I’m Going to be Political Today
If you’ve been around for awhile here than it should come to no surprise to you that I’d eventually review the Winter 2020 anime, Somali and the Forest Spirit as it’s another father-daughter anime, the type I’m particularly fond of. We’ve been getting more of those recently, and while that’s all well and good, I’m going to be focusing on something different with today’s article. A wind of change has been blowing, not just in the US, but across the world, and Somali feels like a particularly relevant anime to discuss as its message is one I think we could all use.
Somali’s world is one that is beautiful and fantastic, but beneath all that it is a world long divided. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, forced to go into hiding in order to avoid being sold off as livestock for the various monstrous races. The story begins when a young girl, the titular Somali, is discovered by a Golem who’s sole job is to protect the forest she now finds herself in alone.
At first the Golem is reluctant to get involved with Somali but she quickly attaches herself to him, claiming that he is her father. Shortly after the pair embark on a journey across the lands in search of other humans that Somali can live with. While it is primarily a happy tale, the theme of hatred runs deep in the show’s veins, and that’s what we’ll primarily be focusing on today.
As mentioned, the audience is told upfront that humans are not a welcome addition to Somali’s world. This gives the journey a solemn feel to it, along with a sense of real danger for Somali as she is but a child. At first she’s somewhat oblivious to this kind of thing but it really sinks in with the tale told by the head librarian in the witch arc.
In this world humans refer to the other races as “The Grotesque” due to their monstrous features or abilities. The librarian’s tale describes how things came to be for this world, and it’s a tale that acts to emphasize the point of the show. Feodora is a young witch who crash-lands in the middle of a human settlement after a nasty storm. She quickly grows accustom to life there but decides to leave after seeing the humans kill a monster who meant them no harm as it begged for mercy as they slaughtered it.
To put it bluntly, the scene basically depicts a lynching. It’s brutal, cruel, and poignant. Naturally, the young Feodora fears for her life after this. Though she has made friends, particularly in one of the youngest villagers, she decides to leave. However, before she can do so said young villager attempts to stop her. That’s when tragedy strikes and the young child falls from a cliff. Feodora then has to make a choice: reveal her inhuman nature or let an innocent die, proving to be no better than the humans.
Feodora makes the right choice and saves the child, exposing herself for all to see. In spite her quick action, the villagers turn on her in an instant. They begin to call for her death, labeling her a dangerous monster. Keep in mind, she had lived among them for some time in peace. Now they fear she was waiting for them to lower their guards so that she might slaughter them in their sleep. Only the child Feodora saves defends her, but none will listen. It is then that the village leader “forgives” her deeds and exiles her from the land.
It sounds somewhat ridiculous, but I can’t help but feel that this speaks to our own history and the state of the world today. In this tale, people were not ready for the literal winds of change. Though one heart was stirred, the majority feared what was different and the change that could come of it. While the humans in this story are clearly at fault and act in a heartless fashion, there is some point of understanding. We, as people, fear the unknown and change. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the way we handle ourselves is what’s important.
By now I think you can see the parallels that can be drawn to this world and our own. Grotesque and human, black and white, the list can go on. This story can be seen as a description of our past, how we have unfairly treated those different from our own. How this prejudice has lead to pain and suffering. Yet, it is a tale that holds a glimmer of hope.
At the end of this story the librarian reveals that she knows Somali is human, and the reaction of the witches is that of fear. However, the librarian stills them and proves that Somali holds a heart of love and kindness, showing now fear of the witches, only acceptance.
In the story of Somali and the Forest Spirit, Somali represents a wind of change, a chance for the world to move forward and for things to finally settle on a more righteous path. You can see this at several points throughout her journey with the Golem and how she touches the hearts of those around her.
With most journeys, this too has one of humble beginnings. After Somali minorly injures herself, an Oni decides to offer them aid. He is a playful medicine man who quickly has his suspicions about the true nature of Somali. Yet, he remains silent. He teaches the Golem how to create medicine and shares sweets prepared by his assistant with the father-daughter pair.
It’s a simple start, but this proves to be a powerful encounter later on. For now, they part ways but I will speak more on this later. For now, it is enough to understand that the Oni pair see the warmth of Somali’s heart, that she is good-natured and kind.
In the next arc Somali befriends a young deer-like creature named, Kikila as the Golem works to resupply for the journey ahead. Most of this arc furthers Somali and Golem’s personal narrative, but one key thing comes from it and that is something called “Kikila’s Song”.
Apologies, I couldn’t find one with English subs
The lyrics for this song are as follows:
Long, long ago, in a land far away…
a strange visitor came.
