To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, The Deer King (鹿の王, Shika no Ō, literally “King of Deer”) is a Japanese anime fantasy film directed by Masashi Andô (in his directorial debut) and Masayuki Miyaji (Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress), from a screenplay written by Taku Kishimoto (Monster Strike The Movie). Featuring Shinichi Tsutsumi, Ryoma Takeuchi, Anne Watanabe, and Hisui Kimura in the original version with Ray Chase, Griffin Puatu, Erica Schroeder, and Luciana VanDette providing voices for the English dub. Based on the fantasy novel series written by Nahoko Uehashi, the story follows Van, a former enslaved soldier, and his adoptive daughter Yuna as they find themselves as the only immune citizens of a terrible ancient disease.
Text on the screen read that the Kingdom of Aquafa was once ravaged by the Empire of Zol. However, after an outbreak of Black Wolf Fever, Zol called off its invasion of the Sacred Fire Horse Village and retreated. Although Zol returned for many battles, the village never fell and the fever never returned. In a forest, a majestic glowing tree explodes with purple-black goo that spreads throughout the trees. The coursing liquid is revealed to be filled with rampaging red-eyed black wolves as it engulfs the countryside.
In a salt mine, a worker passes out from exhaustion. As he is about to be whipped another worker, Van (Shinichi Tsutsumi, Ray Chase) saves him from the beating and carries off his load. For helping the man Van is imprisoned for his insolence. While he is locked away a woman with a little girl brings him some food to eat. As the lady leaves the mine is attacked by wolves and she and many others are killed. A wolf with one eye walks by Van’s cell holding the young girl in its mouth. As the child begins to bleed, Van attacks the wolf and frees her. The wolf retaliates by biting Van’s arm and pulling him toward the cell bars. As his chains break the Van passes out and the wolf lets him go disappearing into the glowing purple-black sludge.
As a big fan of anime, it’s nice to see more films with that style getting proper U.S. releases. Usually, Japanese animation studios like Production I.G only get work for Japanese films and television series, but the more releases that make their way over to the states, the more work they can get animating American media. We’ve already seen an increase in this over the years with Disney reaching out to seven different Japanese animation studios to produce several episodes of the first season of Star Wars: Visions. I would like to see this reach increase to feature-length film work as well.
The Deer King is filled with phenomenal quality animation with a story that is reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film. This makes sense as both directors have worked on Ghibli films in the past. Andô as a character designer on Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. The latter of which Miyaji was an assistant director – both working with the great Hayao Miyazaki. Both directors have brought their cumulative knowledge together to make a great-looking piece. Personally, the character designs reminded me of Naruto, but it was probably because of the Hitai-ate that some of the characters wear throughout.
What is most enjoyable about the movie is the score. Harumi Fuuki (The Wonderland) composed all the music for the film. Notable for working on television series I think Fuuki did a tremendous job capturing the emotional depth of the characters and story. The only issue is that the story can feel a little dull at times. There are occasions when the story tends to jump around and new characters appear with little backstory given to them. As an adaptation, it would have been nice for Taku Kishimoto to have their stories fleshed out a little more so that character motivations are clear.
If you enjoy anime and music this is the film for you. The animation is beautiful and the score is a treat for the ears. I give The Deer King a Solid 6.8/10. I do feel that the film should be translated as “The Caribou King” because female deer don’t grow antlers. But at the same time, it’s a fantasy world with a wolf virus so they can do whatever they want.