In 2017, something strange happened in the world of anime. An anime series that was poorly staffed, poorly animated, and based on an already cancelled mobile game became one of the most talked about series of the winter season. That show was Kemono Friends (streaming on Crunchyroll). Kemono Friends is a series about a human girl in a zoo-like park filled with animal girls. It became huge fastly becoming one of the biggest topics of anime discussion I saw with its relatable characters and simple storylines. While I never got hooked on it like others I knew, many were instantly. With that in mind – I think it’s time we re-examine another series, The Nameko Families.
The Nameko Families is a short-form anime series also based on a mobile game. It also has relatively simple animation and includes basic stories of friendship. This time it’s about anthropomorphic mushrooms instead of animal girls and instead of a hero’s tale, it’s a slice of life series about family. You know, just a mushroom family.
The family is composed of a Mom, Dad, children, a pet cat, and Grandma who lives with them. Grandpa Nameko’s spirit can be seen in the house, at least to Grandma. They share meals together. Visit family together. They share, they fight, they have disagreements, they come together, they are a pretty normal and traditional family. They don’t go on crazy adventures or venture out into the world to go exploring. They aren’t in some kind of fantasy or science fiction setting. They’re just a grounded, normal family and, for me, it was surprising and refreshing to see.
It also has no dialogue, which is both a blessing and a curse. While some may find it difficult to follow without dialogue and already brush off the show, I rather enjoyed it. Without dialogue, the series can become more accessible to a larger audience – no language barrier. And with the show’s relatively simplistic art-style, the characters are able to fully express their emotions and thoughts well throughout the series. I never had a hard time understanding what was happening or what emotions each character was trying to evoke. It still worked – nowhere as beautifully as in Episode 8.
In Episode 8, we see Grandma Nameko reminisce as she looks through an old photo album. As she remembers her life, we see her entire life with her late husband. Seeing her remember his funeral was an emotional moment and seeing their children mourning their father still can bring tears to my eyes. With no dialogue, they tell a beautiful tale of romance and lost love; of a strong woman raising a family on her own following the death of her husband; about resilience; about love and dedication to family. It’s a beautifully done episode in the middle of an underrated series about anthropomorphic mushrooms.
We see emotions being evoked throughout the series. I’ve talked before about Episode 2 where we see a real example of marriage between Rock Nameko and Long Nameko, how a loving couple deals with disagreements. I also spoke about “Bad Nameko” in Episode 10 where he quietly, humbly shows his love for his family and his fellow man through quiet acts of kindness. These episodes keep you interested with their simple, self-contained slice of life tales of family.
In my overview of the series I wrote 2 years ago, I wrote the following:
What is interesting about all this is with no dialogue, with no human physical characters – the creators have given us a realistic look at family life. We have each been selfish. We have all reacted poorly in anger when we thought we understood a situation. We all have acted poorly at some point around strangers. We have also been on the receiving end of forgiveness. We have also seen random acts of kindness. We also have witnessed sacrificial love for strangers. There are characters we can relate to, situations we have been in ourselves. I found myself relating to anthropomorphic mushrooms as they reflected Christ and at times, when they did not. I found myself in these mushrooms, my family in these mushrooms.
The show aired in late 2013 and can be watched in its entirety in a little over an hour. I think it’s time everyone gave Nameko Families a shot. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you do.