‘The Deer King’ review: Anime epic unites body and soul

Spiteful curses, states at war, and the picturesque joys of herding life intertwine in The Deer King, a beautifully executed anime epic set in the lush forests of a centuries-old empire.

While the film’s far-reaching lore is gorgeous to the eye, it takes time to fully appreciate for us to clearly distinguish between all of the forces and themes that are at odds with one another.

Van (Shinichi Tsutsumi in the Japanese-language version), a stoic and imposing warrior, and Yuna (Hisui Kimura), an orphaned toddler, are survivors of a gruesome attack by a pack of wild dogs carrying a deadly plague cure for the disease as well as an ancient one Power. The incident ignites animosity between two kingdoms with a long history of violent conflict.

Conceived by a team of artists with previous careers at the esteemed Studio Ghibli, including co-directors Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji and their key animators, The Deer King bears a similarly flawless craftsmanship in the painterly details of its backgrounds and polished character design and nimble animated action set pieces.

Hayao Miyazaki’s masterful Princess Mononoke is an undeniable inspiration. His influence is most prominent in Van’s lore to tame an ancient breed of deer that holds the key to his people’s salvation. Extraneous presentation and terminology about the common past of the tribes, abounds during the otherwise engrossing quest.

What emotionally permeates the dark fable’s often over-the-top mythology, however, is the hero’s paternal bond with young Yuna, a chance for him to experience tenderness once more amidst the onslaught from multiple fronts. Harumi Fuuki’s score also infuses the big narrative canvas with rousing drama befitting the cue.

Caught between the magical and the mundane, the fantastical premise speaks of body and soul as extensions of one another, with the poison of hate manifesting as a physical ailment that can only be cured by returning to their original relationship with nature. Though slightly convoluted, The Deer King is a welcome, mature animated feature film, nurturing enough admirable ideas and visual panache to grab our attention.

“The Deer King”

In Japanese with English subtitles and dubbed English versions

Rated: R, for some violence

Duration: 1 hour 53 minutes

To play: Share generally

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-07-15/review-deer-king-japanese-anime-fantasy-epic-harkens ‘The Deer King’ review: Anime epic unites body and soul

Sarah Ridley

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