REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: NETFLIX
Soak your head in a bucket of acid before sitting down for this furry melodrama. By the end you will be tripping hard and have lots of questions. Why did the lion get plastic surgery? Why is that panda uncomfortably butch? Why did anyone feel the need to make rabbits sexy? Yet, by the big comedown, Beastars emerges as a surprisingly tender and engaging drama about loving someone against your better instincts.
It’s a sign of how well thought out the story is that the anthropomorphic aspect only proves a distraction in the early episodes. Maybe it’s because, once you strip away the animals, there is a lot of the atypical anime narrative here - high school, the yakuza and lewd humour to name but a few things. What helps to set Beastars apart is a fascinating focus on instinct and drive. All the major characters, each given the backstories and detail they deserve, are all in some way characterised by instinct. It boils down to their species, and is the main source of tension in the show - an oppositional undercurrent between the carnivores and herbivores keeps things tense. The social commentary is obvious; interspecies prejudice is used as a parallel to human prejudice.
The main storyline, however, concerns lone wolf Legoshi, and his conflicted feelings for the female dwarf rabbit Haru. The dissection of Legoshi’s thinking is Freudian, overtaken by guilt and indecision as the desire to love and the desire to consume bleed into each other. This feeling is brought to life with vivid, stirring moments of colour. The imaginative streak of Fuji TV’s producers is sensational, gifting texture and eye-popping visuals to moments that could have been fine without them. Happily, Beastars doesn’t fall into the trap of making it all about a moping male loner. Haru is granted the same level of complexity and importance, as her own complicated feelings for the friendly but strange wolf take hold.
Beastars maintains the gorgeous hand-drawn look of anime while adding in some extra flourishes. The world is at times dark, other times colourful, and always rich with detail. The one exception is the title sequence, which instead reverts to a simplistic but fantastic stop-motion sequence that signifies all the complexity in a matter of minutes. It depends heavily on the style of the original manga series, but adds extra flourishes. It also retains the little in-jokes that help to characterise each animal (Legoshi is literally a lone wolf, there is a vicious rumour that Haru breeds like… well, a rabbit, and the school heartthrob is a stag).
Make no mistake, this is one weird show. At times it can feel uncomfortably weird, but it never feels overly brazen. The end result is a series that you expect nothing from, yet proves to be a rewarding series. The attention to detail, aesthetic and focus on the two leading characters give this show the emotional edge that it needs to feel like more than just another throwaway anime series.