The traveler crossed the sea, and saw a person with a horn and a tail…
Kikila expresses surprise when Somali reveals she’s never heard this song before. He remarks that everyone knows this song, it’s a song taught to all the children but not before excitedly pointing out how the song kind of describes how Somali and he first met. This comparison is one of innocence and not of malice, he’s genuinely glad to have met Somali and wishes nothing more for them to be friends for the rest of time.
In truth this song is about oppression and the atrocities that humankind performed when encountering the monster races. As you see, there’s more to this song… We shall return to this as well when we reach the final arc, where I assure you this will all make sense.
The next arc sees Somali and Golem joining up with a harpy girl named Uzoi and her beloved, but sickly traveling companion, Haitora, who she claims is a “Falcohol”. At first Uzoi seems to welcome the pair out of kindness, but in reality she discovers Somali is human and plans to kill her in order to cure Haitora’s mysterious disease.
This story is one of the more powerful ones in the anime as it shows just how deep the wounds go when it comes to the sins the characters commit. Uzoi loves Haitora and is willing to do anything for him after he took her in shortly after the death of her mother. Unbeknownst to her though, Haitora was the one who killed her. In reality, he is human just like Somali.
Once Haitora lived a peaceful life with his wife and young daughter with other humans in a secluded settlement. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. The “Grotesque” appeared and began to slaughter everyone in the settlement. As his world crumbled, he was lucky enough to escape with his family and hide.
Things went well until they got low on food. That’s when Haitora decided to search for some. At first, he thinks he sees a larger bird and is excited to bring back a hearty meal for his family. However, he quickly realizes that it is a “Grotesque”, Uzoi’s mother. Filled with anger and hatred he decides the only course of action is to kill her partially out of necessity, but mostly out of revenge.
It’s pretty obvious from a viewer’s standpoint that Uzoi’s mother is actually harmless in the scene. She’s minding her own business, foraging food for her child. It’s also clear she had nothing to do with the attack on the settlement. While this mostly fuels the tragedy of the scenario further, it highlights the perpetual circle society has found themselves within Somali’s world.
Still, things do not end here. Haitora brings the corpse to his family and tells them to eat. They are on the brink of starvation with little option, and so they do. The scene that follows is genuinely horrific as Haitora watches his family, in deep agony, die as the meat corrupts their very beings. Feathers grow in the mouth’s and eyes of his wife and child, it’s a graphic scene that is spared no expense. If you’ve seen something like Made in Abyss you probably know what I’m talking about.
Only Haitora remains, his sins forever carved into his face. An eye lost, replaced with feathers resembling the one eaten. As he weeps for his loss, that’s when a very young Uzoi stumbles upon the man. As a way to atone, he takes her in.
In this arc Haitora must bare the consequences of his actions and confront them. Uzoi learns the truth about what happens, and is rightfully angered. Knowing that he cannot restore what is lost Haitora attempts to sacrifice his life in order to save Uzoi and company from a danger. However, Uzoi stops him and explains that this is not atonement. He needs to carry what he’s done with him for the rest of his life and stay by her side.
With that, a happy ending is achieved for Haitora and Uzoi in this moment. Though things well not be the same for them, they are able to reach an understanding in spite of past transgressions and differences. This is only made possible by the time spent with Somali, how Uzoi’s interactions with her allowed her heart to be open to forgiveness.
This brings me to the final arc of the story. In this arc Somali, Golem, and the two Oni from before reunite in a snowy mountain town. Due to the harsh weather, they agree to take on a job in exchange for lodging at a nicer inn. As one might expect, things take a turn once the innkeeper’s wife, Rosa, discovers Somali is human.
Putting on a face and airs, Rosa comes off as gentle, even loving to Somali in spite of her plans to betray the group. She goes to great lengths to ensure the capture and death of Somali as the story launches into its final act.
As tensions rise and the group slowly piece together what’s happening. The Oni pair choose to protect Somali even after learning she is a human. Their bonds strong after their initial meeting, and the ones before this time in more minor arcs. Somali has managed to touch their hearts and demonstrate humanity’s capacity to accept them.
Once Rosa reveals her plot to the group after successfully capturing them, she explains herself with a familiar song. Only this time it is void of its previous happy meaning, and now takes on its true somber purpose…
Bet you didn’t expect this cute father-daughter show to feature attempted genocide…
Rosa explains her hatred of the humans, her mission to eradicate them all in order for them to give repentance for their past crimes. Thus the cycle remains unbroken, the hatred shared across the generations, an issue that seems impossible to reconcile.
Yet, the characters argue that such a thing is possible. While the show is not able to fully capture this idea as it moves toward its ending, it is communicated as the “correct” outlook for the world Somali‘s story takes place in. One of forgiveness, understanding, and harmony.
