*Major spoilers for Beastars Season 2 ahead*
Oh boy, here we go. Please bear with me as I try to untangle my thoughts about this show.
Season 2 of Beastars has plenty of fodder for analysis, given that it covers major ground in terms of plot due to the unveiling of Tem the alpaca’s murderer. Although there’s plenty worth covering, I’d like to hone in on the most prominent theme that I see represented in the show: self-acceptance.
Despite its dramatic plot points about a school killer, animal yakuza, and tension between two opposing social groups, at the heart of Beastars is a story about a group of youths beginning to understand who they are and their place in the world, eventually leading to a clear message about self-acceptance. Both Legoshi and Louis’ characters develop in a way that makes this clear.
Legoshi begins Season 2 as he was through much of Season 1. Wracked with guilt over his own carnivorous tendencies and still conflicted about what his feelings are for Haru, he is adamant about rejecting his carnivore side to protect his herbivore friends. From an audience perspective, we can also understand that perhaps he is this dogmatic about rejecting his carnivorous side because he is compensating for a fear that he has about himself – that he’s a monster, like all of society seems to think he might be due to his stature and appearance as a grey wolf.
His commitment to rejecting his carnivore instincts is dramatically represented in a training arc designed by Gohin, a giant panda who works in the Black Market to rehabilitate carnivores who have given in to their instincts. Outside of physical training, for much of this training arc, Legoshi meditates in front of a giant pillar of herbivore meat, presumably to destroy his temptation to devour meat. At first, it seems like Legoshi has triumphed over his own carnal self. With newfound fighting skills and an insane amount of self-control over his own instincts, Legoshi works alongside Gohin to capture carnivores who have gone meat-crazy and who stop at nothing to devour their next prey. However, Legoshi’s character development soon takes a turn that reveals that this first attempt to become strong enough to protect his herbivore friends was ineffective.
Despite having gained an impressive amount of combat acumen and an otherworldly ability to resist temptation, Legoshi is left physically weak as a result of the training. He’s emaciated, and in a test of strength typical for the carnivores in Beastars, he fails to match the jaw strength in a bite test he used to ace. This becomes an issue as he seeks to confront Tem’s murderer – he needs to get stronger, and fast.
Eventually, Legoshi does gain the strength to beat Tem’s murderer, and it’s in this two-part solution that Beastars makes its statement about self-acceptance. The first part of this solution is eating a moth larva, which serves as the equivalent of a hallucinogenic, strength-increasing drug in the world of Beastars. In a spectacular dream sequence triggered by consuming the moth larva, Legoshi confronts the would-be adult moth that the larva would become (don’t worry… I can’t believe I’m writing this either), and he apologizes profusely for taking its life. In response, the moth reassures him that the act of eating him is less important than simply having genuine respect for all life forms. In gratitude, Legoshi thanks the moth for its strength and consumes it wholeheartedly.
The second part of the solution actually takes place during Legoshi’s final encounter with Tem’s murderer. Unable to gain an upper hand against him, Legoshi seems about to admit defeat, until Louis shows up just in time. In a frankly insane turn of events (but what did I expect… it’s Beastars after all), Louis offers his own leg as food to Legoshi to boost his strength. Legoshi begrudgingly accepts, and he wins the duel.
It’s not hard to understand the message here. Legoshi is only able to protect herbivores by defeating Tem’s unjust murderer not by denouncing his carnivore roots, but by more fully embracing them and consuming meat in the form of the moth and Louis’ leg. The nuance here is in the fact that although Legoshi did in fact have to use a carnivore’s methods to fight, well, another carnivore, Legoshi did not succumb to his instincts, which validates all his effort in his training regimen – but more on that later.
As mentioned previously, Louis’ character development in Season 2 runs parallel to Legoshi’s in that it also points to a strong central theme of self-acceptance. Offering his leg to Legoshi is the most dramatic example of this – by doing so, Louis accepts his place in the world as an herbivore. However, Louis’s journey of self-acceptance that leads up to this takes up the bulk of his screen time in Season 2.
