Lately, Netflix has received a lot of attention thanks to its focus on making animation a medium that is not only for kids, but also adults. Thanks to shows like Castlevania or Blood of Zeus, the streaming platform has managed to make a space for adult animation in the west. However, it should not be forgotten that animation will always appeal to kids the most, and so, Netflix just released its newest offering in that regard; Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles.
Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles is a CGI animated series, developed by Doug and Candie Langale, with animation produced by Gaumont Animation Studio, and it is based on the comic books “Usagi Yojimbo” by Stan Sakai. The series stars Darren Barnet, Aleks Le, Shelby Rabara, Mallory Low, and SungWon Cho.
The show is clearly aimed at younger audiences. The mixture between cute little animals, and martial arts seems to be perfect for this kind of show. The series also relies heavily on humor to make even the most dire situations palatable for a younger kid, and there are also a ton of action sequences in every episode.
On paper, the show sounds like an amazing idea, and one that should find its audience on Netflix very quickly. However, from the moment the show starts it is clear that this is a low budget effort, as the animation and the overall presentation might be one of the ugliest in any recent CGI animated series. This has nothing to do with Gaumont Animation’s ability to create something beautiful, but it does have to do with the amount of time and money that was dedicated to the show.
The character models are as simple as they can be. The textures on the characters, buildings, and sets in general feel almost flat. The colors are also strangely opaque, as if someone forgot to grade the colors properly. Nothing really pops out of the screen. The background characters all look the same, and they feel more like generic NPCs in a video game.
All of that sounds horrible, and it is. However, it would be naive and malicious to put the quality of this production in the same ballpark as something like Arcane, for example. Riot had all the time and money necessary to make Arcane the most beautiful CGI animated show ever, Gaumont Animation doesn’t have any of that. The studio worked with what they have and for what it aims to be, it might be enough.
Thankfully, the writing and the characters help elevate the poor presentation and make each episode a very enjoyable experience. The adventures the characters fall into are all very varied and fun to follow. Kids will be able to understand not only the character’s interaction and the messages the series is trying to convey, but they will also be able to follow the show’s mythology and legends. There is nothing complicated here, so even really young kids will be able to go on the adventure.
The characters are what make or break a show, and Samurai Rabbit has a superb set of main characters. Usagi for example, our main character is a very solid protagonist, someone that is still growing and has a hunger for learning and experiencing new things and at the same time he is confident in the abilities he already has. The show takes him on an arc of self-discovery that is very solid, although for some parents that might have to watch the show with their kids, Usagi’s arc might feel like something they have seen before.
The rest of the cast is very varied, from a cat assassin, to a prideful Rhino, and more. The show is always throwing things and ideas at the screen, and the 25 minutes running time that each episode has to tell its story feels packed with story and character moments. It is truly nice seeing the character grow and have their own arcs, even when they are just supporting players in the game.
Yes, the show has some great character work and storylines, even when the target audience are very young kids. However, even kids might feel a bit disappointed when it comes to the action sequences. Kids and adults love a good action sequence no matter what, but here most of these sequences are held back by very stiff animation patterns on the models. The characters always feel like they are skipping more frames than they need to in order to look fluid. Seeing them walk or run is pretty bad, they often don’t feel like part of the same scene when in movement.
The lack of action choreography, and the lack of an up to standard visual presentation are the only things that are holding back Samurai Rabbit from becoming a classic. And yet, you can feel that the series is made with love and that the artists are doing as much as they can with their available resources. That the show ends up being as fun as it is, could be a miracle, but in reality is all about hard work, even when the conditions are not the best ones.