Time-and-time again the anime reinforces something we’ve seen in our own world. Children are not inherently born with this hatred toward others, they have the capacity to love and accept others. It is only through the corruption of the world that this purity is tainted, as shown in a more literal sense with Haitora and again at the end with Rosa.
Of course this show can be enjoyed without giving much thought to these scenes. Their’s a cute father-daughter story here, an almost whimsical journey in a very interesting and detailed world, along with so much more. However, I simply could not ignore the important parallels the show manages to draw with our own world.
As always, here’s the trailer
We are living in a time where a wind of change is blowing, and like Somali, demonstrates in her show, people may just be finally ready for it. Somali and the Forest Spirit is a message of hope for things to get better, no, it is more correct to say that things will get better and that we can move forward. I will choose to embrace this change and look on with the promised hope Somali promises. I can only hope, you’ll do the same.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Somali and if you felt it represented the world as we currently find ourselves in. If you enjoy my work, please consider a donation to a worthy cause in support of these movements. Thank you for taking the time to read this article today, and I hope to see you again here soon.
11 thoughts on “Somali and the Forest Spirit – A Particularly Relevant Message”
Parents… As much as you love them… They change your whole world. Its only when you’re all grown -up that you realize the twists and turns that brought you to this place. And some never open their eyes to this truth. It is something that I have to grapple with myself. Parents did their best, having only good intentions, but did more harm than good. And that is where the world finds itself now. Nature vs nurture vs stupidity. I digress… Great post. Well done!
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Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
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This maybe something I should check out. I do wonder if the recent sociopolitical and racial tensions give this anime a different light. I did think it was kind of weird with the title character having the same name as an actual African ethnic group, but I do wonder why they chose that name. This does look somewhat interesting and I can see some Ghibli vibes.
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You’ll just have to watch to see 😉
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Fair enough. Haha!
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While watching Somali, even though it was before current events, I always felt the ostracism that the monsters felt by the hands of humans very, very deeply and personally. The show reminded me constantly of how peaceful people are mistreated when others don’t understand them or fear them, especially out of chosen ignorance, as you mentioned. During 9/11, and everything that happened immediately afterwards, is something I will never forget as random strangers that I came across in grocery stores or just walking in the park would chase me and throw things at me, yell at me to “go back to my country,” or much, much worse. One time when I walked to my car after class, a bunch of classmates were there waiting for me; one of them was someone I had helped a lot during class pre-9/11. What happened was one of the most traumatic experiences of my entire life. That’s just one example of how Somali reminded me of the hatred that I live with on a daily basis. I think for people who haver undergone and continue to experience such blatant disregard for their existence because of things like their skin colour or ethnicity, or creed, things like these in media such as this one always goes beyond mere fantasy and treads into reality, hitting very close to home and oft times being highly triggering. The last arc in Somali was almost unwatchable for me because of how horrifyingly relatable it was to some of my own experiences being a Queer Brown Muslim person in a country that hates everything I am for the most part. Reading your review sort of cements all the feelings and thoughts I had about the series during my watch through and also highlights why I felt it was such a phenomenal series and one of the best in years. I know a lot of people didn’t like it because of the same things you mentioned here, and I’ve seen people talk about how unrealistic and stupid it all is. But when you live through that sort of prejudice and abuse constantly, it’s anything but stupid or unrealistic. It’s just day-to-day reality.
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Thank you for sharing there. Having written this from a place where this sort of thing doesn’t effect me personally, though I still face my own discrimination, I was hopeful that I could convey the importance of a show like this. From your response, it seemed I did. I appreciate you taking the the time here and hope things can get better for everybody 🙂
I know I’m not super vocal about this sort of thing, but I do support people and wanted them to know that.
This is a very powerful and thoughtful review, and you’re right–it resonates particularly well with today’s world climate. Thank you for posting!
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Thank you for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it and my thoughts 🙂
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Nice write up. i saw this when it aired so the topical social comparisons you made weren’t in existence at that point, thus it was just anther fantasy show for me.
I have to confess, and I know this will be an unpopular opinion but the character I liked the least was Somali herself. It might have been because i found her whiny voice grating but for me she came across as being cute for cute sake. I personally was more invested in the Golem and his rapidly approaching expiration date. I felt more for him and his noble intentions to protect Somali no matter what as far more interesting.
Some of the stories were interesting, some were a little dull but the artwork was always top notch with the Ghibli-esque fantasy backgrounds that looked great.
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Thank you 🙂
I think the stories around Somali were more interesting in general, but I think that’s intentional. Children really don’t have a lot going on when they are so young, so I can excuse Somali’s lacking qualities. Still, she brings enough to the table to be worthwhile.
Gotta agree with the art though, show always looked great!