• Thread starter RyderFlynn
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Oct 5, 2020
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Beastars is (an anime based on the) Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Paru Itagaki. The story takes place in a world of modern, civilized, anthropomorphic animals with a cultural divide between carnivores and herbivores. The series takes its name from the in-universe rank of Beastar, an individual of great talent, service, and notoriety. - Wikipedia

Since its release, Beastars has gained popularity even among western audiences and has been often compared to the 2016 Disney film, Zootopia. In my following review, I shall attempt to clarify why such comparisons are superficial at best.


First impressions are important. With our limited time, it can determine whether if we watch a show or move on to another one we’re more interested in. So when a show like “Beastars” comes along having a male canine protagonist courting a female bunny deuteragonist, when it explores the similar matter of prejudice, and when it even has a lion as a mayor as well… it inevitably draws comparisons. It makes one question its novelty, and whether if it’s really worth the time to watch something presumably inspired by an American cartoon (as opposed to presenting its own unique story). It’s why it’s taken me a good while before watching it.

Fortunately, Beastars feels more like an extension of “Zootopia” than an imitation of it. In fact… it’s not even an imitation at all. Based on a manga of the same name, the author of the manga, Paru Itagaki, had actually written another series with anthropomorphic characters (titled “Beast Complex”) that was published in February 2016, around the same time as Zootopia’s Belgium Film Festival premiere. Nevertheless, Paru had made claims that her inspiration was undeniably drawn from Disney animation, particularly the traditional kind with anthropomorphic characters like “Pinocchio”, “Dumbo”, and of course, Mickey Mouse himself.

Technical similarities aside, Beastars further developed the ideas that Zootopia touched on. Being a Disney movie, there were darker elements of a carnivore/herbivore relationship that the creators of Zootopia simply couldn’t explore; Paru, on the other hand, had no such restrictions.


For starters, while the carnivores of Zootopia have learned to be civilized and co-exist with herbivores like humans do, the animals of Beastars are all very much animalistic, retaining their natural-born instincts to hunt, kill, even surrender and die. It’s an ongoing struggle for the carnivores in Beastars to suppress their urges, and it’s the nature of the herbivores to be wary of their predator counterparts. Paranoia, suspicions and prejudice would be inevitably bred from such an uncertain relationship. The animals have implemented rules and regulations to maintain order, but just as we humans would learn, nature is chaotic by its very essence. You could only impose so much order on a chaotic force.

This futility would become evident upon the very first episode of the series, where the murder of a herbivore has occurred. This wake-up call would send a ripple effect throughout the rest of the season that leads everyone into an existential crisis over their roles in life between predator and prey. Amidst this tension, another interesting nuance between the two franchise would show up: carnivores are far more prejudiced against in Beastars than Zootopia. Given a racial context, then this symbolism becomes a lot more loaded than the movie, but even without the context, it’s a fascinating examination of carnivores becoming the victim too (unlike their more devious counterparts from Disney).

But ultimately, what truly maintains the peace between the two types of animal is something far seedier, though not necessarily evil. There’s a “black market” in the world of Beastars, and animals of age — both carnivores and herbivores, in fact — are allowed entry to either satisfy their taste for meat (extracted from morgues and cemeteries) or, for the older or penniless herbivores, exchange their body parts for cash. It’s a depressing way of living, but it’s probably the best compromise in such a world where animal urges don’t simply vanish away like they do in Disneyland.


What effectively made these themes so potent, however, are the sympathetic characters witnessing these horrors in their life while struggling against the uphill battle of subduing their vilest and most repulsive urges. In a piece of online fanart, someone drew the main characters of Beastars meeting those of Zootopia. The Beastars pair describes themselves by stating, “We’re like you, but super screwed up.” I think that couldn’t have been a more perfect description of what the two main characters of Beastars are like. Both Legosi the gray wolf and Haru the dwarf rabbit are incredibly broken animals. Louis the red deer, the second deuteragonist, is an even more damaged individual.

Such a difference in characterization is probably attributed to the culture and medium they’re from. Over the past decade, I’ve noticed that anime characters have become more flawed and uncertain of themselves. There’s a sense of identity insecurity present in many anime characters, especially adolescent student characters. In contrast, American characters have normally followed the Joseph Campbell formula of having their ideals and values challenged only after they’ve set on a journey; it is usually not their default state like in modern anime.

Likewise, Legosi bears striking similarities with other male student characters from past anime. A recent trend among male anime characters is that they’re becoming more shy, insecure, and perhaps introspective. Gone are the days of muscular or even heroic men full of bravado and recklessness that would still be prevalent even as late as the 2000s. Beginning from the 2010s, however, it’s more common for male characters in anime to be more quiet and even antisocial. Legosi feels like just one of the many incarnations of such an archetype.


Similarly, modern female characters in anime have taken a more outspoken approach, unlike their more traditional Japanese women counterparts in older anime. Haru the bunny represents a trend in Japanese media where women have become more independent and critical of their community, something that’s traditionally frowned upon in Japan. In spite of being bullied and even slut-shamed, she doesn’t wait for her Prince Charming to come rescue her like the girls of Clannad (specifically Nagisa). She’s promiscuous, but not because of the simple enjoyment of sex like many mature female anime characters who proudly display their promiscuity badge; the cause is something deeper and more personal.

