What a lovely, twisted little series.
I read this series a while ago, after getting it recommended to me. I chewed through it entirely in a few hours, unable to put it down. So, no secret: I loved it, but it’s not flawless I suppose. This is BEASTARS (ビースターズ), a manga by Itagaki Paru (板垣巴留) about a world of anthropomorphic animal folk, specifically carnivores and herbivores (fish exist and…can talk? But we don’t know much about them). It’s kind of impossible to not immediately be reminded, then, of Zootopia, a well-regarded and quite good (in my opinion) movie that was released in the same year BEASTARS began. It’s clear from her omake and the mere fact that the two stories came out around the same time that Itagaki-sensei was not “inspired” by Zootopia, though — it’s just an interesting coincidence. While Zootopia was a silly cop procedural and comedy with some subtle dark implications, BEASTARS is a serious high school and city drama with some subtle and overt dark occurrences and themes. Both works provoke you to think from perspectives that are traditionally viewed as…offensive, I guess (but arguably true). However, I felt like Zootopia worked with real world (or rather, human society) parallels a lot. BEASTARS builds its own world and asks the hard questions within that world, not so much about parallels. To put it simply, I guess…the characters in Zootopia are people who happen to be animals, and the characters in BEASTARS are animals that happen to be people. The stereotypes they have aren’t related to human races in our world, but instead the stereotypes of animals.
So, hopefully I won’t mention the movie again (just needed to get it out of the way). BEASTARS is a very good series that some might say has jumped the shark, and I would not readily deny them but would say things are looking fairly up from said shark-jumping moment (at least, from the time of this writing: 08/2017). Aside from the moment in question, this is a slow burn manga with complicated and highly intriguing, strong characters. The characters within also experience hefty amounts of developments. There are twists, turns, and surprises that might shake you. It presents hard to accept facts and is looking to find a way to achieve a happy ending despite them. It’s pretty great, and I know I’m not the first to say that.
BEASTARS opens up with a murder, which might make you think this is a mystery series. It isn’t.
It does, however, let you know immediately that this is a series that will cover the cheery topic of racism. More cheery, it’s rather (but not entirely) justified, as we learn that this killing and eating of an herbivore by a carnivore is not uncommon. That’s the true purpose of opening with this scene and following the aftermath in chapter 1. It’s not to let you wonder who the killer is, it’s to let you know that any of the carnivores could become killers and this is something we only learn the truth of more and more. We are entering a pretty messed up world. Another reason it’s messed up? The poor victim here is good friends with a carnivore, despite what he’s saying in these pages.
This is Legosi, a gray wolf and our protagonist. Chapter 1 paints him as a very strange, very creepy guy. He stalks rafters, keeps away from others, rummages through his dead friend’s locker, and eventually seems to trap a girl in his school’s theater presumably to eat her like he probably ate said friend.
But we quickly learn that he is merely an incredibly awkward dork, he didn’t eat anyone, and all that we saw prior to this moment was a means to show us how his world sees him, although he is undoubtedly the sweetest sweetheart in the entire series.
I can talk a lot about Legosi, and I will, but there’s still a few setup details to cover.
The premise of this series is that Legosi, a second year high school boy, tries to live in a non-confrontational way despite the consistently rising tensions of a world where his kind is looked upon with wariness and sometimes scorn. He is one of the strongest natural predators by default, but he hunches his shoulders, keeps his mouth shut, and stays out of people’s way. He’s part of the drama club, not even as an actor but as a stagehand, and he’s cool with living his unassuming quiet life. Things begin to change, however, when he catches the attention of his club’s lead actor, Louis.
Although there isn’t anything dramatic to Louis’s request, even the simple act of standing guard for the actor and his deceased friend’s stand-in after curfew puts Legosi on edge. However it isn’t breaking curfew that sets Legosi’s life onto a new path, but instead this request in and of itself starts off an immensely long chain of events that is very likely to make the Legosi of this series’ final chapter very different from that of its first.
At the end of chapter 3 and into 4, the true premise of BEASTARS reveals itself. What seemed to be a story about a misunderstood boy struggling in a world that rejects him turns out to be a story about a boy who is unable to understand even himself, as it turns out that world may be be right to reject him and his kind. This night, Legosi comes extremely close to killing and eating an herbivore student.
From hereon the story really opens up, however getting into specifics would really take forever. Suffice it to say, even the warm and gentle Legosi is a slave to his instincts, and unfortunately his instincts compel him to consume other species. Of course he doesn’t (though mainly because somebody showed up), but even had he stopped on his own the fact that he seriously considered eating this girl deeply haunts him and never really stops worrying him… “Confusing” feelings are thus a very large part of this series, especially when Legosi finds himself fascinated by this bunny, possibly in a romantic manner.
With that, you should now have a very bare-bones and general idea of the series. From hereon, I’ll go into some important details that really make this manga stand out.
Let’s talk about my favorite(?) character: Louis.
The first things we learn about Louis are that he’s a douchebag and a fucking racist. We’re introduced to him after gaining sympathy for one of the series’ minor characters, who had been greatly eager for a role that he had lost to the poor guy who got eaten a few days ago. He expected to get the role since no one else had auditioned for the part, only to be coldly put down by Louis, who proceeds to treat the new stand-in for the dead boy (seen above) like shit. We have no immediate reasons to believe Louis is anything other than an asshole, so he immediately endeared himself to me.
