It’s no secret that anime is a very insular medium. A real oroboros of ideas, themes, and settings. It made the shocking appearance of another show about a city filled with anthopormophic animals odd because of its specificity. That’s not the only oddity to be sure. They have the same Japanese distributer (or producer maybe) in Ultra, and is done by studio Trigger of Promare, Kill la Kill, and Little Witch Academia fame. But, is it good?
BNA, short for Brand New Animal, follows Michiru, a human who woke up as a shape-shifting tanooki Beastman. These beastmen are humanoid beings who can change their shape to look like animals. In order to figure out why she changed, Michiru runs away to Anima-City, a haven for Beastmen. There she runs into a grump wolf named Shiro. With him they will get to the bottom of her sudden change, and what human intrests have wormed their way into the city.
Overall, the series zigs in every way Zootopia and Beastars zags despite having so many similarities and the way it covers so many of the same topics. The primary example of this is the theme of prejudice and learning to live with others and be yourself. All three of these animal themed shows are about this, but unlike Zootopia and Beastars, BNA is far more literal. Instead of using diets as an allegory for prejudice, this show jumps all in on making Beastmen a seperate class with humans also existing. From there it uses that divide to drive the show’s plot and eventual thematic statement.
Despite this change it still holds much in common with both stories. Tonally this is far closer to Zootopia and what a Zootopia TV series would be like. Far more episodes focus on life in the city, the problems the Beastmen face, and ways they cope with life. On top of that, it is far far wackier. This even tackles what a hypothetical religion would be like in a world where beast people exist. This is Trigger after all, so they focus more on having every frame and story be full of energy and excitement. That means it is the least consistent in terms of overall quality, but does pack the biggest punches when they land.
Much of this unevenness comes from the well designed, but not always well written characters. The star is Michiru. Her optimism and push to solve everything while enjoying life is incredibly infectious. She is brought out more when her childhood friend, who also turned Beastman in the same accident, is introduced as a leader in a religious group. Their real friendship is heartwarming and feels genuine. They do feel like friends who try to understand and help the other even if they fight. It takes a while for that to happen, and their disagreements aren’t always greatly delved into. Most of it is built on intent. Intent is also the word Id used of Shiro the wolf. His character, once fully revealed, is interesting. He’s a true protector of the weak and helpless Beastmen with a chip on his shoulder. Unfortunately he’s not compelling outside of that to be interesting. He doesn’t have a great dynamic with Michiru, despite spending so much time with her. The most I can draw is that he reluctantly accepts her help and generally cares, but that’s all.
The rest of the series cast is built out of some genuinely interesting characters. You have the mafia boss because, again, these are all the same story. Instead he’s a Dolphin with an intimidating, but excitable disposition. There is a weasely minx that runs all the black market businesses, a delightful bear-themed baseball team, the mayor, and obvious villain Alan (you can tell he’s bad because he had the same haircut and look as Kray Foresight from Promare).
I realize it was in parentheses so it doesn’t count as part of the piece, just an aside, but Promare is a great comparison to this show even over Kill la Kill and Little Witch. Promare is all about being yourself and stopping those who try to force their ideals on you, all while the villain is secretly the thing he’s fighting. This show goes farther with that. Alan, literally blond hair and blue eyed, talks about being pure blooded and controls the world from the impure. The differences are what set these two stories apart, and makes BNA weaker for it.
Since, in Promare, the Burnish need to burn to survive and are seen as evil for setting fires, the Beastmen are normally fine, just can look like animals. It seems from that alone like the Beastmen are a better example of inequality based on your body. However, the Beastmen can go literally mad and monsterous if put under too much stress. The show finds a cure in kind of the best and worst way, but the point is that they can’t work out these stressful changes any other way. The Burnish, by contrast, have a way harmlessly burn and is shown multiple times in the movie how they could have lived in society. This is unfortunate only because, until that point the ethical arguments were far more interesting and it didn’t have to be that way. It could have been all created as a ploy from the villain to make them seem more monstrous, or that they can control themselves to be better, but it’s neither. It’s a thing with blood because this is just a bad mid-2010s film apparently.
This series, even though it does draw closely to Zootpia and Beastars, is a lot closer to something like X-Men in places. It even has a cure that’s fought for as a right to choose. This was by far the most interesting take even as it was simultaneously the most and least complex of the trio. It is the most fun, though, and that cannot be understated.
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