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Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 3

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 3. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

It’s time for the Meteor Festival, which honors the world’s dinosaur ancestors. While helping to decorate the town, gray wolf Legoshi runs into dwarf rabbit Haru and finds he is still inexorably drawn to her. Is it a crush or bloodlust? Is it her or any small animal? Relationships are complicated for carnivores—their bird classmates lay the eggs they eat, and some desperate herbivores even sell their body parts on the black market. Then, when Bengal tiger Bill is tempted to buy a piece of forbidden meat, he tries to convince Legoshi to join him…

The Review

Legoshi’s first time on stage turns into a bloodied brawl with Bill the Tiger, but Louis manages to put a positive spin on the unscripted carnivore fight. His smooth talking defuses what could’ve been a PR nightmare for the Drama Club, but Legoshi’s left to ponder why he snapped in the first place. Haru is at the center of his confounding emotions, so he seeks her out.

Unlike their previous encounters, this one is simply hilarious. First because it’s timed as Haru’s fending off a mean girl attack. There’s something immensely satisfying about a victim telling off her bullies while they’re unable to retaliate. Second is the contrast between Haru’s and Legoshi’s outward behavior at the cafeteria and the frantic thoughts bubbling in their brains. It’s similar to shy teens struggling to manage a conversation with the opposite sex but with an additional level of agitation due to their herbivore/carnivore differences.

The story then breaks from the main arc for a single-chapter interlude about a hen student. An approved source of protein for carnivore students is eggs, and Legom shows us how the system works. I’d wondered how birds felt about providing eggs for consumption, and Legom gives her personal perspective about her part-time job.

Then it’s back to Legoshi as he chances upon some first-year herbivores picking on the young female wolf Juno. Turns out he’s not the only gray wolf struggling at Cherrystone. After Legoshi drives the bullies off, the two wolves commiserate on how difficult the school social order is. By the end of the chapter, Juno clearly has a crush on Legoshi.

A romance between the two wolves would be adorable, but love quickly gets shoved aside in favor of bloodlust. Legoshi goes with several carnivore club members to take care of an errand in town, and the students unwittingly stumble upon the black market.

This is our first glimpse of the world beyond the school grounds. The creator modeled it after Ginza, Shibuya, and New York, and it very much looks like a bustling modern city. On the surface, adult herbivores and carnivores live in harmony, but the back alleys tell an uglier story. Bean burgers don’t cut it for all carnivores, and according to Bill, the goods of the black market are what keeps carnivore urges at bay.

We’ve seen Bill with his rabbit blood before, so the existence of the market isn’t a shock. What is a shock is the appearance of the “Guardian of the Black Market” and his immediate presumption that Legoshi MUST have killed herbivores. His questionable actions give him a sketchy aura, so when he claims to be a doctor, a psychotherapist, I’m skeptical, especially when he claims to use small-animal porn to evaluate patients. At any rate, it’s clear that this society is a lot more broken than it appears on the surface, and Legoshi is by no means the only one struggling with the instincts in his blood.

Extras include story thus far, cast of characters, character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Legoshi and Haru meet again, and this time they manage to start something resembling a relationship. It’s a lot like teenagers trying to interact with the opposite sex for the first time with the added complication of the whole carnivore/herbivore dynamic. Then that dynamic intensifies for Legoshi when he encounters the goods of the black market. It is an unsettling portrait of what happens when carnivores go bad, and makes you wonder how things between Legoshi and Haru will end up.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 02

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 2. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Dwarf rabbit Haru’s odd behavior causes wolf Legoshi to flee. He then learns that the Drama Club recruits new students with inner demons. What does their club president, red deer Louis, wrestle with? Before Legoshi can figure it out, Louis pressures him to face not only his own weaknesses but also his strengths. Legoshi’s character is truly put to the test when his onstage fight choreography with Bengal tiger Bill turns all too real. Has someone broken the school rules? And could the battle between Legoshi and Bill involve…rabbits?

The Review

Volume 1 ends with Legoshi unexpectedly encountering the rabbit he attacked during an errand for the Drama Club. In Volume 2, that scene progresses but not in the way you’d expect. Despite the injury to her arm, Haru doesn’t remember Legoshi’s attack. As such, she treats him like any other male student. As for Legoshi, he’s completely unaware of Haru’s reputation. So when Haru assumes he wants what every boy wants from her, it *ahem* comes as a shock to the innocent young wolf.

