An imprisoned veteran of an old war tries to rescue a young girl from a plague said to be brought on by a people’s vengeance. Though he was supposed to die himself from his wounds, the man has gained superhuman abilities as if he is one with nature. Now, he raises this child as his own while fighting off those who wish to find and eliminate him. Elsewhere, a doctor must contend with the superstitions that prevent him from learning about the illness.
The Deer King is truly dad fiction, both figuratively and literally.
The film is based on a novel by the same name, and it’s a compelling work whose appeal is manifold. The Deer King is a grisly action piece, yet the bond between erstwhile father and daughter feels genuine and heartfelt. The world-building is robust without being convoluted, and the contrast between magic and science is an interesting one. Rather than acting as opposing forces, the story investigates how a desire to learn can separate the harmfully ossified traditions from legitimate generational wisdom.
In an environment where so much fantasy is basic wish fulfillment, The Deer King stands out. Its characters discover new reasons to live, and learn the power of curiosity, both intellectual and emotional. This is a film that is more than capable of transcending anime fandom, and I hope many more people discover it.