“Beast Player Erin,” based on the Japanese novel series Kemono no Sōja, follows a heroine with animal-control powers who is caught in a war. It’s an anime series well worth seeing.
To understand the overall story, you need to get to know the two big types of mythic creatures that are so important for this story.
Tohdas are giant dragon-like reptiles. Tohda eggs are taken from the nests of wild tohda, and the young are raised in certain villages and eventually trained to become mounts for the soldiers of the Grand Duke of the Tai-Kou region, the main military protectors of the Shin-Ou kingdom.
Ohju are giant chimeric creatures with the body of a bird of prey and the head of a wolf. They and tohdas appear to be natural enemies. The first time Erin sees an Ohju, what she sees is a shimmering, prismatic figure soaring in the moonlit night sky.
The story can be divided into three sections following Erin’s life.
When the story begins, Erin is a 10-year-old girl living with her mother, Soh-Yon, in Akeh village. This village raises and cares for creatures called tohdas (more on these in a moment), and Soh-Yon is one of those tohda caretakers. When tragedy comes, Erin leaves the village and comes under the care of the beekeeper Joh-on, and at this time begins learning about ohju.
At this point comes a 4-year skip. Erin is still with Joh-on, and he begins training her so she can begin more formal schooling at the Kazalum school, a place that also tends to captured Ohju. Erin enters the school and becomes main caretaker for a wounded young ohju named Lilan.
During these two parts of Erin’s story, we catch glimpses of bigger events going on in the kingdom, though only on occasions do they affect Erin herself.
The final part of the story follows another 4-year skip. Erin is now a young woman nearing the end of her schooling, and has continued to care for Lilan. Here the story’s various threads come together. Conspiracies long planned are set in motion, hatreds and bitterness long simmering are brought to a boil. And Erin has no desire to be a part of any of it. She is forced to make painful choices when every apparent decision seems horrendous to her.
Erin’s allies and family
One way Erin’s early story ties in with the bigger events is with the royal guard Ia-lu. Quiet, brooding, competent, deadly, Ia-lu meets Erin when she was still a child, and the gift he gives to her at that time proves very important for her future.
Soh-Yon is an outsider to Akeh village, a woman from a mysterious group called the People of the Mist. She marries the son of the village leader, and Erin is their daughter. The interaction between mother and daughter shows the mother’s deep love and care for her daughter.
Erin’s biological father appears to have died when she was very young. Soh-Yon speaks of him a few times, and does so positively. He’s a character I would have liked to know more about.
Erin’s present “father” is the beekeeper Joh-on, a great bear of a man who rescues Erin from possibly drowning. He looks after the young girl, teaching her about beekeeping and harp-playing, and finally helps her prepare for the school at Kazalum. Though Erin usually seems to call him “uncle,” the story reveals to the viewer that both of them have come to see their relationship as more like father and daughter.
Fart jokes and other follies
Yes, this story is about national tensions and treacheries and royal bloodlines and past disasters. But it also has fart jokes. Joh-on is a good guy, but he’s also rather gaseous, and he’s not afraid to see the humor in his farts.
As a special bonus, there are also scenes of Kazalum students mucking out ohju stalls and throwing globs of ohju poop at each other. The teachers treat this as a tradition.
Small decisions, great consequences
G.K. Chesterton wrote:
The instance most quoted in our day is the thing called the humility of the man of science; and certainly it is a good instance as well as a modern one. Men find it extremely difficult to believe that a man who is obviously uprooting mountains and dividing seas, tearing down temples and stretching out hands to the stars, is really a quiet old gentleman who only asks to be allowed to indulge his harmless old hobby and follow his harmless old nose. When a man splits a grain of sand and the universe is turned upside down in consequence, it is difficult to realize that to the man who did it, the splitting of the grain is the great affair, and the capsizing of the cosmos quite a small one.1
Much the same thing can be said about Erin. Her main desire is simply to find ways to care for ohju in better ways, and later with the rough prescribed means that leave the captured ohjus empty shells of what she had seen in the wild ohju. She is happy at Kazalum, happy tending to Lilan, and has no desire to become involved in great and important issues. She asks simply to be left to indulge her harmless hobby and follow her harmless nose.
But because of her harmless hobby, a kingdom’s cosmos is capsized, and its fables of divine rulers shown to be mere covers for all-too-human catastrophes long ago.
I would put “Beast Player Erin” on the same level as “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” It is among the best series I’ve watched. It’s a story that takes its time developing, though it doesn’t do so in a way that drags out events. There are many moving moments, times of happiness and sadness, progress and defeats, and some good laughs, too. It’s an intricate and rich myth-like story, and I give it a very high recommendation.
- Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith). Heretics (pp. 27-28) ↩