Friends (Japanese: フレンズ Hepburn: Furenzu), created by Sandstar and native to Japari Park, are the titular focus of the Kemono Friends multimedia franchise. They are animals, mythological creatures and artificial intelligence that have become anthropomorphized into human girls, retaining the most distinguishing features and capabilities of their original form.
Physical characters vary greatly from Friend to Friend, as a natural result of the plurality of creatures from which they are formed. Their outfits as well as their non-human physical features (additional ears, tails, wings) are directly inspired by their original forms in both shape and coloration. For instance, bird Friends that are capable of flight all have a pair of wings connected to their heads, which matches the surrounding hair. All Friends are female, resembling healthy human girls roughly from their preteens to their late twenties.
Friends are capable of speech and demonstrate a high capacity for learning comparable to that of humans, though they do not appear to be innately literate, and upon "birth" it does not seem they are universally aware of the name of their own species. Their abilities differ greatly depending on their animal of origin, and often easily surpass humans in raw physical aptitude. Due to Kemonoplasm's unique properties, their animalian body parts are able to phase through their clothing, provided they are not aware they are wearing clothes. Through sheer force of willpower, they can also make said body parts vanish if they believe with enough conviction that they are fully human.
Friends are created by the interaction of Sandstar with animals, living or dead, including "remains" as miniscule as a single strand of hair. The transformation process is nearly instantaneous. Though the chances are slim (comparable to that of a real life multiple birth), two or more Friends of the same original species are able to exist concurrently. It has been observed that species of Friends born closer to the center of Japari Park are born wearing clothes resembling that of ready-made human fashion, compared to the costume-like appearances of those born in the outskirts of the safari.
All Friends are comprised to some extent of Kemonoplasm, although Friends born of extinct animals or mythological creatures have a higher ratio than their regular animal counterparts. Friends' "animal parts" (tails, wings, etc.) are entirely comprised of Kemonoplasm and cannot be removed, although through sufficient force of will they can be vanished on command by their owners. Their clothing, while removeable, is also formed by this mysterious substance.
It is unknown if Friends show signs of aging or are even capable of growing older to begin with, but they are vulnerable to "death" by both Celliens and unrelated accidents. Unlike humans, whose bodies become lifeless and decompose after death, Friends simply revert to their beastial forms after they "die" and live on as the original animal. Upon reversion, their lifespans are reset to the point immediately after they became Friends, clearing any memories they may have gained in their humanlike form. It is unknown whether or not a creature which became a Friend a second time would regain said memories.
Friends, originally called Animal Girls (Japanese: アニマルガール Hepburn: Animaru Gāru), were discovered in Japari Park by Kako and other members of the Japari Park Animal Research Lab at some point prior to the events of the official manga. Imperfect preliminary research was conducted on the strange phenomenon within Japari Park itself, and every effort was made to keep their existence secret out of fears that the news would engender panic and chaos in the outside world during the time immediately after their discovery.
However, the information would eventually go public, and Japari Park was henceforth opened to human tourists as a massive, open zoo inhabited by the world's first generation of Friends. They lived with and learned from their caretakers, residing in modern homesteads as well as their more natural habitats, sharing in human culture and eating human cuisine. This peace would last until the invasion of the fearsome Cellien, an event which served as the catalyst for plot of the original Kemono Friends mobile game. The Park was promptly closed and evacuated by humankind, although certain humans, such as the rookie Park Guide Mirai and the game's unnamed protagonist, remained. Friends living in the post-invasion Japari Park were largely autonomous despite the absence of humanity, with some active leading the battle against the Cellien threat and others keeping to themselves. Once the Cellien Queen was defeated, Japari Park was reopened and the Friends were reunited with their human caretakers.
After a certain incident, however, much of the history of Friends has been lost, and Japari Park itself seems to have closed down for good, with humanity abandoning the Friends and Lucky Beasts and leaving its infrastructure to fall into disrepair. Due to an extended lack of contact with humanity, Friends have lost most of the skills their former caretakers taught them, from the usage of technology to extremely basic things like the removal of their own clothes. Lucky Beasts are responsible for producing and distributing Japari Buns to them, which serve as their main source of nutrition.
There are currently three known generations of Friends which appear in canon. The generations are distinct in many ways, but perhaps the most striking difference comes from their exposure to human culture.
The first generation of Friends, featured in the official manga. These Friends had the highest amount of human interaction of all known generations, living alongside humanity and within human culture and being featured as the primary attraction that tourists would come to visit in the newly-opened Japari Park. They did all variety of human-like things, such as operating modern shops, living in houses and eating meat in addition to typical Japari Buns. They had a very warm and mutually beneficial relationship with their caretakers.
The second generation of Friends, featured in the original mobile game. At least for the duration of the game story, they only appear to have had contact with Mirai and the player character, in stark contrast to the generation which came prior. Though they live in a Japari Park which humanity has largely abandoned out of fear of the Celliens, they still demonstrate signs of their education, being capable of administrating medicine and even filming their own movies. This generation was responsible for organizing and successfully carrying out the counterattack against the Cellien Queen. As their title implies, they are the direct successors to the first Friends.
The current and best-known generation of Friends, featured in the 2017 anime. Their records of humanity are extremely limited, and "a long time" has passed since humans were last seen in the Park. Consequentially, these Friends know little more than what their empirical observations can tell them; their skills are limited to those which come naturally for them, or what they are able to learn from books and other records left behind by humans.
Nevertheless, Generation ? Friends live in harmony with one another, with some taking the fight to the Celliens which also inhabit Japari Park and others avoiding them outright. At least in the Kyōshū Region, some minimal government appears to be in place, with Professor Konoha and her assistant being respected as "chiefs" and wielding enough authority to declare certain Areas as off-limits to the general public. Lucky Beasts, which appear to have been built sometime during or after Generation 2, serve as the Friends' replacement caretakers, silently preparing and distributing Japari Buns so that Friends can still eat.
- See also: EX Friends
In addition to Friends separated by Generation, there is also a subcategory of Friend called an EX Friend. When a Friend comes into being, their behaviors and appearance can change due to influence from their surroundings, which can result in a Friend of the same animal being radically different across Generations. However, EX Friends are distinct in that they can coexist alongside a Friend of the same kind during the same Generation, though not necessarily so - for example, Common Vampire Bat EX is the only form of Common Vampire Bat known to exist in Generation 2. In some cases, EX Friends tend to more closely resemble the original animal form; in other cases, they resemble a form previously taken by a Friend during a different Generation.
When meeting, Friends of the same species as an EX Friend tend to consider each other sisters and have a familial bond, such as how Southern Tamandua EX considers Southern Tamandua to be her older sister in Kemono Friends Pavilion. Likewise, a Friend which is a subspecies of another Friend may have a similar relationship, though this behavior is inconsistent in comparison with the behavior between Friends of the exact same species - while Ezo Red Fox and Silver Fox call themselves sisters to Red Fox, several Gray Wolf subspecies regard the second generation Gray Wolf to be a leader, rather than a sister.
Regardless of the difference in appearance and personality, EX Friends are still the same animal as their standard form, and as a result tend to share the same or similar traits across forms. This is demonstrated in canon by the fact that both forms of Southern Tamandua assume threat poses, and how both forms of Red Panda have obsessive relationships with Giant Panda (albeit one having resentment, and the other feeling inferiority).