Beastars is the newest manga to be released under the Viz Signature line, a banner that specializes in sophisticated or edgy titles aimed at an older audience, so I knew that I was in for something a little different with this series.
In a world inhabited by anthropomorphized animals, predators and prey seem to coexist peacefully thanks to laws that make killing herbivores a grave crime, but mistrust and prejudice are boiling under the surface of this veneer of mutual civility. When an alpaca student is murdered at Cherryton Academy, tensions start to build between the herbivore and the carnivore students. Legoshi, a grey wolf who has always made people nervous due to his large size, finds that his classmates are becoming even more wary of him, as the police suspect a carnivore student of committing the murder. Legoshi seems to be a gentle soul, but could his predatory instincts get the better of him when temptation presents itself?
Beastars does an excellent job of efficiently establishing the divide that exists between the carnivore and herbivore students without bogging down the flow of the narrative by giving us too much background information. An offhand comment about separate herbivore dorms establishes that this is a segregated society without the need for a big information dump and the details are filled in later. Likewise, we are shown through the types of things the characters say that, while the murder of Tem, the alpaca, is fueling a lot of the mistrust we observe on the part of the herbivore population, these ugly feelings are not anything new. Rather, Legoshi is used to nervous glances and having his awkward behavior misinterpreted as threatening, as his large size and status as a carnivore has made him a subject of fear his whole life. As a result, Legoshi tries to always act in a manner that’s timid and unobtrusive. He is frequently drawn stooping over or walking in a hunched posture, probably a habit he developed in an effort to make himself look smaller and less scary. These subtle details go a long way to make this society and these characters feel realistic, despite the fantastical nature of the world. All of this could have come together to make a very powerful statement about the nature of bigotry, but I feel that the manga undercuts its own message by establishing that the carnivores actually do have violent instincts that they are suppressing. We are shown that Legoshi feels an overwhelming urge to chase and devour Haru, a dwarf rabbit, when he encounters her on a dark night. He briefly gives in to these instincts and does run after her when she flees and even winds up injuring her. Now, I don’t think that any of these animals are intended to be directly analogous to any real-world groups, but this is still an uncomfortable plot point because it seems to imply that the herbivores are justified in their fear and disdain and I feel that this weakens the overall messaging of the narrative.
On a positive note, I found myself becoming fascinated with the character of Louis, a Red Deer from an affluent family and one of the leaders of the drama club, of which Legoshi is also a member. Louis covets the position of Beastar, someone who is trusted by all students, herbivores and carnivores alike, and is thus destined to be a leader in their society. Louis takes an interest in Legoshi after he realizes that the wolf is purposefully acting in a non-threatening manner when Legoshi steps in to stop him from getting hit by a student upset about a casting decision. Louis is a complicated character; he is intense, arrogant and occasionally nasty, but he is also very perceptive and can be helpful if he feels compelled to be. What makes him intriguing is that it is unclear at this point if his rare acts of kindness are genuine or are calculated moves made to further his own goals. He is highly driven and this makes it hard to always tell what his motivations are. Is he actually an okay guy or does he ultimately only care about himself? I’m looking forward to seeing where his character goes in future volumes.
Despite some quibbles I found myself being drawn into the captivating world of Beastars. Can the divide between the herbivores and the carnivores ever be bridged? Who will achieve the status of Beastar? And who murdered Tem? I’ll definitely be picking up future volumes of this series so that I can learn the answers to these questions!
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10.
For more information on Beastars visit Viz Media’s website: https://www.viz.com/read/manga/beastars-volume-1/product/5969/paperback
Be sure to let me know what you thought of this manga in the comments. Are you looking forward to the anime adaptation? Also, check out my reviews of the other volumes in the series:
- Beastars Vol 2 Review
- Beastars Vol 3 Review
- Beastars Vol 4 Review
- Beastars Vol 5 Review
- Beastars Vol 6 Review
- Beastars Vol 7 Review
- Beastars Vol 8 Review