The Deer King is the type of anime that people who make fun of the genre should watch. Van is a slave that works the salt mines. When a group of mysterious wolves attack and kill everyone except Van and a child named Yuna, it is the start of a manhunt. Though it is for different reasons, opposing factions believe Van is the key to the future. Does Van truly hold the secret to a cure for a life taking disease or it is really a curse?
It is easy to discount anime – and animated films in general – as family friendly fare that has nothing important to say. The Deer King proves that this is not always the case. The tale takes on a number of deep themes. It is safe enough for audiences of all ages, but an argument can be made younger viewers will not walk away with a full understanding. This does not mean they will not be able to enjoy it, however.
One of the big themes of The Deer King is the idea of science versus superstition. This is well written with neither side looking down on the other. (That being said, the film seems to subtly hint at times that older people are quick to disbelieve facts over beliefs.) The plot picks a clear side, but there is a nice build to the moment. Those who do not like worlds where real medicine and unexplained magic can live side by side may find the ending odd, however.
An idea that will be understood by more is the idea of family. As Van and Yuna spend more time together, their father-daughter dynamic grows. As is par for the course, Yuna is quicker to buy into the relationship. The Deer King patiently develops the bond between the two almost to a fault. It is clear where things are headed, but Van’s stoic demeanor does not give it the emotional weight needed.
Despite some odd narrative beats, The Deer King is a highly entertaining film. It is a throwback to anime of the 1990s and its more grounded story is well told. The tale of familial love will appeal to many. Those who think that anime is just giant robots and questionably dressed high school girls should definitely check this out.
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