[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be taking a look at the socially relevant and critically acclaimed Beastars! Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: is Beastars worth analyzing, or is it a waste of your time?]
After coming off of a show like Odd Taxi last month, it feels weird for me to have trepidation discussing Beastars. Not just because of the fact that both series stars anthropomorphized animals and deal with deeply human and complicated issues. We’ve covered many a series like that before and we will cover plenty more since. No, the reason why I have some hesitation openly discussing Beastars is probably for one of the dumbest reasons around. But, because the internet is the internet, I should probably just tackle this issue head-on.
Beastars is horny as hell. Like… REALLY horny.
To many, the sight of animals acting like humans will immediately draw comparisons to the furry community. A running joke within the Beastars community is to troll outsiders by saying that Paru Itagaki, the author behind Beastars, herself is a furry. I mean, it would make sense. A lot of elements in Beastars has elements that would cater to that specific crowd. Because of the weird social status that the furry community has within the general public, I feel, almost unfairly, that I’m on my backfoot whenever I get a chance to talk about Beastars. I can’t talk about where the show succeeds with having to inevitably cross that bridge of it being the show where a big wolf has the hots for a tiny little rabbit and they want to bang like really badly you guys.
I don’t know if I would describe that as a negative of the show, but it is something to definitely be aware of. I don’t think it’s like the case of Made in Abyss where the show and manga both feature uncomfortably inferences about its underage characters. That is undeniably a negative about that series, but Beastars presents it as just a part of life, and I’m more the most part okay with that. Humans have sex and have intimate feelings for one another, so do the characters here. Don’t like it? Get over it. If you do decide to get over it, and it can be quite the ask, Beastars presents an interesting, yet flawed, world that I definitely think may be worth your time by the end of the series. Maybe not right this second, but definitely in the near future.
Set in a world not dissimilar from our own, Beastars centers on the wolf Legoshi, a good boy who keeps to himself, does tech for the drama club at his school, and tries to suppress the carnivorous rage of his inner wolf. But that isn’t a problem that solely Leogshi has to deal with. There’s a clear divide between herbivores and carnivores in the world, which is exacerbated by the death of Tem that alpaca, a member of the drama club who was devoured by a carnivore, and with a lot of the study body now fearing carnivores more and more. With all of this pressure on him, what’s a young teenage wolf fight those crazed urges to do? Fall in love with a gentle little rabbit of course!
Beastars juggles a lot of different plates over its two seasons. The show casts a wide net, yet it doesn’t really hop frequently between plot threads as one would assume. While it may frustrate some, the murder mystery kicks off in the premiere but is never followed up on for the rest of the first season. It’s not until the second season that it’s actually addressed and we’re given resolution to who the killer was and their motivations. We’re presented with the hook, and then the hook is swiftly ignored.
That’s fine, for the most part, because the first season spends most of its time fleshing out its world and its cast of characters. Beastars is a series that needs room to breathe, and the folks at Studio Orange were thankfully given the ability to take their time with the series, not trying to cram 22 volumes of story into 24 episodes. It does create a problem eventually where the pace can be a bit too slow, but considering the alternative of rushing a story to get to the good bits, I tend to view it as the lesser of two evils.
But for as nice as it is to let the characters breathe and have their space, one of the biggest flaws of the series is that it keeps its focus a bit too small. In season one, the story mostly revolves around Legoshi, Haru, and the blue-blooded pompous deer Louis. We explore the psyche of these three characters in intimate detail and examine their complicated relationship with each other and themselves. Yet in season two, we don’t really have any additional insight or characters to shake up the core dynamic, except for Tem’s murderer and a newly introduced paternal figure for Louis. I know I just said not even a paragraph ago that having room to breathe and establish its characters is a good thing, but two seasons without any major interpersonal character developments can make the proceedings feel a bit static.
The core of season one was watching Legoshi and Haru go from hunter and prey into a couple that does care for each other. When I talked about Beastars being incredibly interested in some animal-on-animal action, it’s around the character of Haru. She’s a small white rabbit who is viewed as something to be protected by others, so her desire to be sexually active with as many people as possible is a way for her to regain some semblance of autonomy and control in her life. She’s not just a delicate white rabbit that needs to be taken care of at all costs. She’s a young woman who has independence, as well and some complicated psychological issues revolving around her species.
Indeed, species seems to be one of the big focuses in Beastars and like its American contemporary Zootopia, puts a spotlight on prejudice and race relations. Herbivores fear carnivores with carnivores having to either take medication or alter their behavior in order to better fit within the framework of herbivore society. Carnivores are something to be feared in the world of Beastars, and it’s not hard to see why. The series begins with an herbivore being horribly devoured by a carnivore, leaving a bloody mess that makes headlines across the school and the city at large.
Unlike with Zootopia, Beastars doesn’t really shy away from confronting these issues or making them PG. When an herbivore’s arm accidentally gets ripped off we see blood and bits of flesh everywhere as horrified eyes look on. I wouldn’t say that the show (so far) hasn’t tackled xenophobia in any way, as the school that Legoshi and pals go to is a school with an herbivore and carnivore population. Yes, other schools are segregated and the idea of segregation is brought up briefly in the second season, but nothing meaningful comes out of it.
