We need to talk about Beastars.
Netflix’s hot take on an animal society has been starting conversations all across the web, and when my non-anime-watching friends start talking about a series this weird on Twitter something has to be up. Maybe everyone finished Tiger King and latched onto the next show with a tiger in it? Not to mention the memes coming out of its fanbase have been scorching hot.
Beastars follows the life of Legosi, a grey wolf and a high school student in a world rife with tension between carnivores and herbivores. One of his classmates (an herbivore) is attacked and killed, presumably by a carnivore student, which only serves to raise the tension higher. To make matters worse, he falls in love with a dwarf rabbit named Haru after almost devouring her one night in a fit of carnivorous bloodlust. I’m trying to think of a setup to an anime that’s more emotionally charged than this one, and I genuinely cannot.
While Netflix has been airing original anime for about 3 years now, most anime fans will agree that the vast majority of these series have been...how can I say this...trash? Granted there have been some exceptions like Devilman Crybaby and Aggretsuko, but for the most part Netflix’s originals have been either forgettable or downright ugly. Beastars is a more relevant series, with more hype, than any anime Netflix has released so far. Following the anime’s Japanese release last October the manga made its first appearance on the top 10 weekly manga sales chart in Japan, joining the likes of industry titans like One Piece and Kimetsu no Yaiba.
This is significant to me because Beastars is pretty unique compared to the rest of the series on this list. Obviously it’s the only series about animal people, but it’s also the only one written by a woman! Not that that makes it a better series by default, I just think it’s important to recognize the efforts of women mangaka in a male-dominated field like this one.
So what makes Paru Itagaki’s breakout series so compelling? The first thing that stands out to me is her unwavering commitment to her premise: a realistic society of humanoid animals with deeply conflicting natures, impulses, and desires. The problem I always had with other attempts at this concept (mainly Zootopia) was how all of the characters still just act like humans. The characters in Beastars, on the other hand, are all forced to reconcile their socially developed personalities with their animal instincts. Itagaki’s thorough worldbuilding allows for a deep, nuanced cast of characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. Seriously, I encountered and watched this whole show within 5 hours and it still had me weeping for Haru and Legosi.
Generally when someone starts talking about 3D CGI in anime I get nervous, and I’m sure most otaku can understand why. I’m still scarred by the horrible treatment Berserk received in 2016. We’ve put up with (ignored) years of awful CGI anime, the most recent offender being the Saint Seiya reboot, but Beastars is the light shining in the darkness. See, anime characters are typically drawn with flat faces, so animating them wrapped around a 3-D skull often looks disturbing. On the other hand, Beastars uses CGI to illustrate the vast diversity of forms in its anthropomorphic cast. This fits perfectly in line with the series’ messages of embracing what makes one different from the norm, while questioning the norm itself.