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Parents' Guide to

The Deer King

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Beautifully drawn anime has bloody violence, complex story.

Movie R 2022 114 minutes
The Deer King Movie Poster

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

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Director Masashi Ando is a phenomenal animator, one of the greats, and he doesn't disappoint in that respect here -- but directing doesn't appear to come as naturally. Or maybe the word is "nature-ly," because Ando and co-director Masayuki Miyaji create gorgeous landscapes in their fictional ancient empire. There's a lot of world-building in The Deer King, so much so that it may detract from some viewers' ability to follow the story. For instance, there are too many characters whose relevance is unclear, and some are introduced at the very end of the film. And a situation that's set up -- the Zolians buy deer for a hefty price from the Aquafease -- is not explained. Given the direction of the story, that really needs to be clear. Also, Hossaru is looking for a scientific explanation and cure for the disease, insisting that spiritual causes are nonsense -- but this is a world in which magic and god powers exist, so that's a contradiction.

The film was adapted from a fantasy novel series by Japanese author Nahoko Uehashi, a professor of ethnology. The Deer King is a study of medieval imperialism and may help bring that subject to life for history students. The Aquafa people, who've taken the subservient role in this world, say they're happy with the treaty that brought about an arrangement in which the two people live together "in peace." But the Aquafease definitely aren't pleased to have Zolians occupying their land. The unease is apparent in ways both big and very small. Ando and Miyaji have stuffed so many details into their story and animation that you may need more than one viewing to take it all in. It doesn't help that there's something quite relaxing about the movie's animation. When magical powers ignite, it's like looking at the Northern lights, and the forestry details are like visual ASMR. In other words, despite the many bloody battle scenes and dog attacks, the film is incredibly relaxing and cozy. And that snoozy feeling is at odds with following a complicated story. Anime fans will herald The Deer King, but as feature directors, Ando and Miyaji don't really "buck" convention.

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