If you ever wondered what Zootopia would be like if it was geared towards an older audience and was able to explain more-in depth predator-prey relationships and examine how stereotypes and prejudices shape people’s personalities, then look no farther than Beastars.
I already talked about this anime a little last week, but already it’s one of my favorite shows of the year already.
The show takes place in a world where animals have developed society to our modern day. Though carnivores are not oppressed, the herbivores do fear them as they still have a taste for meat. Carnivores here mainly eat insects and eggs for protein, as insects aren’t sapient but it’s clear those instincts never disappeared.
And herbivores depending on their species are seen as weak… There’s no clear-cut coding for either – especially since stereotypes go down to species level.
Then one day, a herbivore named Tem is killed at the elite Cherryton Academy – putting the whole school and city on high alert, but no group more so than the drama club which Tem was a member of.
The main character is Legoshi, a quiet gray wolf who works on tech and set design and tries to remain friendly… Somehow he ends up falling for a Haru, a white dwarf rabbit, and the two have to navigate their feelings for each other in a complicated world.
It’s not so much a romance as it is an exploration of nature, nurture and society. The title comes from an in-universe position. Animals who have proven themselves to be remarkable and able to shape society, are known as Beastars.
It’s a highly coveted and respected position.
A Carnivorous Appetite
The most interesting aspect of Beastars is how it decides to deal with the logistical aspect most furry shows try to avoid: how do species that eat others deal with eating other sapient creatures.
In BoJack Horseman, certain species are bred to be more like animals we know and are killed for food. Nobody really questions this and creatures eat whatever they want. In Zootopia, its implied predators eat eggs and fish mainly.
In Beastars: fake meat and eggs are considered the socially acceptable meals. But carnivores still have their hunting instincts – and often do see preys as weaker. But eating prey is illegal, but as we know with most illegal things, there’s people who will pay for it.
There’s a thriving, not-so-secret black market where they can get their fix. While most of the meat comes from hospitals and funeral homes, or, so they say…some herbivores sell parts of themselves. And some are kidnapped to be eaten.
And there are even little children who are either sold into or born into the trade specifically for food.
It’s eerily similar to our world’s sex trade, a parallel that hasn’t gone unnoticed by other commenters. In fact, a huge part of many carnivores’ issues, particularly Legoshi’s, is that his attraction and *ahem* instinctual appetite get mixed up.
It’s a confusing combination and this drives the conflict in him being attracted to Haru. (That, and she barely comes up to his waist.)
It’s an absolute unflinching look into this – especially since a lot of the carnivores don’t necessarily see an issue in eating the meat. But, Legoshi knows its wrong. He’s friends with many herbivores….and an attack against them would only heighten discrimination against predators.
A huge issue that many people have with Zootopia is how it handles discrimination. Most saw it as a direct allegory for racism, which I understand and certainly the film seemed to imply that. And the environment that the film was released in (and still exists) didn’t help.
But I don’t think racism is the right way to go about it because a lot of the discrimination stems from carnivores…eating others. Which obviously gives prey a decent reason to fear carnivores to an extent.
Racism doesn’t follow that same logic. So instead, we get this utterly complex interweaving of discrimination based on size, power, species, genus, and diet. Haru is clearly on the lower end of this spectrum being a dwarf rabbit.
Herbivores definitely do have the short end of the stick, since they know there are people out there ready to eat them at any given moment and it seems that they don’t hold a lot of leadership positions either.
But carnivores among herbivores, at least, are thought to be prone to violence and should have restrictions. (Thankfully there’s no equivalent of a taming collar in this universe. That we’ve seen.)
What I really love though, is how we see the characters deal with this kind of discrimination. Haru for example, a dwarf white rabbit, is seen as weak and passive by most of the school. She absolutely DESPISES this. And so, she found that sex made her feel equal to her peers…that the bedroom, was the one place where size and species didn’t matter.
