I did not expect to like Beastars nearly as much as I did. Despite hearing hype from multiple sources, I had seen Zootopia pretty recently, so I felt pretty confident I knew every trick up their sleeve. Okay, that was only half of a joke.
However, I was delightfully surprised. The story was well-written and left a lot of room for exploration, its animation was dynamic and the CG compositing was smooth, and the music was consistently amazing. It actually isn’t that often that I get distracted in the middle of an anime because the soundtrack is going off.
However, I was most impressed by far with the characters, in particular the three main characters, Legoshi, Haru, and Louis. My praise doesn’t stop there, as even side acts like Bill or Juno were thoughtfully written despite their short screentime. So as the second season is set to air this winter, I’d like to take some time and analyze at least the main three, and how mangaka Paru Itagaki has made these intensely human characters through animal allegory.
This essay will contain moderate character spoilers for the first season of Beastars, and very minor story spoilers. Truthfully, the story has not gone very far besides the development of these characters, so this could be a simple introduction to the world of Beastars.
Beastars takes place in a boarding school for animals, where tensions run high between the carnivores and herbivores. Days prior to the debut of the school play, Tem, a herbivore member of the drama club, is killed by a carnivore. Tem’s classmate, Legoshi, is shocked by his friend’s death, just as his own predatory instincts become overwhelming, causing him to attack Haru, a rabbit classmate. After snapping out of it, Legoshi meets Haru later only to find she has no memory of her attacker’s appearance, and the two strike up a friendship. This puts Legoshi into conflict with Louis, the star of the school play and Haru’s lover. Louis increasingly demands Legoshi lean further into his predatory nature while he struggles to keep himself in check as he falls for Haru.
I’d like to address Haru first, as it is difficult to address Legoshi’s character without first being familiar with both her and Louis. Haru is deceptively complicated, and this does not become apparent until late in the first season. With Legoshi, we are audience to his thought process, and Louis just kind of screams tragic backstory, but Haru’s conflicts seem simple by comparison. As a pure white dwarf rabbit, she’s considered very attractive among the herbivores, and as a result has a large number of boyfriends and flings.
I’ll admit that I was put off by Beastar’s overt sexuality considering all of its characters look much more like animals than, say, Bojack Horseman. However, to their credit, they don’t use Haru’s proclivities for easy fan service. Her promiscuity is not an act of hedonism, but rather her demanding respect and equal treatment from her peers. As one of the weakest animals, Haru is used to being treated as lesser and as a child, thus she discovers that asserting her bodily autonomy is a method to being seen as an equal.
Her classmates find the transactional nature of her relationships distasteful, but Haru values being treated as an adult worth their scorn. The options presented to her are few, especially as she angrily confronts Legoshi over how he can never sympathize with the plight of herbivores. A gray wolf has so much less to fear than a rabbit, after all, and it resonates similarly to conversations surrounding violence towards women. However, the analogy is not 1:1, as we can see when Louis is easily overpowered by a female carnivore classmate.
Writing a promiscuous character is a hard line to ride, as most manga tend to slip off onto the side of fan service or to stepping up on a soapbox. If Haru were written too crudely, then it would either undermine the seriousness of Beastar’s narrative, or feel as though the viewer was being preached at. However, the writing here is especially egalitarian, and it’s almost refreshing to see a character be this nonchalant about sexual activity, even if they are keeping to broadcast standards. I mean, most anime characters named after the Deadly Sin of Lust can’t manage that.
Haru is a lot more than her sexuality, but it is this dynamic that sets her apart from standard love interests. It’s worth noting the compassion she extends towards her classmates, or to dive further into the power structure that a society of predators and prey would create by simple nature. However, while I’d love to give each of these characters their own essay, I’m splitting time enough between Haru and the other two.
Louis, in contrast to Haru, is immediately presented as being complex and difficult to get a read on. He is the envy of the school and levies the power that affords him carefully, he’s almost akin to a king. He’s often cold and domineering, as though he was already raised above his classmates, but he also shows a kind of noblesse oblige that makes it hard to paint him as outright malicious.
One of the first things we see him do is peer pressure Legoshi into breaking school rules for his benefit. However, when their classmate trips on the auditorium stage, Louis saves him, breaking his leg in the process. Louis continues this juxtaposition between an imperious sociopath and someone who feels a deep need to help the people around him. It makes him difficult to categorize, and lends him intrigue throughout the first season.
To avoid any major spoilers, Louis has not had an easy life. He has risen far from the circumstances of his birth, and as he aims for the title of Beastar, a rank of great acclaim, it becomes more apparent. Beastars are almost always carnivores, and putting himself out there to attain that title puts him in a difficult place. As a character who possesses little in the way of physical menace, and has to rise on charisma and intellect, Louis must carefully navigate the waters he has jumped headlong into. He’s quite similar to Light from Death Note, or Lelouch of Code Geass, and both of those characters were often the victim of their own pride. They also have names that start with L, but I don’t think that’s relevant.
While he’s most often psychotic, there is clearly a lot more to Louis than we have seen so far. Season one has left him in an interesting position, and it’s tantalizing to think about how he is going to turn that to his advantage.
Before I dive into the character of Legoshi, I should state that I hold something of a mantra when writing characters and when examining them in media. William Faulkner once said that the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself, and I can’t help but think that was at the very least a line of thought in the writing of Beastars. Legoshi’s conflict throughout season one is defined by the two people he can be and already is, in a sense. Think of the meme “there are two wolves inside you”, except it’s really on the nose because Legoshi is a wolf.
Legoshi could be as clear cut as a wolf by birth who has a desire to devour meat and hunt his prey, but his nature isn’t just that one facet. He is also an incredibly kind and empathetic person by nature, the kind of person who would keep a pet beetle because he wants to know what it feels like to be near a small animal and know they’re not afraid of him. Both of these parts of Legoshi are the “real” him, and that he cannot divorce himself from the actions and behavior of each.
Legoshi’s character arc is incomplete as of yet, but it centers on a standard coming-of-age setup, where the protagonist has a part of himself that he cannot abide. However, Beastars does not advocate for gouging out your eye because it compelled you to sin. Legoshi realizes this as he comes into conflict with his classmates and adult carnivores who don’t share his scruples.
In truth, growing up is not about cutting out the bad parts and nurturing the good, Legoshi learns that he must cultivate every part of himself. To take a negative quality and refine it into a strength is at the heart of self-improvement. Legoshi has a long journey ahead of him in keeping his worst impulses at bay, but the direction of the story makes it clear that pacifism is not the answer, especially when dealing with the sorts of antagonists Legoshi runs up against.
And this plays into his interactions with Haru and Louis. Haru envies the natural strength and respect that accompanies being a tall and powerful animal, but her friendship and romance with Legoshi is rooted in their mutual kindness. Louis, to contrast, wants Legoshi to stand up and take control of his wolfish nature, going so far as to demand that Legoshi attack him. This is its own sort of jealousy, but the series hasn’t gotten much into that, so maybe i’ll leave it for an essay after season two drops.
Beastars has made a name for itself with painfully real characters, each of whom possess an absolute mountain of internal conflict, enough to fuel their own show. Just watching these people argue and angst in proximity to one another is fascinating. While I enjoyed the explosive climax towards the end of the show, I was even more impressed by the amount of time they dedicated to the falling action. Slow and thoughtful character development is the secret to any good action, allowing every confrontation to hold real personal stakes. With this kind of momentum going into the second season, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic.