Episode 1 | Review Score = 4/5
Episode 2 | Review Score = 3.5/5
Episode 3 | Review Score = 3.5/5
Episode 4 | Review Score = 3.5/5
Episode 5 | Review Score = 3/5
Episode 6 | Review Score = 4/5
Episode 7 | Review Score = 3/5
Episode 8 | Review Score = 3.5/5
Episode 9 | Review Score = 3.5/5
Episode 10 | Review Score = 4/5
Episode 11 | Review Score = 3.5/5
Episode 12 | Review Score = 3.5/5
Imagine an adult version of Zootopia, complete with an undercurrent of sex, violence and murder. This perfectly illustrates exactly what Netflix’s latest anime offering Beastars has in store for you. Split across 12 episodes of hand-drawn animation, Beastars is a well written, surprisingly reflective series that touches on issues of sexism and racism in a way that feels organic, using the animal-inhabited world to depict clear divides between carnivores and herbivores. All of this back-dropped by a murder and a thick dose of “whodunit” interwoven with these social issues.
The world of beastars is relatively simple but it works on a hierarchal level of carnivores and herbivores living harmoniously together. Most of the action during this first season takes place in Cherryton Academy, a fictional school that sees its foundations rocked when a shadowy carnivore murders a llama named Tem. As hostilities grow and the battle lines are drawn between the two sides, at the centre of this conflict lies a gentle wolf named Legoshi.
Playing out with a simple forbidden love angle, Legoshi finds himself infatuated with a dwarf rabbit named Haru and across the season we see their friendship grow while the school’s beastar (the most popular and top animal) Rouis become entangled in this with a light dose of a love triangle introduced. This story dances harmoniously with the “whodunit”, building up to a climactic few episodes where Haru’s life hangs in the balance and secrets are revealed before the open-ending ready for season 2.
Where Beastars shines though is with its visual design and aesthetic. Each episode showcases a different stylistic interpretation of animation, with everything from silhoutted lights and animal outlines used to paint a separate scene inside to split-screen shots and reflections, there’s an incredible array of talent used to show off the best hand-drawn animation can offer. There’s no question that a lot of animators are moving across to CGI-styled efforts but Beastars is a great example why this traditional method works as well as it does.
While it’s advisory to watch in the standard Japanese subbed version for authenticity, the English dub isn’t actually that bad. Haru and Legoshi have compelling voices attached to them and the various supporting players do well to flesh out the cast at the heart of this one. While the side characters don’t have an awful lot to do this season, the promise of more Beastars to come in the near future is enough to forgive this, especially given we don’t actually find out who killed Tem by the end of the season.
The one element that really helps Beastars shine is with its social themes. There’s a really interesting undercurrent of societal issues here that play out perfectly in the carnivore/herbivore juxtaposition that run rampant throughout the season. The most obvious is the romance at the heart of this, with numerous animals expressing their concerns over the taboo nature of Legoshi’s feelings. More subtly are the subverted expectations thrown into the fold time and again, especially with some of the herbivores that are outright mean and conniving by comparison to the gentle giants.
Beastars is quite simply a really well written anime and together with the hand-drawn animation and strong themes, make it one of the better animated efforts this year. The open-ending and lack of resolution for this overarching are a bit disappointing, and the abrupt ending does little to quell this either. Thankfully this isn’t the last we’ve seen from these charaters and if this season is anything to go by, season 2 of Beastars should be a very interesting proposition indeed.