My friends have been trying to get me to read the manga for years. Considering it was published in September 2016, that’s a lot of pestering. I hand waved the series because I was too busy and also probably some Pokémon game had come out and was demanding all my attention. Something about running around outside or a Sun and a Moon. Well with an anime out and easily available on a platform I already had access (Netflix), my excuse well had run dry and so I sat down to see what all the fuss was about.
I had known about it since before the furry anime connections were made, so I wasn’t really thinking about that element when I went into it, but by episode 2, I could tell this would become a staple of the furry con scene, you know, if covid doesn’t kill it. So just what is Beastars and does it deserve to be locked in the kennel or is this a soon to be an anime classic?
Without going into spoilers, out of the gate it’s established that the predator students can indeed kill the prey students due to their inherent strength as we witness the murder of Tem, an alpaca student, by an unknown assailant. This is a perfect way to set the mood as the show is largely the struggles of the animals trying their best to now live in this world of harmony between the two. But mostly, it’s a love story.
We follow Legoshi, a sophomore at Cherryton Academy, as he tries to navigate this world after almost giving into his instincts and hunting a dwarf rabbit student. He manages to fight these instincts off, but they leave him quite confused and afraid as he is naturally timid and walks with a slouch to hide his strength. Legoshi is a supporting member of the drama club, headed by the majestic, confident, poised, future hopeful Beastar (sort of like an idol to animal kind) red deer Louis.
Unlike Louis, who prances in the spotlight and inspires the student body, Legoshi would rather work the lights in the shadows. This angers Louis who must work harder than any predator to prove he’s strong and feels he cannot show any weakness. Legoshi says it best in response to Louis; there really is no awe in being a strong predator. He will never be the star Louis has become to the students.
Through a chance encounter, Legoshi runs into The very same dwarf rabbit the following day. Her name is Haru. We see Haru dealing with a lot of bullying over rumors of her infidelity, a rabbit stereotype for sure. Upon meeting with Legoshi, she mistakes his awkwardness as him propositioning her for sex. The rumors are true about her. Oh yeah, there’s a lot of sexuality in this show. We never see anything explicit and it all serves the plot. Legoshi rushes out just as awkwardly as he entered, but cannot stop thinking about her. He soon realizes he’s developed feelings for her. But are these feelings legitimate or is it a perversion of the predator/prey dynamic?
Meanwhile we learn that Haru has been shacking up with Louis despite him being betrothed to another. Louis is a deer of honor with a legacy to maintain, but even he can’t deny the allure of the small white rabbit. And thus the love triangle begins. Who will get the girl? What of Legoshi’s predator instincts from before? Just who murdered the Cherryton Academy student? Is Jack, Legoshi’s best friend and an adorable golden retriever, the best boy?
Beastars is a very complicated and nuanced story about societal expectations, racism, and human nature at its core. That’s something I can’t truly broach with a short spoiler free synopsis. It’s a high school anime so it’s going to be overly dramatic, but the drama fits the setting and makes everything feel just as weighted as it should. There is a huge amount of attention to detail in this show. For example in one scene, the lights go out and the predator students immediately form a circle around the prey students to protect them. But to go into too many of them would spoil a lot of what makes this show great.
This show isn’t afraid to go there. While plagued with what happened with Haru, Legoshi observes the adults and how predators are living so peacefully with prey (puberty not helping him). That’s when they find out there’s a black market back alley that sells dubiously obtained meat. Preys begging for money will even sell their fingers for predators to bite off and satiate their hunger. You see, meat is normally prohibited. Instead meat substitutes with vitamins are given to students. At most, eggs are consumed. There’s a hilarious side story about a hen who prides herself on laying the best eggs for her fellow students.
At its core, the story is about the characters and their goals and desires. Society plays a huge role in elevating or suppressing each of their talents. The mayor, a lion, has facial reconstruction surgery to look more friendly to the citizens. As I said before, Predator students can never have meat, which is something their bodies do need. Meanwhile, a rabbit like Haru knows that they are weak and live in a world full of predators. Her instincts can overwhelm her and cause her to want to run while just talking to a predator student. How these issues weave together with the characters and story is extremely well done.
The animation for Beastars is CG which absolutely fits the models and art direction. The anime is quite stunning to watch in motion. It’s jarring at first and I myself am not normally a fan of CG anime, but it works here and it works well. The character design is all great. Manga author/artist Paru Itagaki put a lot of thought into her characters. They all keep the animal characteristics while still looking human and relatable. The only one that kinda weirds me out is Haru with her beast eyes. It feels othering, which is probably the point.
I would love to talk about this show all day, but I fear I’ve already given away too much. Please go watch the show for yourself. If you’re not into dramatic shows or the character models bother you, they’re not going to get any better for you, but I still say give it a try. It’s free on Netflix and a hell of a lot better than Tiger King. I myself can not recommend this enough. It’s fun, beautiful, and provocative. I do think this will be one of the memorable anime of this current generation and one of the greats. It’s already been renewed for more seasons so hop in now and see what everyone is howling about.