The anime market is very much a place of contradictions. On one hand, it offers some of the most creative and unorthodox ideas in popculture and makes them work in ways that would usually be impossible in other forms of media (it’s enough to realize how few live action adaptations of anime proved to be watchable to see the pattern). At the same time, it’s full of overdone tropes and lazy, unoriginal products, that avoid taking any risks that comes with innovation and bold storytelling choices. For this reason, we should give additional attention to the series that tries bringing something new to the scene – either to appreciate their achievements or reflect on their failure and try to find its causes. The latter definitely applies to Centaur’s Life – one of the most intriguing shows of this season, that was still largely rejected by the audience and misunderstood.
While some might argue on this, usually blaming the audience for not understanding the product offered to them means just deflecting the fact it couldn’t communicate its message effectively – and Centaur’s Life probably achieved absolute mastery in that area. The series, set in a modern world where Earth is populated exclusively by hybrid fantasy races (centaurs, goatmen, mermen, winged angels and draconids etc.), is primarily a slice-of-life show, following the life of Hime, an average centaur high school student, and her classmates. It makes an admirable effort at portraying this world in realistic ways, exploring interactions between these fantasy races and various details and challenges of their everyday existence.
However aside of this cute, slow-paced high school drama, there’s a completely different layer of the story – a dystopian political reality, with forced equality between all races protected by extreme propaganda and extensive security apparatus. We can see many disturbing hints from very first episode, such as political police observing classes on racial differences or an indoctrinating cartoon about magical girl defending the world against wrong understandings of democracy. Some characters talk about re-education camps for those guilty of discriminating behaviour. There’s even an episode presenting an alternate WW2 setting with its own version of Holocaust – here with centaurs and goatmen as perpetrators and all other races as victims.
So you might wonder, how those two sides of the story mix? Most of the time, barely, or not at all. While it’s comical that some people understood the shows dystopian vibes as “SJW propaganda”, the constant tone shifts and detachment of the (mostly episodic) political drama from the relaxed main plot makes it extremely hard to read properly. In most cases, the obvious political oppression doesn’t affect the main cast in any major way and even the subplots themselves usually end along with the episode, without much explanation or closure. While it feels like the show is trying to say something important, the lack of plot progression or any consistency in storytelling often makes it impossible to treat it seriously.
The bitter summary of Centaur’s Life comes in the form of the its last episode, which contains just obnoxious fanservice and some slightly amusing, but mostly pointless filler dialogues. It’s a show that had clear potential, but not only didn’t commit to any of its themes for long enough to develop them properly, but mixed them in absolutely confusing and sometimes off-putting ways. It builds a unique and intriguing setting, but has seemingly no idea what to do with it. With the imagination and care put into this world, we could’ve got a few interesting shows focusing on different aspects of it – but in the end we received just one unfocused and inconsistent mess.
And I’m absolutely not happy to give this criticism – it would probably be much less harsh if I didn’t thoroughly enjoyed those moments when Centaur’s Life got it right, either with amusing slice-of-life moments or the best-developed fragments of social critique. It should be remembered as a textbook example of how not to structure and pace an anime series. And maybe even more importantly, a proof that ambition and great imagination have to kept in check, if you want to produce a coherent, enjoyable story. After all, even if you have fantastic ideas or a positive and important message, if you don’t know how to communicate them clearly, you can only blame yourself for your failures.