The Deer King comes off more like a compilation movie of a fantasy anime that works better as a show than a movie.
Published on April 19, 2023
Rating 2 /5
It wouldn’t surprise many to learn that The Deer King is based on a fantasy novel series based on how this anime film proceeds. It begins with a lengthy introduction to its worlds of kingdoms, magic, and tribes. Amid a mysterious disease is a tale of politics that further complicates a lengthy narrative that tries to build up an entire fantasy realm. As the film progresses, it becomes less of a fantasy to get wrapped up in and more of a tabletop game where you’re constantly checking the rule book to keep everything in line.
The idea behind the characters seems simple enough that it could proceed down a simple father-daughter path. In the war between Zol and Aquafa, the deadly Black Wolf Fever brings havoc to the land. Wild dogs spread it with their deadly attacks. One attack assaults a mine where the only survivors are the slave Van and the little girl Yuna. They live despite being bitten by the dogs. After such a traumatic event, they try to live peacefully but soon realize they can’t do that in a world bound by war and feuding kingdoms.
There is a decent premise for making a fantasy-based Lone Wolf and Cub scenario. There are aspects of that dynamic in the film, where the stoic Van does his best to be a father figure to the innocent Yuna. He tries to shield her from the horrors of the world but can only do so much before she becomes a part of the conflict. There’s also a mysterious aspect of Yuna having magic in her blood that could make her a blessing or a threat to this world, complicating Van’s perspective on how to raise this kid.
The problem is that there is too much going on in this anime ever to become all that engrossed in the relationship. There’s a war between the kingdoms which is so sordid and sloppy that it becomes uninteresting at times, especially since the picture does little to bite back at the imperialism treated more as routine than inhuman. There are bits and pieces of questioning monarchies, such as when a king refuses a blood transfusion to keep his bloodline pure, despite dying of the Black Wolf Fever. It’s a point of pride clouding judgment, but it’s also a belabored scene that goes on so long that some audiences might make the wrap-it-up sign with their hands.
The animation of this fantasy looks solid for what it aims to present. There are some stylish action sequences here and there, with the highlight being a battle in the woods amid assassins scaling on stilts. The magical forces bring out some neat visuals as well. The scene of a demonic Yuna riding a top of a giant wolf sticks out as the most memorable shot of the movie. A handful of the slower moments in the forest are also sweet but far from the more vibrant glamor of high-quality anime productions to appreciate the splendor. So much of the film feels like a budgeted anime TV series, and this type of story could benefit from a longer running time to build up its characters and world.
The Deer King comes off more like a compilation movie of a fantasy anime that works better as a show than a movie. It’s a chore to get invested in this world quickly and even more challenging to appreciate the pathos as the father-daughter duo is rushed into their magical quest. It’s an okay fantasy anime until one realizes there are far superior and good-looking anime films that have done far more. Compared to films like Princess Mononoke, Full-Metal Alchemist, and Made in the Abyss, The Deer King feels like a lukewarm movie needing less lore and more character.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.