The Deer King is an anime film that gives us a look at what would happen if you crossed Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and Lone Wolf and Cub. The last of which was one of the main inspirations for The Mandalorian, by the way.

The Deer King: Details

"The Deer King" English theatrical poster.
I would think The Wolf King is a more appropriate title here given the, well, wolves.

The Deer King is the anime film adaptation of the fantasy novel series of the same name by Nahoko Uehashi (Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Erin). Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell, Fena: Pirate Princess, Star Wars: Visions Episode 5 – “The Ninth Jedi”) is the animation studio behind this anime film. Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji directed this anime film. This is, in fact, Ando’s first time directing an anime film instead of “just” being the key animator. Taku Kishimoto wrote for this anime film, with Harumi Fuuki composing the music for it. Lastly, GKIDS licensed this anime film for its NA release.

The Deer King first premiered on June 14, 2021 at Annecy International Animation Film Festival. The anime film will make its official NA theatrical debut on July 13, 2022 (for the original Japanese audio with English subtitled version) and July 14, 2022 (for the English dub version). You can purchase tickets for either version now on GKIDS, Fathom Events, or on the anime film’s official website. This anime film is also 113 minutes long, so you might want to bring plenty of popcorn when you watch it. Oh, and lastly, this anime film has an R rating for a reason. You might not want to bring your kids to this anime film. Trust me, it does get bloody.

The Deer King: Synopsis

Everything about this anime film just screams “Epic Fantasy Adventure”.

Normally, this would be the part of the my review where I describe the plot of The Deer King in great detail. Complete with as much spoilers as I can cram in, albeit with plenty of warnings beforehand. However, this is the spoiler-free version. You know, for those of you who want to watch this anime film sans spoilers. Thus, you will get the official synopsis from GKIDS instead. Check it out below:

“In the aftermath of a brutal war, former soldier Van toils in amine controlled by the ruling empire. One day, his solitary existence is upended when a pack of wild dogs carrying a deadly and incurable disease attack, leaving only Van and a young girl named Yuna as survivors. Finally free, the pair seek out a simple existence in the countryside but are pursued by nefarious forces. Intent on protecting Yuna at all costs, Van must uncover the true cause of the plague ravaging the kingdom—and its possible cure.

The Deer King is a sweeping fantasy epic that marks the directing debut of Masashi Ando, whose work on such landmark films as Spirited Away, Paprika, and Your Name. helped shape the world of modern animation.”

The Deer King: The Good (Spoiler-Free Version)

Funny how the Japanese trailer thumbnail focuses on the fantasy, while the English dub trailer thumbnail focuses on Hohsalle’s pretty face instead.

The story and characters of The Deer King are the best part of it. This is fitting, seeing as how Nahoko Uehashi wrote the original story behind it. This anime film really shows off how well she does with worldbuilding. Everything about it from the environment to the setting, and even the odd names really immerses you into this semi-medieval fantasy world she has created. All seemingly based on various Asian cultures. It’s actually pretty fun to play “Spot the cultural basis” for the different people here. I would go so far as to say that this is Tolkien or Sanderson’s levels of immersion, really.

The animation of The Deer King is another plus for it. The animation quality isn’t the hyper-realistic style we see in modern anime. It’s very high quality, no doubt about it. However, the animation style seems to harken back to the older anime film. You know, like the classic Studio Ghibli films. Fitting really, for a key animator of Spirited Away. The animation style really makes you feel nostalgic for those classics, all the while further immersing you into the story.

The Deer King: The Bad (Spoiler-Free Version)

"The Deer King" screenshot featuring Yuna and her adorably puzzled expression.
The face of someone wondering what’s bad about this anime film.

My one major complaint about The Deer King is its length. Not that it’s too long, mind you. But rather, that it’s not long enough. While the overall pacing of the anime film felt fine, I feel like there were parts of the story that could’ve benefited more from additional time to develop the characters and setting. Really, I think this anime film would’ve been even better as an entire anime series. Maybe as a 12 or even 24-episode anime. It’s just my opinion of the story though. Your mileage may vary depending on your opinions. Feel free to share them here in the comments section once you actually get to watch this anime film.

Source: GKIDS