Background art doesn't seem to get much focus in the age of digital animation, with most TV anime seeming to go for backgrounds that are neither detailed nor fit the overall aesthetic of the rest of the show. Thankfully though, there are exceptions to every rule, and the show I'm talking about here is a prime example of that. 'Somali to Mori no Kamisama' (Somali and the Forest Spirit) is a 12 episode TV anime adapted from the manga of the same name. It is directed by Yasuda Kenji and produced by Studio Satelight. To give a short synopsis: In a fantasy world where humans are thought to be extinct, certain areas are protected by powerful beings known as Golems. One day, while patrolling its area, a golem comes into contact with something unprecedented: a human child, named Somali. The golem then decides to help the child on a long and treacherous journey, all in the goal of finding one thing: a human settlement.
As previously mentioned, the background art in this show truly is the highlight of the production, with lush and varied environments being depicted in great detail. And it's a very important part of the show, considering the world is presented as very alien and inhuman. They did it with great success, and I really feel like it's necessary to praise the background because it is really, really good! Not to mention the 2nd most important thing, which is the fact that the characters actually fit in the backgrounds. To put it another way, the visual aesthetic is consistent. The characters feel like they could live there.
Another thing I want to touch on is the use of exposition. There isn't a lot of it, initially that is, and I think I would have preffered it that way. In the last few episodes, some of the characters go on some major exposition dumps, and it's mixed in with a "evil villain reveals their plan" type dialouge, which I'm not a big fan of. Apart from those few scenes in particular though, I think the series handels its worldbuilding with a lot of grace, and I do want to preface that I think worldbuilding, inherently, carries a lot more weight aesthethically than it does thematically. Thankfully, it sits more in the background of this show.
The show itself is structured in a more episodic way rather than being overarching, with the main plot of finding a human settlement being there mostly just so there is a plot moving the story forward at all. The episodes follow a very rigid structure most of the time: they arrive at a new town/city, barter, talk with the locals, then there's some source of conflict which gets resolved later on. And it's a pretty good structure, in fact I like it a lot and I don't want to make it sound like a negative. It was very enjoyable to be able to put on an episode and know what to expect, on the surface level at least. Obviously there's a lot that differs from episode to episode.
Lastly, I just want to touch on how wholesome of a show this is. I mentioned earlier that it's very wholesome, and I genuinely mean it. For a show that so often touches on some pretty heavy themes, the way it handles contrast is spectacular. Now, obviously, all media in existence are about contrast, but I rwalky like it when a work makes contrast one of its focal points. Somali is a contrast to the entire world, and the nice and welcoming locals they meet in each new town is a contrast to their views on humans. And I think that's really great. If you're in the mood for something good and short, well, what else can I say except: here it is.