I had a recent thought about writing articles on this blog. Up until now, I’ve been working under the assumption that if I write an article, it must have a certain word density. It can’t just be a handful of paragraphs, and that whatever I write about has to somehow justify writing more than that. This often results in me putting aside ideas to discuss plenty of cool and interesting cartoons because I often only have the one opinion or I simply want to recommend something, as if that somehow isn’t enough of a reason to bring them up.
Well, sod all that chicanery – wanting to talk about any cartoon should be enough, no matter how much or how little I have to say about it.
(Disclosure: the following is an expanded re-worded version of the Letterboxd review I wrote earlier on in the week: https://letterboxd.com/frdougal9000/film/mees-forest/)
Case in point, Mee’s Forest is a Chinese web series that ran in 2009/2010, directed by Busifan who later handled Mr. Miao and the 2017 film Dahufa/The Guardian. It was recently subtitled into English by the folks behind cartoon blog Animation Obsessive, who also wrote an article discussing the series’ production history and its merits which I highly recommend giving a read. (And what I will defer to so I don’t have to discuss things I’d rather brush past.)
I didn’t have any expectations going in beforehand, simply wanting to experiment since I’d never seen a show from China before. I was also curious about an online cartoon made in Flash pushing for a more dramatic narrative, something I had very little experience with. I’m happy to report that it’s quite a good cartoon, particularly in the atmosphere it creates through its presentation.
The many backgrounds opt for washed out browns, greys and whites, getting across the sense of an earthy but almost dried out world whilst also letting the slightly brighter characters stand out from all the detail. Although the animation never struck me in any conscious way, the designs for both the human characters and the many creatures glimpsed are memorable and often striking, allowing them to make plenty of impact even in more conservatively animated episodes.
The soundscape is particularly impressive, with a great use of ambience and meaty sound effects that give the world a strong tangibility. More tense or dramatic moments are highlighted with brief cues of orchestral music that add to the scope of what’s going on (albeit only a handful of pieces were recorded, so certain themes get re-used a bit too often). It creates plenty of room for the world and its characters to breathe, despite how much happens over the course of its 16 episodes.
What really struck me was its pacing, and how each episode serves as both an interesting vignette – such as the monster hunt in episode 3 or Xiaomi wandering the caves in episode 5 – that then come together to tell a much larger, grander story. It doesn’t surprise me that Busifan later made a theatrical cut of the series retelling its events in movie form, for that scale to be appreciated in a more immediate way. That said, I sometimes wondered if I would’ve gotten more out of the series had I experienced it in the form of a theatrical cut.
For the sake of fairness, the episodic storytelling does work better in its intended format, in how scenes regularly cut back and forth between different perspectives. I feel like this would get somewhat tedious if experienced continuously for a couple hours. There’s also an implied passage of time between watching each episode which makes the show’s events come across as having a bigger sense of scope: one of the many strengths to serialized short-form storytelling.
However, I might’ve had an easier time holding all the details in my head if experienced in one sitting. While there’s plenty of time dedicated to simply showing what’s going on, there’s also a lot of discussion about things surrounding those events. Because the latter are often never shown onscreen, it was a bit too abstract for me to picture and retain from one episode to the next, so a good chunk of it started to fade. Even by the end, I didn’t entirely understand what was going on – some of that is left deliberately ambiguous, but there is still stuff explained which probably does make sense when combined with what’s already known.
I just couldn’t quite keep it together in my head and that made it harder to appreciate how things turn out, which is why I’ve been discussing the series in a more detached manner despite how good it is. For what it’s worth, some things are left unresolved due partially to the series’ somewhat tumultuous production and plans to follow up plot threads in spin-offs that never materialized. But that lack of complete resolution also works in its own way, because I see it as adding to and complementing the ambiguity of the world.
You won’t have the whole picture and what little you do know is gonna be strange, contradictory or frightening, and all you can do is try to accept it, carry on and not do much harm. That feels thematically right, to feel a similar way about Mee’s Forest as its characters do about the world they inhabit.
The whole series, available with English subtitles – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL13W0vTLCK5oGxtD52e84r_MkkrWiy_Dn
Special thanks to gammaton32 from the World Animation Discord, through whom I discovered this show when he posted the full playlist of translated episodes on YouTube.
Special thanks to Lucky, also from the World Animation Discord, who I briefly talked to about the series and got some extra insight after our conversation which resulted in this article.
Special thanks to Animation Obsessive for translating the series into English and writing the article discussed above.
FrDougal9000 writes for hardcoregaming101.net as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.