Saddled with a strong and aggressive inferiority complex, the more we learn about Louis the weaker he seems in all ways. He is, however, initially and regularly presented as the most resolute and powerful character present in the cast. Louis is one of three characters that the title (potentially) refers to. A “Beastar” in this series is a graduate from an academy that represents incredible values. He or she is not a valedictorian, but a rare instance of an outstanding individual who bridges the gap between herbivores and carnivores and works to achieve peace. Louis is very talented and very hardworking, and people still gasp when made aware of his aspirations to earn this title. He seems at first to only want this title out of arrogance. As in, “I’m the best, so of course I’ll be a Beastar.” Over time, we learn that there is an extreme amount of depth and sympathy to Louis’s character, and his blend of antagonism and respect directed toward Legosi (who embodies much of what Louis admires and loathes) is truly a sight to behold. He’s ballsy, crass, well-spoken, and — though he’d never admit it — quite immature. Louis is fucking great.
On the other hand we have Legosi, who I’m fairly certain will eventually become a Beastar, although it’s not even a thought in his head at the time of this writing.
As previously stated, Legosi is a dork. Most pages of this series featuring Legosi serve to show how much of a dork he is. I don’t use this word often, but he is truly precious. Whether it’s relaxing over one of his odd hobbies (like taking care of bugs), agonizing over dumb teenage troubles, agonizing over very serious life troubles, joyfully wagging his tail without even noticing it, or seriously considering the ramifications of his actions in the grand scope of society, at all times Legosi is great to follow and to watch, and he’s why I can’t confidently say Louis is my favorite character in the series.
Legosi’s ideals line up with the archetype of the Beastar, however he lacks confidence and a go get ’em attitude to even consider pursuing the status. At the moment, he wants to keep himself and those he cares about happy, and he has hopes for society but no drive to try changing it. It has been interesting seeing his core and conviction grow throughout the series, as he does bolder and bolder things in the name of what he believes in. He’s a truly good person who will even relinquish his own happiness if it keeps the happiness of others he loves or respects intact. At one point, he got me playing [this SPOILER song] and that alone says a lot about how awesome he can be (really, don’t click that link unless you’re caught up, as it’ll give you an idea of things to come).
The last major character I ought to talk about is Haru, the bunny love interest and target prey for Legosi. She is…well, odd.
When we’re properly introduced to Haru, it’s through a flashback to just before she got pounced on by Legosi. In it, we learn that she’s being bullied for what seems to be something not even her fault. She’s ballsy, and pretty endearing, but at the end of it she takes her smack talk too far and gets cleaning bucket water thrown on her. Her bullies threaten to spread rumors that she’s a total slut. What you may expect, then, is that she’s not a total slut.
If so, you could not be more wrong. Rumor or no, Haru loves to sleep around, period. It’s just something she likes to do. It is not a trait that endears her to me, not to say I think she’s a bad character. Like everyone in this series, there’s a whole hell of a lot to her, and she’s most DEFINITELY interesting. I just don’t care for the idea of sleeping around. I don’t think that’s a great thing to do. I did find it funny once I realized “oh, right, bunny who likes sex — of COURSE”, though.
Similar to Legosi a large aspect of Haru’s character is her instincts, in her case as “prey”. And just like Legosi, her instincts are confusing (and they only get more confusing). While I can’t say I really like Haru, like, at all, I don’t dislike her either and I think the series really doesn’t work without her and without her being into the sex. The “slut” aspect is another thing Legosi gets over because he finds himself falling in love with her. He acknowledges it and doesn’t deny it, he just knows there’s more to her than sex even if she really, really likes sex. And that’s true! There is more to her, not just with her past, but with her hobbies. She can also be pretty amusing so I can say she’s at least okay in my book.
There are other characters in the series of varying levels of importance (such as this dog here, Jack, who is Legosi’s childhood friend but doesn’t show up THAT much), but the series’ movers and shakers are really just a handful of characters. We even get an antagonist after a while, and it’s a really good one who you’ve just got to admire. Other than that, the general direction of the series is that of a story: Legosi’s story, mainly. It’s a personal and interpersonal journey through a strange and often brutal world. It’s also very mature in spite of the shounen demographic, so really, if you’re not feeling this series early on I don’t imagine you ever will. In regards to the “jump the shark” moment I referred to around the start of this article, again yes there is a point where the series does something really, really absurd. Actually, it does some THINGS that are really absurd, most of which are telegraphed and “make sense”, at least one of which I take serious umbrage with. A lot of people complained about it, and while I honestly loved most of it, I can’t say any complaints were without reason. It hasn’t been very long since those infamous chapters yet, so we’ll see if the series has truly gone off the deep end, or simply temporarily strayed from the course (even if it was, to me, an enjoyable side trip).
That’s all I’ve got to say. This is one of my new favorite series. I’d highly recommend you read this, and consider buying it. Want to? You may purchase volumes from CDJapan, bookwalker (guide), honto (guide), or ebookjapan. Please do! Now then, my next review… If I really decide to write about what I’m currently planning to write about, it’ll be really “strange”…yeah.
Until then, thanks for reading. Peace out.