Haru’s upfront manner also took me by surprise. I had assumed the rumors about her were unfounded, that she was being unfairly slandered by that jealous harlequin rabbit. Judging from her interaction with Legoshi and a candid conversation between male students, she has slept with a number of herbivore guys and had no hesitation offering herself to a carnivore like Legoshi. I also got thrown off because I thought intimate relationships stayed within species, but I guess not? Anyway, although Haru’s been branded a slut, Legoshi sees her as a nice girl, which complicates his already complicated emotions about her.

Then the focus shifts back to the Drama Club, which is getting ready for its first performance of the year. Amid their frantic preparations, we learn that only beasts that have been deeply traumatized are invited to join that club. It is a strange criteria, and we’ve yet to meet to the advisor who supposedly scouts out these scarred kids. However, the information initiates speculation about what dark secret the seemingly perfect Louis could harbor.

The perspective then actually switches to Louis’ as he takes the stage for the play’s opening performance. We know he’s good at putting up an act on multiple levels. Now we get his unfiltered thoughts on his fellow students and circumstances as his plans go awry.

It’s pretty much a given that Louis’ hidden injury would eventually get out. The surprising twist is that Legoshi gets recruited to take the role vacated by Louis’ understudy Bill. Bill the Tiger is Legoshi’s polar opposite, and their different personalities make for gripping conflict on and off stage. It does get a little over the top when Louis inserts himself between the two clashing carnivores, but other than that, it demonstrates how tenuous the school’s herbivore/carnivore peace is.

Extras include character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Things get awkward between Legoshi and the rabbit he nearly ate–but not the way you’d expect. Similarly, Louis’ injury forces last-minute changes in the school play, but not the way you’d expect. Itagaki-sensei does an excellent job keeping the plot interesting and heightening the tension at Academy with the emotional baggage of the main characters.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 01

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 1. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

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?

The Review

Cherrystone Academy is a school where herbivore and carnivore animals attend class side-by-side in peace. At least, until alpaca student and drama club star Tem is found murdered on campus. Herbivores immediately suspect their carnivore classmates, and the one who draws the most suspicion is drama club stagehand Legoshi the wolf. But even though Legoshi’s big, he’s far from bad; he’s a law-abiding citizen if there ever was one. Unfortunately, as the drama club struggles to prepare their next performance in the wake of Tem’s death, Legoshi gets dragged into one conflict after another, causing a savage bloodlust to stir in the mild-mannered wolf’s veins.

The mangaka mentions in the afterword, “This is a animal manga that is a human drama.” And it is. The cast are animals who get categorized by and retain key traits of their species, but they all walk on two legs, have hands with opposable thumbs, speak a common language, and wear school uniforms. Within the student body, you can identify the school bullies, elitist machinator, jealous wannabe, and social outcast. Our main character Legoshi is the epitome the scary-looking guy who’s completely misunderstood. After all, he literally is a big wolf, and classmates assume he’s bad to boot.

The story begins with Tem’s murder, and Chapter 1 is dedicated to an herbivore’s perspective of Legoshi’s suspicious actions the next day. However, rather than turning into a murder mystery, the plot focus shifts to the impact on Tem’s club. The drama club kids aren’t playing detective; they’re trying to put on a theater production, and they have to find a replacement for Tem. Thus we have an engaging mix of school and club politics on top of the carnivore/herbivore tension, and unfortunately for Legoshi, he gets unwillingly dragged into it all.

Cherrystone Academy is essentially an allegory for a heterogeneous community, and the rules that maintain peace between the animals represent the social standards that maintain order between varied people groups. As in our world, individuals at Cherrystone must keep their personal urges in check for the greater good. And just as circumstances in this world can drive some to give way to their baser urges, the antagonism of Legoshi’s classmates causes a predatory instinct to erupt within the young wolf, and his struggle to master that hitherto unknown bloodthirst looks like it’ll be an intriguing one.

The artwork, I should mention, is not this series’ strong suit. In the spectrum of manga art, this definitely falls in the ”rough” range. The style is scribbly and includes a lot of hatch marks. The animals are cartoony rather than cute or elegant, and certain species, especially smaller mammals, are difficult to tell apart.

Extras include character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Beastars begins with a murder but winds up relating the internal conflict that results when an individual must suppress his innate nature to be accepted by society. Legoshi is a likable main character, and it is surprisingly easy to sympathize with the misunderstood wolf as he deals with distrustful classmates and a manipulative club officer. The premise of carnivores wanting to live in peace with herbivore comrades and choosing to subsist on bean-based burgers is a little farfetched though.

First published at The Fandom Post.