Casual Review of Beastars
Welcome back to another one of these, and this time, we’ll be tackling a Netflix original series (because Netflix is what I have access to and how I consume the anime), Beastars! My two-word description of Beastars would have to be “gritty Zootopia”. Though I have heard some people disagree with me, I think I can pretty easily support my argument. One, we have a whole slew of animals that live together in one society, which are relatively anthropomorphic and which the creators of the show tried to keep proportional to each other (mice are tiny, bears are huge). Two, the relationship between predator and prey animals, this time around classified as carnivores and herbivores, plays a very important role in the plot.
The only differences are that this time around our story is a good deal more pessimistic, definitely cranked that PG up to an R, and our protagonists are highschoolers (in true-to-fashion anime style). But where are my manners?
Beastars started as a manga released in a serialized fashion starting in 2016. It aired as an anime first in late 2019 and then was released on Netflix in March of 2020. Reviews seem overwhelmingly good, with even a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. So, how do I feel about it?
I really loved everything on a technical level. I at first was pretty put off once I realized that the show was mostly animated with 3D models, but once you realize that you’re uncomfortable just because it’s not what you’d expect from an anime and not because it is bad, it really grows on you. Or, it did on me. The cell shading, the movements of the characters, heck, even the character designs themselves were all very fun and fluid. I imagine that 3D animation is a bit cheaper than 2D animation though that is all intuition and not at all because I have insider knowledge or did my research. In any case, if more shows followed suit, I absolutely wouldn’t mind.
Just like with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, I didn’t skip the theme song even once. It was pretty awesome. And there, it looks like they used actual stop-motion animation with little figurines, which is very unique! Enticing in all forms, really. I didn’t ever consciously notice the soundtrack during the episodes themselves, but what I do remember is very fond.
Perhaps I should have seen this one coming due to the experimentation with the theme song’s animation, but it totally blindsided me that they would switch visual mediums when using flashbacks or dream sequences. I particularly loved a dream sequence our main bunny character Haru had. If you’ve seen the show, you know the one, but I try to keep these reviews spoiler free. It was stunningly beautiful, and the animation extremely impressive.
Louis’s (gosh is that how I should spell it?) flashback was a similar change of pace I very much enjoyed. All of it was very good from start to finish. I never noticed a drop of the budget or a loosening of standards from this show. Good, good stuff on the technical front.
Oh, and does voice acting go here? I think it does. The voice acting was very good as well. I got some really strange nostalgia when I heard Haru’s voice, and then later found out her voice actress was in Digimon. Wow. That’s a blast from the past.
And of course this is always where I’m gonna start voicing dissent, isn’t it? I’ll start by being clear and saying that when my brother, a friend and I finished this series together, the consensus was that it had so much going for it that we were intensely disappointed by the product we actually got.
The first few episodes really drew me in. I was having a good time, the characters were charmingly ridiculous and melodramatic, and the premise was engaging. So, to tell you what I disliked really takes it into spoiler territory, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’ll try to be as vague as I can, but if you really want to experience the show for yourself, I would say skip to the conclusion section of this article.
So. I felt as if there were a good number of plot threads that went nowhere. To name some that I don’t feel are as spoiler-y as others, I’d call out Haru’s bullying and the mongoose character. Trying to keep things vague, there are also the conspiracy by certain students in the school, which is not hinted at prior nor ever brought up again outside of the one scene; the murder of Tem (though that might have been just there to set up the tension between carnivores and herbivores in the first episode); the second wolf character; and, heck, Louis, in his entirety?
Okay this paragraph is absolutely a spoiler, skip ahead if you want, but Haru names Louis as her love, and then absolutely forgets about him when he’s been missing for a day or two at the end. Just like Juno’s love interest with Legoshi seems to drop completely, Louis’s influence on Haru and Legoshi seems to go away very, very quickly when they deemed it convenient. I mean it’s even sort of implied he dies at the end? Like, what the heck?
Spoiler-ness over (if you could avoid peeking), the show also escalates way too fast. We start as a high school drama, albeit a gritty high school drama (not complaining, it’s a genre), but in a single episode we go full on bloody carnage action, and then we return to high school drama for the finale like nothing even happened. People aren’t even traumatized! What!? You can’t give me that and then expect me to be as invested in the high school drama portion of the show as I was before. The stakes were raised, and then you lowered the stakes again for the ending. I don’t get how that was supposed to be a good idea, it leaves a sour taste.
That is of course how the story ends on season one. Hopefully some of those plot threads get picked up in season two.
Despite my gripes, I will be returning for season two, unlike how I left One Punch Man feeling distinctly like I would be ignoring when season three came out. No matter how the story shakes out, watching Beastars is simply fun. You’re never exactly sure where it’s going to go, its characters are fun and their designs are funky, its world is simple yet enthralling (even when it doesn’t make a lot of sense), and I’m just glad to be along for the ride. I definitely recommend this show.
My biggest complaint is just that I stopped being able to take the show seriously. I was invested in it as a drama, and now I am invested in it as pure entertainment. Not quite a comedy, but not something that I’m gonna cry about late at night texting my friends about how awful it is that x y or z happened to a character I wanted only the best for. Which is a shame, you know? But that doesn’t make me want to stop watching it, and I think you should watch it too.