I don’t think I have ever seen a show that handles having a young, promiscuous, female character so well. There’s no talk about feminism or how other girls are prudes -every single time we see her have sex, it’s consensual. She doesn’t care that the other girls slut shame her — And she seems to care about each one.
Legoshi, a predator, goes in an opposite direction. He does his best to appear friendly to herbivores. He was close enough with Tem, that Tem asked him to deliver a love letter. He develops an interesting dynamic with Louis, a deer and the lead actor of the club.
And his friend circle inside the club seems to consist mainly of herbivores.
Other predators don’t hang around with herbivores as much, it seems and hold a kind of contempt for them.
It’s much more align with the complex reality of our world, including discrimination coming from an institutional level.
Actual world building.
The other week, I complained about how the world in Onward sucked. It didn’t really embrace what would make the world different from ours beyond a few gags. The world clearly wasn’t built for most the inhabitants, which doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Zootopia had a world that could accommodate all of its creatures. And so does Beastars. And we’re able to explore the world a little deeper. In this universe, dinosaurs are hailed as the ancestors of all animals. They’re well revered and celebrated.
Sea animals live separately. They have their own language, but we never get to see any of them. At least this season.
Carnivores and herbivores have their own sections of the cafeteria with their own menus and there’re different areas for the smaller species like mice to move about. We’re shown how students tend to stick with those in the same genus -all of Legoshi’s housemates are canines. And apparently felines have a beef with them.
Cool, parallels to the stereotypes we know and there are hints as to how some of these came to fruition.
I really love this world and there are so many parts of it to explore. It seems as though while climate isn’t an issue so much, students are given time to indulge in instinctual behaviors every so often. Zebras get a room where they can blend in. Wolves get a room with a simulated night sky and full moon…etc.
Furries aren’t all that bad
Beastars doesn’t utilize hand drawn animation but its CG is beautiful and fluid. It shows Legoshi’s other senses working well and the fight scenes are, just amazing.
I’ll admit the models took a little getting used to, since certain aspects are very realistic so it’s weird seeing animals with hands and walking around. And Haru does get very sexualized, and I’ll admit seeing human curves on a tiny anthropomorphic bunny is….weird.
But it’s far from off-putting and it’s certainly leagues ahead of a certain feline musical that came out last year.
I’m sure there are plenty of people into this, though I’m sure that’s not the point of this show. The backgrounds are all highly detailed and it’s interesting to see.
But my favorite bit of animation is the opening number- It’s fully in stop-motion and it’s fucking amazing. I kind of wish the whole series could be made in this art-style but I fully understand why it isn’t. It’s very creative, unique and somehow fits perfectly in with the show/s aesthetic.
Suspense is key
So, this season doesn’t actually answer or really give any hints to who his killer is until the very end. And it’s the nagging feeling regarding Tem’s death and the media storm and issues it kicks off that keeps the tension there.
It’s always in the background and it has an effect on all the Cherryton student’s behavior. Is the killer a student? Why did they do it? Why Tem? Will they strike again and who will it be? While we don’t see the full extent of how the issue has impacted carnivore students -herbivores are given curfews and forced back early.
Like there’s a rapist. Or a serial killer. Okay, it’s probably actually a serial killer but again there’s this…odd sexual notation to it. Rather than coming across as fetishtic, it adds something to the setting.
I would be very careful if you’re looking up fanart for this show…It seems a little more risky than many other shows.
I also appreciate that the show doesn’t use animal-related pun names for any of the characters, just names.
But anyway, this show is well-worth your time. And it’s not like you have a ton of options anyway.
Stay inside. Continue social distancing. And wash your damn hands.
And that’s the scoop.
Manga by: Paru Itagaki
Director: Shinichi Matsumi
Producers: Shunsuke Hosoi, Yoshinori Takeeda
Anime Writer: Nanami Higuchi
If you liked this review read: “Zombie Land Saga:” the Ouran High School Host Club of the 2010s