Beastars has always been kind of a sensation ever since its first season appeared on Netflix in March of 2020. While many were wary of the show for its first impressions and appearance – anime and furry characters on first glance seem like a perfect recipe for a slew of escapist and sexual tropes that most viewers generally don’t find very appealing – the first season was well-received and set up a dramatic murder mystery, a burgeoning love story, and a Zootopia-esque carnivore versus herbivore social problem that grounds the show in real tension. Beastars’ second season wastes no time and gets right to the point, and it continues to deliver.
The heart of the show is still Legoshi, a mild-mannered grey wolf who is committed to overcoming his predatory instincts so that he can protect herbivores and ultimately be in a stable relationship with Hal (or Haru), a white dwarf rabbit who he’s in love with. It’s the star-crossed lovers trope taken to the logical extreme – what if the barriers between you and your lover weren’t geographical or social, but biological? The situation is extreme and ridiculous, but in my opinion, it works because it’s used as a medium to explore Legoshi’s very human way of dealing with this insurmountable problem. We see him explore his own nature and get to know himself as a carnivore, and most notably, we see how his commitment to Haru puts him at odds with the rest of society, which often more readily acknowledges the tenuous peace between carnivores and herbivores than he does. In the world of Beastars, carnivores and herbivores coexist peacefully on paper. At Cherryton, Legoshi’s high school, carnivores and herbivores eat vegetarian meals that are customized to their tastes, and co-educational clubs with both carnivores and herbivores allow the two to intermingle and make friends with each other. But underlying this veneer is the constant threat of carnivores giving in to their instincts and devouring an herbivore, and this inner desire is allowed to thrive discreetly in settings such as this society’s not-so-secret Black Market, where carnivores can purchase herbivore meat.
Legoshi’s very public stance against institutions such as the Black Market and his dogmatic approach to protecting herbivores earns him the distrust of fellow carnivores, and the idealistic naivete with which he approaches his personal problem and the way he projects it on the people he interacts with is relatable and human. It brings up questions that I’m sure all of us – because all of us have believed in something, I’m sure – can relate to: How far do we take our own morals and principles when they may be at odds with the rest of society’s consensus? When do we know when something we believe in is realistic and achievable, and if it’s not, do we compromise? Legoshi’s predicament takes what looks like a ridiculous premise at first look and makes it into a very real investigation into these questions.
What I like about Beastars’ treatment of this central plotline is how it offers different perspectives on it through the exploration of different characters. The show’s deuteragonist, Louis the red deer, seems to be set up as Legoshi’s foil in the second season, and the way he handles the persistent carnivore versus herbivore issue contrasts directly with Legoshi’s idealism. Originally Cherryton’s golden boy and the shoo-in choice to be the next Beastar, which is a prestigious title awarded to the student who is deemed most capable of uniting carnivores and herbivores, Louis drops out of school and becomes involved in the Black Market himself as the head of the Shishi-Gumi, a literal den of lions that is rather comically the stand-in for a Yakuza-like gang in the Beastars world.
At first, it seems like there’s a lot of contradictions here. Louis, a red deer and herbivore, is leading a gang of meat-eaters who operate in the Black Market. However, it becomes clear that he’s acting as some sort of damage control. By reining in the Shishi-Gumi lions and gaining their respect, it’s possible that the rampant carnivorism favored by the Shishi-Gumi was toned down to a more reasonable level. It’s more hard-boiled, it’s morally grey, and it’s far from Legoshi’s idealism, but Louis’ approach represents a more practical, perhaps more realistic take on their society’s main problem. Louis’ character explores how someone disillusioned with the world yet who still believes in a cause might try and find their niche within it, and it’s ultimately just as relatable as Legoshi’s arc.
The show does an impressive job of balancing all this with the driving force of the plot, an ever-present shadow that continues to affect these characters’ lives: the devouring of Tem the alpaca, which was presented as an unsolved mystery in the first episode of the show. This plot point reels in the overarching problem of carnivores and herbivores and makes it personal to the characters. Although the tone of the show is generally humorous and light when it comes to the characters’ school lives, there is always ambient tension from the hidden threat presented by a masked murderer in the students’ midst, and it serves to make the threat of a carnivore devouring an herbivore a real, daily threat that’s personal to these students. Legoshi’s journey of self-discovery entwines with this plotline well, as his coming to terms with his own carnivorism means confronting this mystery killer and his opposing ideals, and this set up makes for a climax for the second season that I enjoyed a lot.
Aside from these plot and character elements, the show constantly delivers visually. The art direction never fails to impress me, given how very human character traits and emotions are coded so effectively in animal forms that are still very recognizable. A consistent source of joy for me is how the world is imagined. I love how since all the animals retain their relative sizes (for the most part), the buildings and ‘man-made’ settings in the Beastars world are accurately designed to accommodate different animal sizes and needs. The level of detail in this show when it comes to committing to an anthropomorphic world is astounding, and it captivates viewers’ imaginations very effectively (“Huh… I never thought that sheep probably wouldn’t wear polyester since it creates static electricity… but that checks out”).
All these components make for a well-rounded show that I enjoyed thoroughly, even the parts that were clearly more ridiculous due to its anthropomorphic nature. If viewers are willing to keep an open mind, I’m convinced that many will find themselves enjoying a show with genuinely charming characters, enthralling plotlines, and a world that will certainly stimulate their imaginations.