Beastars was a silent dark horse. A big one.
I dropped it quickly at the start of the season, no hesitation, no previews – because the title didn’t sound sexy. Only came back to it when someone recommended. Hurray! for the Otakus in our midst. Such connections ought to be cherished because there are times where you really can’t depend on the synopsis provided by Aggregator sites.
Here’s how Beastars’ read:
In a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, herbivores and carnivores coexist with each other. For the
adolescencesadolescents of Cherryton Academy, school life is filled with hope, romance, distrust, and uneasiness.
The main character is Regoshi the wolf, a member of the drama club. Despite his menacing appearance, he has a very gentle heart. Throughout most of his life, he has always been an object of fear and hatred by other animals, and he’s been quite accustomed to that lifestyle. But soon, he finds himself becoming more involved with his fellow classmates who have their own share of insecurities and finds his life in school changing slowly.
What I thought it would be: teen beasts in a high school grappling with growing up issues.
But, Beastars was more than that and surprisingly binge-watchable. Here’s why (spoiler alert).
Squabble, Fight, Kill
Conflict is like gin to martini, the oil to cogs. Peace has no place in a tightly scripted story.
Beastars has multiple, seemingly disparate themes running in parallel. Yet, it manages to weave together these rather heavy topics with finesse: the clash of tribes, animal rights, oppression (forced veganism), suppression (of natural urges), an unlikely romance (how do different species make out?) and an unsolved murder. Enough plot lines to keep the story busy.
In short, the Beastars world is unnatural, one that stands on an artificially enforced premise: peaceful co-existence of Carnivores and Herbivores is possible (fist-pump). While Herbs flex their rights (to life, peace and all the trappings that come with it), Cars suppress their basic instincts, are feared, loathed, treated with suspicion.
Here, the tables are turned: the predators have become the quarries.
Start with Aplomb
A whodunit is a great way to start a story and draw the audience in. The story begins as a large creature chases down an Alpaca into a lecture theatre (with the intent to eat it), suspense building up against a wonderfully apt soundtrack and some kick-ass editing.
Who ate the Alpaca? How is he linked to the main protagonist? Do/can Cars really practise veganism? These are questions waiting for the answers to be played out.
My take on episode 1: what a superbly engaging first act.
Fatal Attraction Attracts
The full moon night is an enigmatic phenomenon. What does it do? Oh yes, it stirs up blood lust in a otherwise mellow Grey Wolf, who, after yielding to it, pounces on the first prey that unwittingly strays into the realm of its killer olfactory receptors. He struggles with his inner demon, lost, moves to bite down … but someone interrupts.
The prey escapes, taking the Grey Wolf’s heart with it. The Grey Wolf isn’t sure if his affection stems from his guilt or from his primal instinct to eat her. Or from L.O.V.E.
Mum told me not to play with my food, but never about not falling in love with it … what should I do?
Nothing attracts, like a fatal attraction.
Enter the Anti-Protagonists
Anti-protagonists make the protagonists look lovelier than they are perceived to be. And they don’t even need to be bad asses.
The jealous Harlequin Rabbit, the egoistic, self-serving aspiring-Beastar Red Deer, the Tiger in the drama club whose silhouette looks suspiciously like the murderer’s, the female Grey Wolf who nurses a crush on …
On another level, you have real villains like the still-unknown killer of the alpaca and the nefarious Lion Gang, Cars who are openly carnivorous. Interestingly, the powers-that-be who run the school, the city are also … Lions.
Details, Details, Details
Detail #1: Realistic renders
I think I learned a lot about the Animal World from Beastars. The physical attributes (anatomy, facial expressions, proportions) of each creature are so accurately depicted you can almost overlook their anthropomorphism.
And with so many species presented, it is a quick way to get introduced to the numerous sub-species in the food chain even for someone who regularly watches BBC Earth.
At least, now I know how an alpaca looks like.
Detail #2: Sound direction and music
Sound direction is often overlooked but is such an integral part of an anime that we only notice its absence when it’s not there. Try watching a raw clip sans sound effects and music, just the voice actors’ bits and you’d know what I mean. Everything will feel achingly empty. And quiet.
Beastar’s animation may not be all that smooth but the sound direction is certainly par excellence. The music peppered throughout the entire series elevates the key scenes from ‘interesting’ to ‘gripping’. Music that stirs the soul, set hearts pumping, draws you into the characters’ perspectives.
Detail #3: The OP/ED animations
Sometimes, you get an OP/ED animation that’s much better than the anime itself. Sometimes.
And I always feel that the quality of the OP/ED animation reflects the amount of love the production team has for their anime. Compressing a 12-episoder and synchronising that to the beat of a 1:30 song requires imagination and creativity. A lot.
Beastar’s stop-motion OP animation to ALI’s ‘Wild Side’ is so devious and clever and such a joy to watch, I can’t help but let it play itself out every time.
Summer’s winner Demon Slayer is your archetypal shonen anime with a zombie-slant which may explain its wild popularity. Beastars has none of that. What it has is a solid story and deep characters never mind these characters are not pretty (in the traditional sense). Maybe that’s why it’s so low-key.
Demon Slayer has beautiful animation but it wasn’t enough to get me through the tedium of a pretty run-of-mill story line and rather over-the-top characters (Inosuke!!! and the Hashiras).
One is under-rated. The other is over-rated. You know which is which.
References: How James Bond Destroyed the Martini