Monday, May 20, 2024
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Of monsters and men

Buckle up for ‘My Daemon’, where monster taming takes a thrilling twist

The monster taming genre, thriving in gaming, often seems a strategic move in animation for a youthful audience and merchandise sales.

As a Pokémon fan, I can admit that the genre’s marketing focus on children often limits its narrative depth.

When I saw My Daemon on Netflix, my initial expectations were quite tepid. The trailer for this sci-fi anime hinted at a post-apocalyptic and almost extra-terrestrial setting, but after giving the series a try, it is so much more.

Dark origins

Surprising me was the intricate storytelling in a monster-inhabited realm. Picture a Pokemon-like set-up, but in a dystopian cyberpunk world with nightmarish beasts – flesh-metal fusions and colossal kaijus.

Monster tamers here defy tradition; these creatures aren’t just pets. While the core narrative is a profound boy-beast bond, not all instances are heartwarming; some are genuinely heartbreaking.

In this world, set in future Japan, macabre creatures called Daemons exist and roam the earth after a nuclear explosion caused the existence of a particle called daemonium.

Daemons are borne out of this new element, which presents itself as small grains of sand which has spread out and taken over the world.

When I use the term “macabre”, I mean it quite literally. The primary Daemon, the Pikachu equivalent in this series, can best be described as a skinned chihuahua with countless eyes.

Labelled as threats, Daemons prompt strict control. Human tamers, using shock collars, manage Daemon populations, employing other Daemons for control in response to their perceived danger.

The harsh reality that is that Daemons, despite their otherworldly power, are portrayed more as wild animals – mere beings struggling for survival.

It becomes apparent that those Daemons labelled as feral, attacking humans, have compelling reasons driving their actions. It’s a layer of complexity rarely addressed within the genre, prompting reflection on the blurred lines between threat and survival in this dystopian world.

Midnight aesthetics and murky lore

A collaborative venture between Thailand and Japan, the series was written by Hirotaka Adachi and brought to life by Thai-based Igloo Studio.

 Noteworthy is its animation style, a distinctive almost 2.5D approach that sidesteps the usual distractions of flickering lights and shadows associated with this genre.

Although I’m not typically drawn to this specific animation style, My Daemon managed to captivate me as an exception, primarily due to its unique amalgamation of media.

Certain moments in My Daemon showcase exquisitely hand-drawn backgrounds reminiscent of the Ghibli charm, which seamlessly blend with other environments that appear to leap out in three-dimensional CGI. The animation quality can be a bit of a rollercoaster, but when it lands its punches, it lands them hard. The meticulously detailed environments in My Daemon present a vibrant mosaic within a deeply dystopian setting, gradually revealing the series’ rich lore and expansive universe.

Imagine abandoned cityscapes consumed by daemonium-induced flora, dreamlike anti-gravity fields with floating debris, and cyberpunk-inspired settlements. The series creates a visual feast, skilfully blending the surreal with post-apocalyptic elements.

Contributing to the narrative richness of My Daemon is the intricate interplay of culture and history.

Rather than being handed to us outright, this wealth of information unfolds gradually through diverse scenes, casual mentions and most notably, the nuanced relationships between humans and their daemons. This subtlety feels like a breath of fresh air, as it lets you uncover the world layer by layer.

Humanity at its finest

At its core, My Daemon follows Kenzo Tachibana, an adolescent who discovers a peculiar grain of sand, evolving into the central Daemon, Anna.

Anna – the skinned puppy with many eyes – possesses the unique ability to manipulate space, storing items limitlessly within her body.

This exceptional trait attracts the attention of a nefarious organisation known for capturing, researching, and eliminating daemons deemed a threat to humanity.

Initially uncertain about a series centred on a child and his disturbingly adorable pet, I found that as the narrative unfolded, their relationship became the true backbone of the story.

Traversing post-nuclear Japan, we witness their bond evolving amidst encounters with characters ranging from genuinely good to egregiously heinous and, most sadly, profoundly human and flawed.

Crucially, My Daemon is tailored for mature audiences, ensuring encounters with death and brutality – both physical and emotional.

Each instance serves as a reflective mirror, compelling viewers to ponder humanity’s inclinations to fear the unknown, exploit nature, and resort to violence.

In a world filled with monsters, humans persist as apex predators, and unfortunately, our methods often lean towards cruelty. My Daemon isn’t just a perpetual state of doom and gloom, thanks to Kenzo and Anna, the luminous core of the series.

Amidst imminent violence, they forge a path towards understanding between humans and monsters, delivered with nuance and sympathy, avoiding heavy-handed preaching.

Even within the overarching tragedy, the tender expressions of endearment between Kenzo and Anna genuinely tug at your heartstrings, eliciting an undeniable “aww” reaction and instilling a genuine desire for these two to weather the storm and emerge intact from the chaotic turmoil of their world.

The delicate dance between darkness and affection is what genuinely fuels your investment not just in Kenzo and Anna’s survival but in the entirety of this series.

So, if you’re tempted to dismiss My Daemon as just another run-of-the-mill monster tamer clone, think again. It’s a peculiar science fiction fantasy with monsters that consistently keeps you on your toes, frequently defying your expectations. – Wardi Wasil

A scene from the show. PHOTO: NETFLIX