Beastars is the latest manga from Viz’s Signature imprint, which is their primo line highlighting the best and boldest books today. It features humanized animals who live and go to school sharing classrooms and clubs, herbivores and carnivores together. It’s a world where predator and prey is a thing of the past, or at least people thought so before the opening murder which set the school on fire. Call it Zootopia with an adult edge.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
One night at Cherryton Academy, an herbivore student is brutally murdered. Among the members of the Drama Club, the herbivores’ suspicions naturally turn to their carnivore classmates… The prime suspect? Wolf Legoshi. But he wouldn’t hurt a fly. Or would he? Will dwarf rabbit Haru bring out the beast in him? Or are his feelings for her… something else?
Why does this matter?
This is a series that is exploring the awkwardness and prejudice of society and which might be the perfect book for teenagers. That is, if you ignore a rather large red flag two-thirds through the manga.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
As the story goes this is a somewhat familiar take on a school kid drama with the added twist of animals being the main characters. Right up front it opens with the murder, which sets the school abuzz with worry. Who was the carnivore that killed Tem? Was it his best friend Legoshi? It’s an interesting way to introduce the main character seeing as we immediately don’t trust him and assume he’s the murderer. The first half of the manga spends its time setting up the characters and establishing the fact that Legoshi is probably innocent.
Legoshi is a relatable protagonist who is one of the largest carnivores in school, but he’s also the tamest and seemingly innocent. He likes to look at bugs and talks about them in an almost poetic way. You’ll sympathize with his slight awkwardness and shy demeanor. We soon meet other characters who join Legoshi in drama club who range from goats to dogs. Generally, this is a colorful cast of characters who have personalities you’ll recognize if you’ve ever been to college or taken drama classes.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The manga has a very problematic moral turn midway through the book. Legoshi is looking out for some friends at night outside a school building. He soon spots a tiny rabbit classmate and his carnal nature takes over. He swoops in and attempts to eat her. It’s at this point that the story shifts to the tiny rabbit Haru’s perspective. She’s a girl with no friends who recently fooled around with another rabbit’s boyfriend. She admits boys are attracted to her because she looks vulnerable. It seems the entire purpose of Haru is to establish she’s a target desired by men.
The story then shifts back to the Legoshi attack scene where he’s basically fighting his carnal nature not to eat her. The problem here is it’s depicted in a sexual sort of way (when recounting the scene we see Legoshi through Haru’s legs, for instance) and one could take Legoshi’s perspective as that of a rapist. A strange dark figure inside his head appears and tells him to act on his desire to devour Haru. Legoshi says many erratic things in this scene, one of which struck me as particularly scary when he says, “I wonder how good it would feel if my mouth were to fill with your warmth.” And yet, Legoshi is the hero in this tale! Since the story spent time humanizing and making you sympathize with Legoshi you’re now stuck with this character’s choice to do an act that is despicable and wrong. To further hammer home the obvious sexual allusion the book ends with Legoshi admitting he is entering a “garden of temptation” when he sees Haru later on. This is a story that teenagers, and probably adults, won’t want to read. It sneaks up on you making you like a character who ends up being despicable and doing a terrible thing. It’s all an allusion to rape and that doesn’t sit right with me.
Outside of this negative, the art can look a bit sloppy. It appears to be done in pen and it has a sketchy look that is certainly unique but can be inconsistent and awkward.
Is it good?
I really liked what I was reading until the midway point. The fact is this story draws you in by making you trust and relate to a character only to flip the script so that you side with a sexual predator. The sexual nature of the victim is seemingly there only to rationalize the behavior of the protagonist, which does not sit right with me. I’m giving this one a 4.5 out of 10 simply because I liked half of it.