Beastars is an amazing series. While I’ve only caught up on the American manga releases, for the time being, I’ve been mesmerized that the mangaka has managed to make a brilliant coming-of-age tale featuring furry friends and foes of all walks of life. While the wait for the western release of Beastars’ first season has been a long and grueling one, the show is a near-perfect blend of romance, action, and thrilling suspense with a great cast and gorgeous animation.
A killer opening
Before anything else, I just want to gush about how perfect Ali’s Wild Side is as the main theme of the series. It’s an excellent jazz-filled romp that feels like Cowboy Bebop and literally any of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure themes had a baby, and the English chorus is icing on the cake. In addition, the opening is animated in a stop-motion style, featuring main protagonists Legoshi and Haru as an alternate version of the first episode’s events occur. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen, and it’s only been the first minute and a half!
*Insert “It’s like Zootopia but mature…” comparison here*
Beastars revolves around an animal school called Cherryton Academy where herbivores and carnivores live in harmony. There are some special rules in place for the species that reside here, the main one being that carnivores actually eat meat alternatives rather than actual meat. It’s a world full of funny talking animals and crazy school antics that wouldn’t be out of place in a slice-of-life anime.
Oh right, and an alpaca gets murdered in the first episode.
For all the people getting confused that this might be a Zootopia rip-off, it feels more like a riff on the European comic series Blacksad, which is a noir-detective series of comics which happens to feature anthropomorphic animals. The series features a host of sexual themes (though done tastefully rather than fanservice “just because”) and violence, which obviously fits the Blacksad fanbase rather than Zootopia’s. (Well, the furry fandom can get a little… rough sometimes.) It’s a refreshingly mature take on the high school life, which brings us to the next great thing about the series.
A cuddly cast of critters
Every character in this cast is amazing, and some shine more in the anime rather than the original manga. Grey wolf Legoshi is a fun yet tortured character who desires to fall in love with the rabbit Haru after meeting her in a dark garden. However, he fears his animalistic instincts will get the best of him as he tries to make a relationship with her work. He’s a goofy senior that’s strong yet doesn’t know how to use his own strength and can be adorkable at the worst moments. I love this kind of pure hero, as you want to root for him and his romantic journey.
On the other hand, Haru is known for her loose behavior; while she’s framed as a slut in the first few episodes, by the end of the season her character backstory develops into something that’s tragic and empowering. It’s a cool reversal that I wasn’t expecting (and admittedly, I really disliked how Haru would always tease and reject Legoshi in the beginning). As their relationship develops over the course of the season, however, a lot of societal drawbacks start coming into play. This adherence to the rules of the series is at times realistic and saddening, but it makes you root for the main characters even more.
In contrast, Louis is a deer the star of the Drama Club, and he takes his goal of becoming the next Beastar (respected animals that help shape society) very seriously. He’s initially a stereotypical two-sided character that drops his façade when he gets what he wants, but like the other two characters, develops into a likeable deuteragonist. While I had a love/hate relationship with Louis during my read of the first five volumes of the manga (a little less than what the first season covers), the anime shows a more balanced look at the aspiring heartthrob. The fact that his suave personality also creates a love triangle between Haru and Legoshi also creates a romantic subplot that is uncommon in comparable works. In addition to the main three characters, you also have a great supporting cast; from perky dog Jack to the cold yet calculated panda Gohin, there are plenty of favorites to choose from.
Unique animation out the wa-ZOO
Much like the herbivore and carnivore cohabitation prevalent in the series, Beastars also sports a unique blend of 3D and 2D animation. While recent series like Kemono Friends and Africa Salaryman have made a strong case for the rise of CGI anime, Beastars uses the best elements of both styles and mixes it into a chimera of amazing technique. While almost every character is rendered in a 3D style, a lot of backgrounds and scenes have traditional 2D animation as well. While it’s initially jarring to see, the show deftly uses this to its advantage; action sequences have brilliant cinematography, and a change in the style can signify a mood or tonal shift. There’s one scene in the first episode that does a great manga-like transition sequence as Haru travels across the room, and the movement feels fluid here. It’s beautiful to look at and deserving of at least some animation awards.
One other element that caught my eye was the extensive use of split-screen shots. In the manga, paneling and positioning were used to convey different thoughts and emotions of characters in the same sequence; here, the screen is split in order to do the same. This means that there can be more going on in a sequence, and it means pacing and characterization are balanced; no longer do I have to spend twice as much time on the same scene in order to get someone’s thoughts and motivations.
There was one scene in the middle where this is used excellently: As Legoshi is wondering how to talk to Haru in a secluded shed, Haru is instead undressing herself as she knows full well where this encounter is headed. (Spoiler, Legoshi runs away before anything steamy happens.) Funnily enough, depending on where your eyes are looking, you’d get a different perspective of the scene.
While it just debuted internationally on Netflix last month, the second season of Beastars is on track to be released in Japan later this year, and hopefully we’ll get an international version soon after. The English manga releases are currently handled by Viz Media, and I highly recommend that you get them right now before the new season begins!