In fact, I would say that if you were looking for a show that offered up a mature examination of prejudice and allegories for race and racial profiling via animals, Zootopia would probably be the better piece of media to examine. Those elements are here in Beastars, but they don’t really have the nuance or simplicity that Zootopia has. Anyone can watch Zootopia and get what its deal is immediately. Beastars gets bogged in ancillary details to the point where they kind of detract from what’s happening. We don’t really need to know that bears of a certain size are required to take medication to reduce their ridiculous strength. It’s a good bit of trivia, but it doesn’t do much to inform the core themes that the series wants to discuss. Too many details detract from the main message.
Beastars, at its core, is a story about adolescence. Legoshi is growing up while trying to deal with his primal urges. He’s trying to fit into society and wants nothing more than to blend in and live a normal life, but his mind and body are telling him otherwise. He’s a carnivore, so he needs to eat meat. He’s a boy, so he needs to find a girl. He’s a wolf, so he needs to be strong. All of these expectations are thrust upon him and he needs to find some way to come to terms with them. Will he give in to his urges and eat the flesh of another being? Will he be able to develop a mature relationship with Haru? Will he eat Haru? All of these are questions that he has to grapple with and I don’t think the show really handles them that well.
We spend A LOT of time listening to Legoshi’s inner monologue. The kid talks to himself about a lot of things, whether it be the sanctity of life or how someone smells good because they put on perfume. Season two is especially egregious in this regard since it feels like every five or ten minutes Legoshi will monologue about something for minutes on end. It almost becomes laughable at times, like when Legoshi spends several minutes thinking about the ramifications of eating a bug, only to eventually have an out-of-body experience talking to the said bug he’s just eaten. It’s ridiculous to the point where I almost wonder if we’re meant to take it seriously.
And Haru. Poor, poor, Haru. The character who served as a lynchpin for the first season, arguably the best character in the entire show up until that point, is shunted for most of the second season in favor of Legoshi’s development. After confirming that she has feelings for Legoshi and wants to be in a relationship with him, she falls off the face of the Earth, only to appear at random times annoyed with how self-centered Legoshi is being and how little he seems to care about her. Truthfully, I can see where she’s coming from since so much of Beastars’ second season is dedicated to watching Legoshi grow, despite how it borders at times on navel-gazing.
Actually, scratch borders, Beastars does fall victim to severe navel-gazing in its second season. The show hedges its bets and says that we’re interested in the characters as characters and not their relationships with each other. While Haru and Legoshi were the heart of the first season, Legoshi and his tenuous bond with Louis was just as juicy and rich. Unfortunately, the second season split these two apart for all of four scenes over the course of 12 episodes. We all enjoy shows for entirely different reasons and if you’re someone who views Beastars as a coming of age story for its main character, then you’ll find a lot to love. But as someone who is more interested in watching characters grows to grow and develop alongside each other, the isolationist approach to character development robs the show of any real potency.
I know that as this post went on, the more I became negative towards the show to the point where you may assume that I dislike it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I think that Beastars, for the most part, is a good show. No show is perfect but the more I sat down and thought about Beastars, particularly its second season, the more I just felt deflated about the show.
For a frame of reference, Beastars was released on Netflix in March of 2020, right when the pandemic began. Back then, Beastars was one of the first things I watched and it struck a chord with me. I can’t say exactly why I gravitated to it as much as I did, but it became a show that I was eager to recommend to anyone as a show to watch during quarantine. For the love of God, I gave it the award for Best Anime of 2020 in my Weeb Awards and I would have also given it Best OP of 2020 but I felt weird about giving a show two awards in one year. The first season is that good.
And I still stand by everything I said about the show back then and still do now. But as time goes on, I realize that Beastars isn’t a perfect series, nor was it ever. The problems that I felt were brought into the spotlight in season two were present in season one. But I didn’t notice them because the show smartly had the characters play off each other instead of existing in a vacuum. I wasn’t paying as much attention to the oddly delivered and structured race allegories because they weren’t the draw as much as the exploration of sexual awakenings and nature vs. nurture discussions. They were there, but without the elements that made season one stand out, season two just felt a bit flatter by comparison.
Hopefully, this will all be addressed in the third season. Earlier this week, Netflix, Studio Orange, and Paru Itagaki announced that a third season was already in development, so there’s hope that when the manga is fully adapted in another season or two that the complete story with serve as one of the best anime series ever made. I do think it has the potential. It could be one of the GOATs, but it has to earn that right and address the problems from the second season.
Then again, what I may view as a problem may not be an issue for others, but I don’t think anyone at this point is claiming that Beastars deserves to be at the mountaintop with shows like Attack on Titan, Anohana, or Code Geass. Those titles are immaculately paced where, even by the end, you can overlook their flaws because the experience as a whole was just so well done. I can’t reach that point yet with Beastars, but I want to. I really, really, want to. But I just won’t throw around phrased like “one of the best anime ever made” lightly. I haven’t even reached that point with Odd Taxi, and I spent all of last month basically telling you to watch it (you did watch it, right?). Only in time can we really gauge just how good Beastars was, but I’m confident that with time, the flaws of the second season will just be regarded as the sophomore slump of an otherwise excellent series.