Anime Zootopia (a Look at Beastars season one)

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One of the many reasons I go to and enjoy anime is it’s ability to serialize and expand on some of my favorite film concepts, turning them into a fleshed out experience. The easiest to pinpoint is Psycho-Pass’s connection to movies like Blade Runner and Minority Report (before Minority Report got its own series). Though not a full on adaption, Psycho-Pass takes the themes, ideas, and general look to turn a movie I like into a longer experience I can go back too. One movie in that list that I always thought would make a great ongoing series was Disney’s Zootopia. Zootopia, an animated film set in a world where anthropomorphic creatures live together, carnivores and herbivores alike, and the struggle those two groups must go through via the eyes of a new police cadet rabbit and her unlikely partner, a fox. The film is masterful and feels perfectly open for more stories that don’t seem to be on the horizon. Thankfully anime has come to fill that void with the Netflix hit, Beastars

Despite not being an adaption of Zootopia, Beastars feels to be copying that stories homework quite a bit. Instead of a whole city, Beastars takes place at Cherryton High School (despite all appearances it is still an anime after all), a prestigious boarding school for the anthropomorphic animals of this world to attend. Unfortunately the delicate balance the school’s carnivores and herbivores had is thrown into wack when an alpaca student is devoured by a carnivorous classmate. In the backdrop of that climate Legoshi, a gray wolf, gets the scent of a dwarf rabbit. His instincts to eat her take over he must fight them to survive and prove that he is stronger than what his body wants him to be. Meanwhile the hunt for the next Beastar, a representative of the coalition between the two groups is underway, and a red deer, Louis (or Rouis depending) with his own angst fights for that.

It’s hard not to compare this and Zootopia endlessly. The fact they both have lion mayors is crazy enough, along with a rabbit main character, a crime family connected to the mystery, and the battle between what is natural and what is outdated programming we must fight are all shown in spades. The main difference that sets this apart from Zootopia, aside from the overall lack of comedy, is how this series focuses on the toll society has forced onto the main characters and how they fight to be who they want to be in it.

This theme of societal pressure and impact on how the characters see themselves runs deep through every character. The standouts are the leads, Legoshi, Haru the rabbit, and Louis. Legoshi, despite being a towering presence is retrained, quite, and timid. He had to force his baser instincts in order to stay sane, and only tries to use them in order to help others. This ends up making him a repressed individual in every possible way.

Haru was taught to see herself as weak and needed to find a way to make herself feel equal. The way that’s gone about, making her a slut, is an interesting choice. When that trope is used it’s never seen as literal. It’s always a mistake or misunderstanding, but pushing it to be true, and deal with the consequences of why someone would do that and the psychological impact that would have is powerful. Louis ( or Rouis. The dub makes it a L sound yet it’s spelled with an R… yay transitional impossiblities) wants to prove he is powerful despite being only a deer. He doesn’t want to be seen as weak or helpless, but a fighter to make a better world. Every character is so easy to go into detail, that’s how well it’s thought out. But the standout for minor characters is the mayor. Since carnivores are seen as monsters he went about getting plastic surgery to make himself look more like an herbivore in order to gain political power. Not many other series would go into that much detail.

That level of detail does not stop with the characters. The world also feels very fleshed out. On a design level it is nowhere close to unique as Zootopia’s inclusive utopia. Most animals in Beastars are mostly humanoid with vague animal features: claws, beaks, tails, etc. The most detail we get on that front are smaller doors, chairs, and seating areas for the smaller animals. No, instead what’s thought out is the diet of the animals that live in the world, and what sort of economies would exist because of that. Having a black market for meat, and people who sell their limbs for money is genius. Horrifying, but genius, and plays into that theme of societal pressures.

This series would, of course, not be nearly as impactful if not for the stellar direction and CGI model work gone into the show. It looks like no other anime out there. It’s fluid, expressive movements, creative camera work, editing, and staging all makes it feel incredibly artistic. The backgrounds suffer from being bland, again going back to how safe the anthropomorphic animals look, but the way the spaces are used is creative. When the spaces are used to their fullest for action or drama everything is made impact from how the characters move, how inner thoughts are expressed, and the symbolism of what it all means. The latter character monologues are sold hard by the great dub cast. Everyone brings a nice grounded performance that has just enough angst to feel genuine, but not too much that it feels Hot Topic levels of woah-is-me.

The series is not perfect however. It goes off the rails, not as literally as Zootopia does but does none the less, when it introduces a lion mafia that Legoshi fights through. That all feels too out there for the material. I would not say that the mafia existing is too far, but Legoshi being able to storm the building video game style, even with help, feels too far. One, maybe two predators would feel right, but a whole pride of lions is too far. The season also suffers from it only being the first season (of at least two planned) and small part of an ongoing manga series. That means some arcs have not wrapped up, and the inciting incident… the murder mystery is not even closed to being resolved. If a second season does come it will be interesting to see how it’s resolved, or I could just read the manga. It would probably be better.

In fact, I would be interested to read the manga mostly to see just how toned down the anime is. I’m not saying it is, but it feels less explicit despite the content of sex and violence shown and covered. Also, since I’m someone who’s been on the internet too long, seeing so much emphasis placed onto attractive animal characters does feel weird. I mean people like what they like, and they’re not real, but I can only imagine what sort of art exists out there for this show.

I often overthink the term “graphic novel” because I feel it’s misused. Just because a series of panels laid to create a narrative and placed into a book technically meets the criteria it does not make it a novel. Naruto, love it or hate it, is not a novel. It’s a fun ninja romp to be sure, but not a novel. Beastars feels like a novel. It’s also paced like one, but it’s total devotion to theme and character with minimal outstanding action feels fresh. It feels honest. It feels like a true story of what living in an oppressive society can be like, and that makes it more than anime Zootopia.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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