The Deer King
Featured voices: Shinichi Tsutsumi, Hisui Kimura, Ryoma Takeuchi, Anne Watanabe
Based on a series of Japanese fantasy novels by Nahoko Uehashi, this beautifully-rendered anime co-directed by Massashi Ando, one of the creative team behind classics ‘Princess Mononoke’ and ‘Your Name’, features some surprisingly timely themes. When a pandemic, the dreaded Black Wolf Fever, illustrated by spectral wolves in a miasmic cloud, sweeps across the land, the two warring opponents, the militaristic Zol and the nature-loving Aquafa, become convinced that one man, the jaded warrior Van (voiced by Shinichi Tsutsumi) holds the key to victory. Van has just survived a savage attack on the Zol mine where he had been enslaved, and now wishes to retire and live a quiet life with his surrogate young daughter, the sprightly Yuna (Hisui Kimura), the other survivor of the attack. Inevitably Van is dragged back into the conflict. The dense lore-heavy plotting feels a little wearying over a two-hour running time. Still, the makers deliver some gorgeous setpieces, not least a monochrome sequence where assassins on stilts ambush Van’s band with bow and arrows.