Throughout Season 2, we see Louis’ stint as the temporary leader of the Shishi-Gumi, a yakuza-like gang of lions that operates within the Black Market. At first, this unusual hierarchy was arranged out of necessity. Ibuki, the second-in-command of the Shishi-Gumi, sees making Louis the new boss an opportunity for the Shishi-Gumi to create a new reputation for themselves, and Louis complies out of fear for his life if he doesn’t. Louis forces himself to eat meat in order to fit in with the lions, and throughout the course of the series, we see Ibuki and the other lions form a genuine respect for their new boss. On Louis’ end, he forms a grudging respect for the lions he commands and the innate strength they have as carnivores.
This series of events has implications for Louis due to his constant struggle throughout the series, which is his sense of helplessness as an herbivore. Having been originally marked to be sold as prey in the Black Market and having had intense pressure put upon him to be the next Beastar (the student who has the most potential to unite carnivores and herbivores), Louis wishes for strength and envies yet resents carnivores for having been born with it. In the context of this internal struggle, being established as the boss of a gang of lions is his time to experiment with what it’s like to be a carnivore. Louis feels what it’s like to be at the top of the food chain for the first time in his life – and we see that he struggles. He can’t eat their food and he loses weight because he secretly purges the meat he eats from his body, and he’s separated from the life as a student that he once had. Realizing that he has been running away from his responsibilities and understanding from his unexpected connection with Ibuki that he doesn’t hate carnivores, but in fact respects them, Louis gains the strength to leave the Shishi-Gumi, culminating in his dramatic rendezvous with Legoshi to offer him his leg as a power-up in his final face-off with Tem’s murderer. Here, Louis fully accepts that his strength cannot come from the same place as a carnivore’s strength, and he begins to respect himself as an herbivore.
Common to both Legoshi and Louis’ journeys to self-acceptance is the recontextualization of negative traits into strengths. Legoshi accepts that him being a monster also makes him strong, while Louis accepts that him being weak doesn’t make him helpless. I think a pretty powerful moment that exemplifies Louis’ acceptance is the way that the show deals with him offering himself to Legoshi as meat. At first, viewers are made to believe for a brief moment that Legoshi has devoured all of Louis, until we see Louis clutching the stump of his missing leg and encouraging Legoshi from afar. Louis has accepted his place as an herbivore not from a place of having given up, but as a way to support the cause he believes in. Moreover, we realize that the leg that he’s given up is the same leg that had the tattoo that marked him as livestock to be sold in the Black Market. By offering Legoshi this same foot, this literally removes his brand as “prey”, relinquishing him of that label – Louis is not weak because he is an herbivore.
Louis accepting his status as an herbivore but not giving in to natural “instinct”, which would be to be devoured whole as the natural assumption, brings up the point introduced earlier, which is that Legoshi also did not succumb to instinct despite having accepted himself. Both Legoshi and Louis practice self-acceptance without giving in to instinct, which is the nuance that Beastars seeks to provide to their overall message about self-acceptance.
This important distinction is emphasized through the direct juxtaposition between Louis and Legoshi’s friendship and the relationship between Tem and his murderer, Riz the brown bear. Riz originally finds Tem to be a deeply comforting friend due to Tem’s acceptance of Riz despite his power and size. Tragically, Riz lets down his guard because of this and ceases to take his strength-reducing drugs which also inhibit his predatory instincts, and he devours Tem accidentally. Overcome with guilt and confused about whether his love for Tem was due to his natural instincts as a predator or if they were truly platonic, Riz deludes himself into thinking that Tem sacrificed himself to him as a mutual but morbid act of friendship. We begin to recognize that Riz’s mistake was conflating self-acceptance with succumbing to instinct, but we also begin to understand that Legoshi could easily have become Riz as well. This serves to both humanize Riz and further highlight the main message of mature self-acceptance that Beastars has to offer.
Beastars does a great job of delineating this message through the parallel storylines of Legoshi and Louis, as well as through the contrasting tragic plot line about Riz and Tem. It makes for a great wrap-up for a two season arc that I’ve been happy to follow, and I’m hoping that future seasons will be just as entertaining and engaging. I humbly have to admit that this is the easiest theme to identify – there’s so much that I’m still trying to understand about what Beastars might be saying about race and sexuality that I just don’t feel comfortable analyzing right now, but I think this is also what makes Beastars a series worth exploring. Thanks for bearing with me (no pun intended…) through my thoughts, and I hope that this at least sparked an intent to dive deeper into what Beastars has to offer.