Being a dwarf rabbit, Haru was treated like a fragile little thing by her peers, almost to the point of infantilizing her. It wasn’t until her first sexual intercourse that she felt like she was being treated as an equal for the first time. Her partners would finally see her as a woman worth loving and embracing. This is special. Unlike the other characters of Beastars who could be slotted into one character archetype or another, Haru feels like a far more subversive take on female anime characters, familiar, yet different, not least because of her unique viewpoint on her relationship with sex.

Louis the red deer also feels like a nuanced approach to the typical popular schoolboy who walks with prestige and dignity. He might look like a solemn animal with beauty and grace, but behind it all lies a very dark background that might as well have been an allegory to child trafficking. This leads him to bearing an immense hatred for carnivores and almost a superiority complex stemming from his past vulnerability as a herbivore. He hates being the weaker animal type and would not tolerate any sign of weakness from anyone, especially himself. He’s easily the most fascinating and my favorite character in the show.


However, all these unique characteristics couldn’t have existed without the context of the story: animals struggling with their nature and identity. While Zootopia is more interested in being a prejudice allegory (with the characters easily replaced by humans), the universe of Beastars has a kind of authenticity where the characters’ prejudice, goals and wants stem from being a wild animal who has gone through millions of years of evolution to hone such problematic instincts that they are suppressing. The black market, animals accepting the notion of predator and prey, the uncontrollable urge to eat someone, the insecurity and submissiveness of a herbivore, all the nuance of these subject matters couldn’t be easily replicated with human characters, at least not in an entirely sensible way that fits our current societal context. Beastars is through and through a story about animals being animals, not just another Disney cartoon about animals acting like humans.

One of the exceptions to this is its portrayal of social norms, one that perhaps resonates deeper with its Japanese viewers, where the public image of a citizen and traditional gender roles are taken very seriously. Romance between carnivores and herbivores is strictly taboo in the anime, and Legosi who was previously considered as a relatively normal student (even if he doesn’t embrace his carnivore side) is called a weirdo for being that intimate with Haru.

This brings us to the one element of the anime I don’t really care much for: the romance.


It’s probably weird to watch a romance without any interest in romantic elements, but as you could tell from my review so far, I’m far more interested in the anime’s philosophical and societal themes than its quirky “odd couple” romance. It’s cute and heartwarming to see two flawed individuals find someone who could accept them for whom they are without judgment, but I find that it sometimes (though rarely) distracts from the more compelling subjects that made Zootopia such a phenomenon in the first place. Occasionally, the romantic moments do return to exploring the intricate animal instincts, such as Haru subconsciously placing her arm within Legosi’s jaws, but at times, I couldn’t help but feel familiarity with other similar romance anime that plays the “will they/won’t they” card in their struggle to accept their true feelings about each other. It’s tedious and generic.

What’s more bothersome is that Legosi and Haru’s romance is part of a love quadrangle, where two other animals are involved; one of whom is the majestic Louis, while the other is a female wolf named Juno that Legosi rescued from herbivore bullies. While I understand that Juno is the voice of carnivores speaking out against the prejudice from herbivores in the same way Louis is resentful against carnivores (I could see the both of them getting together in season 2), the fact that Juno immediately falls in love with Legosi after he saves her from bullies is one of the oldest tropes in Japanese animation. But I guess that’s how teenagers are like. Hormones, I guess. One could even argue that Haru too only becomes fully enamored with Legosi after he rescued her.

Louis’ part in this romance is more interesting though, as he shares the similar connection Legosi and Haru have for each other. Both sets of romance are built upon their honesty to each other about their vulnerability and individuality. Haru is the only one Louis opens his heart to instead of covering it up with his usual armor. The difference between these two romance is that Legosi is true to his feelings towards Haru, even before realizing that he’s in love with her; Louis, on the other hand, has his head muddled by his quest for power to exact revenge against all carnivores. When a significant moment occurs late in the season, Louis chooses power (and political favor) over Haru, thus expressing (albeit subconsciously) just how much she means to him. Haru senses this restraint from him even earlier on, that he displays sadness even in her embrace. Legosi, on the other hand, seems to be wholeheartedly blissful in her company, even in his abstinence from sex.


Such a complex and delicate relationship is the reason why even a romance storyline would garner so much interest from me. Even with its flaws, Beastars manages to evoke a poignant atmosphere amidst the romance. Beyond the basic tropes of romantic turmoil, there’s a much somber struggle to overcome one’s identity to attain happiness from another person. Adding on the cool jazz opening theme song that features a stop-motion representation of Legosi and Haru’s tumultuous relationship, Beastars effectively utilizes the animal characteristics of the story to their full potential, going further than Zootopia could have dreamed of (except perhaps in Zootopia 2).

With 20 volumes and 178 chapters at hand (with the anime merely adapting the manga’s first six volumes), there’s a lot of material to cover, and it’s implied that the animal war between carnivores and herbivores would only aggravate further down the line. Here’s hoping that, unlike a number of manga-adapted anime, Beastars would get to tell its full story in animation rather than meet an untimely cancellation.

Final Rating: 8.5/10
Beastars was posted on 10-05-2020 by RyderFlynn in the Entertainment Forum forum.


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