enough time to actually tell the story in the most non convoluted way possible. Something which is hard to do unless it’s with hands that can tell the story in two hours with characters you can get to know. Just wish it was a series, but I will take what I can get when there is good food like this ready for me to eat.
Oh, I didn’t know Deer King was a pandemic movie. For some reason I thought it was about a lone samurai that was trying to overthrow a conquering kingdom. It certainly sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out!
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I think its another case of looking up what a film for both of us in this case.
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