The dark horse enters the scarlet stage, illuminated by the crimson moon. With mask in hand, he embraces the carmine spotlight. Tied down to two stigmas, he was limited in his audience, but his performance made him shine like few others. The drama, the passion, the presentation, all marvelously shown as he proudly rose beyond almost everything else this year.
This struggle and scenario somewhat mirrors that of Louis, one of Beastars’ greatest characters. He’s a prideful, somewhat prejudicial deer who has put the world on his back. He refuses to be seen as weaker than carnivores simply because he’s a herbivore, so he fights back against that stereotype with all his might and pride. The show explores the many layers behind all of this through the backdrops of performances, love triangles, and the social issues stemming from this civilization that mixes carnivores and herbivores. The setting itself helps drive many of the systemic, psychological issues regarding Louis as well as other characters, such as our main protagonist, Legosi. He’s a timid wolf, afraid of the beast within him as he deals with the perpetual dejectedness of being feared by everyone. The social stigma of carnivores being savage monsters that kill the weak and endangered herbivores is perpetuated by the school our main characters live in after one of their classmates is murdered in the first episode. There are other predators that serve as foils to Legoshi thanks to this stigma, but he's the one that gets the most focus. As an introspective character, he resorts to several monologues. Most of them inform us of his character or become amusing rather than distracting, which is not something that applies to all monologues in this show. They help further dramatize the conflict of him trying to suppress the beast inside, resulting in a majority of the biggest moments of the show. His relationship with Haru, the female love interest of the show and centerpiece of the love triangle between them and Louis, further complicates matters.
Haru herself is an interesting and flawed person, just like everyone else in the show. Like Louis, she’s someone who does not want to be seen as a victim. However, Louis stubbornly fights back with his pride and skill, becoming a respected student who’s admired by many. Haru, who feels misunderstood by everyone due to being a frail rabbit, finds herself reviled due to a certain act of hers that allows her to find herself in equal footing with her peers. This along with how she understands and embraces society’s prejudices on herbivores and carnivores keep Legosi at arm’s length as he falls deeper in love with her. There’s more to this from all three perspectives, of course, but I’ve said enough without resorting to massive spoilers. It’s enthralling to watch the show delve into the layers of these three characters and how this love triangle unfolds as it affects them. It’s electrifying watching their own societal struggles and where all of these factors take them as everything spirals towards the season’s final act. There are a few developments regarding Louis and Legoshi which felt like they needed more build-up, but it’s still exciting to watch these characters. Not every character is given anywhere near the level of thought and detail that these three and the three big supporting characters. Haru’s bullies are one-note bitches who exist solely to make her miserable and fulfill an archetype. However, the trio is more than enough before we even mention some of the supporting characters who show up later in the show.
The sheer dramatization of the show helps sell these characters and their scenarios. It isn’t your typical anime melodrama filled with screaming, yelling, crying, and contrived circumstances. Instead, it’s the theatrical, Code Geass level of bombastic presentation that is as passionate as its characters are. Shinichi Matsumi shines as the director, selling brilliant scenes like Louis’ performances in the school play during the first arc, and the scenes of Legosi trying to resist the beast within. There are other stellar sequences such as the first two scenes of episode 1 or the first scene of episode 7. Studio Orange pushes the limits of CG anime at times with the kinds of imagery they can get away with. It’s almost enough to distract from how the CG models almost look rubbery and how they’re so jittery and choppy thanks to moving at a jarring number of frames per second. It really does become a bit of a hurdle at times, and the show also attempts bits of 2D integration, which do not work if you’re looking at the occasional 2D models. Thankfully, there is one way the 2D works: the backgrounds. While several 2D anime nowadays contain bland backgrounds or hideous CG hellscapes, Beastars is filled with lovingly hand-drawn backgrounds and environments that are brimming with gorgeous art direction. The blood-red moon, the indigo sky, these are only a few instances as to how the show’s environments can sometimes look ravishing. The show looks surprisingly decent, dare I say good despite the awkward, jittery CG models, which puts it far above your standard TV CG anime.
Another wonderfully dramatic aspect of the anime is its music. Satoru Kousaki’s OST is filled with several wonderful tracks such as the romantic accordion track “Juno In Love” or the many versions of the titular “BEASTARS” theme. The first one is just as whimsical and lovely as “Juno In Love” but without the hilarious deflation that track ends on, which mirrors one of the scenes featuring the namesake of the song, Juno. The second rendition (classical) is a beautiful, somber violin piece that desperately needs extending, as it complements the blood moon ambiance and intense tone of the show’s first scene which the track accompanies. The third (pf solo) is a magnificent piano piece following the same tender melody in a less intensely dramatic fashion, opting to be quieter and more emotionally potent. There are more renditions of the song, and more tracks that play off of it such as “Renewed Legosi” with its guitar, and “BEASTARS Wolf and Rabbit” which combines the instrumentals of the more somber renditions to deliver an emotional climax to this cavalcade of leitmotifs. I also enjoy the vocal track “Tale of the Moon” for its nice vocals and heartwarming tone. There is more to many of these tracks that this pretentious amateur pseudocritic is inadequate at describing, but that just speaks to how adept the composer for Haruhi Suzumiya’s OST and Fate/Extra: Last Encore’s OST is at his job. There are several other tracks, but these are the main ones that stand out to me. The anime does not always make its tracks apparent, but the ones that shine, shine brightly. Sadly, I neither care for the jazzy OP thanks to its vocals, and the EDs aren’t that interesting to me. It’s interesting that there are numerous ones for a 12 episode production that get shuffled across different episodes, and I personally somewhat enjoy the third ED “Marble” by YUKIRA. However, that’s as far as I will go.
Beastars is a tremendous psychological drama filled with powerful cliffhangers, rich character studies, and a fascinating exploration of the themes sprung from its setting. Its visual direction, powerful melodies, and glorious theatrics help bolster generally wonderful character writing while its art direction strengthens an already well-crafted world. The CG will definitely throw people off and some will turn their nose at an anime that even remotely reeks of “furry” but Beastars is one of the absolute standouts of 2019. Here’s to a second season.