*note: This review was originally published on Patreon
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve been a fan of anime for years and will take almost any opportunity I can to see it in theaters when the chance arrives. Having not seen an anime movie in theaters since Belle (way back at the beginning of this year), I leaped at the chance to see The Deer King when my local theater announced it was holding a screening.
The Deer King is adapted from the Japanese fantasy series of the same name by Nahoko Uehashi and takes place in a fictional realm dominated by the Kingdom of Aquafa and the Empire of Zol, the latter having recently taken over the former. As tensions simmer between the two nations, the dreaded Black Wolf Fever breaks out, killing hundreds and threatening to kill many more if the mystery behind it isn’t solved. One of these mysteries revolves around how Van, a near-legendary fighter who once defended Aquafa, was infected by the fever and didn’t die. Neither did Yuna, a young girl who becomes like a daughter to Van. The answers to these mysteries will change many things for both nations.
Let’s start with the good things about The Deer King. First of all, the film is beautifully animated. The character design and backgrounds are all gorgeous. The Deer King was directed by Masashi Ando who previously worked on such films as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Your Name and the Studio Ghibli influence definitely shows throughout the film. Yuna in particular looks like she leapt straight out of a Miyazaki film (and I mean that in a good way).
The story of The Deer King is….good, but that’s also where we run into one of the film’s big problems. I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me at first, but as the story progressed toward the end I felt more and more like we were missing a big chunk of the story. One of the film’s primary antagonists barely gets any screen time, and when he DOES appear it’s built up like this big moment and yet the audience has very little reason to care about this character, not to mention they know next to nothing about him or his motivations. Actually there’s several characters and plot points that this flaw applies to. It’s almost like when they wrote the adaptation of the fantasy series, they left out too much when putting the screenplay together. Put simply: vital exposition is missing and I’m sure a director’s cut with said exposition put back in would improve things greatly.
Also, one other thing that bothered me about The Deer King, as much as I enjoyed it, is that I feel like this film doesn’t quite know what it is. The Black Wolf Fever I mentioned earlier is referred to as both a spiritual curse and a real disease in almost the same breath at times, which was pretty confusing to me. Like, most of the time The Deer King feels like a battle against supernatural forces but then at other times it feels like a medical mystery drama. Both are enjoyable, but the way the movie kept flipping back and forth did it no favors.
However, while the story is flawed in its presentation, I did ultimately enjoy it. There are several good morals in The Deer King about letting go of the past, enjoying found family, and sacrificing for those you love. Basically, I’m willing to overlook the flaws and enjoy the overall whole. If The Deer King is playing near you, I recommend going to check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Let me know what you think about The Deer King in the comments below and have a great day!
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