Anime Review Special:
Furry Double Feature!
By Christopher Kinsey
Is there a fandom that’s more held hostage than the furries? In many ways it’s an example of how a fandom can “Go Bad”. Way, way back when it was so much like any fandom, just a group of folks hanging around and enjoying a specific hobby. In the case of furries, it was media that depicted anthropomorphic animals. And rightfully so, there have been lots of media that is very fun, interesting and uses animals with human features. From books like The Wind in the Willows to films like Robin Hood to just about every cartoon format since cartoons became a thing. And as such they had fun conventions and the like. But somewhere along the way the script got flipped. The fans that took and decided to have sexualized room parties and the like decided that they deserved to be front and center, and well… here we are today. I know lots of folks who like anthromorphic media but always have to preface it with “I’m not a furry…” because the word now defines a fetish rather than a fandom.
I mourn not being able to say those words: I Like Rescue Rangers.
But much like the style of anime bleeding into western cartoons, the cartoons of Japan have given us a recent dose of furry shenanigans. And this is also coming from a long line of anthropomorphic animal-based anime like Sherlock Hound and The Cat Returns. Not to mention how many science fiction and fantasy series of the 90s incorporated furry-like designs as different species of aliens and what have you. But something about these two series seem like an answer to the many unnecessary questions left behind in the wake of the mega-hit movie Zootopia. I’ll get into that more in the reviews. First up:
BNA: Brand New Animal
Studio Trigger’s newest entry is yet another whirlwind mish-mash of ideas fired at you in a kaleidoscope of well-realized action and corny Japanese gags. It’s a world in which Beastmen exist, who are humanoid animals that have existed as long as humans have, but as man rose beastmen had to retreat further and further into the secluded areas of the world, becoming legend for a very long time. But now, off the shores of Japan, is built Anima City. A floating metropolis that is a sanctuary for beastmen of all species. Michiru is a normal human girl who, after getting hit by a bus while saving her friend’s life, is turned into a tanuki beastman and finally runs away to Anima City to escape persecution. While there she learns the ins and outs of this other society with her reluctant savior, Shirou, a wolf beastman. All beastmen have human and beast forms, but Michiru and Shirou have other special powers. Michiru can’t seem to return to her human form, but can transform her body into other forms like sprouting wings or gaining the speed of a cheetah. Shirou happens to be an unkillable demi-god that’s over 1000 years old. With Michiru’s outsider perspective and unique powers many problems with this beast society are uncovered such as…
You get yourself a girl that looks at you like dolphins look at raccoons
- -Racism -Child Trafficking -Terrorism -Racism (This time from the “allies”) -Rigged Baseball -Racism that leads to rigged baseball -False Religion -Assasination attempts on shady pharmaceutical magnates -Feral Rage! -Unethical live experimentation -Genocide -Beast on Beast violence -Eugenics -Double Reverse Racism
Important stuff. But this is Studio Trigger we’re talking about so it’s not actually going to discuss or attempt to look into these issues. It’s more of a backdrop to make cool things happen and honestly, for Trigger, it kind of works this time. Yoh Yoshinari is the director this time and he’s been a key animator in the game since joining Gainax on the tail end of Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. Between his backlog and his other large project, Little Witch Academia, this series has a unique visual style that is very on brand for Trigger. He seems to have a unique style that benefits a story involving so many varied character types. Animation-wise this series is a visual treat, especially the stylized opening and ending animations. I can’t think of the last time I was compelled to watch every ending animation. Vocals aren’t bad in either language, both do the job nicely.
But the crux of all of this is how does the above themes fit into our explody/corny joke/stylish design fest. As such I’m going to have to get into spoilers in the next paragraph.
Stay outta’ the mayor’s trashcans!
Humanity is cartoonishly racist towards beastmen. Apparently this stems from times long ago when several beastmen used their powers to masquerade as gods and as humanity rose in numbers and power drove beastmen to their own societies. Some colonies for all beastmen were tried, but beastmen have a kind of trigger in their DNA that makes them ‘roid up and go feral (shades of Zootopia, but anime) when they’re packed in a society together. But the truth of this matter was lost to antiquity, save to one bloodline that witnessed the event. This mistrust of beastmen and their unique DNA properties leads to events that parallel the experiments dreamed up by Wirths and Unit 731. But even in peace beastmen are shunned at worst or admired as a curiosity at best. But at the end of it all it seems alluded that a “Pure Blooded” beastman clan had been manipulating these events for centuries just to lead up to the event that justifies altering every beastman’s DNA so that they’re fully human.
Now this could have been handled well. And these are all interesting ideas. But unfortunately they’re hard to explore when you’re zooming around turning into all kinds of weird animal hybrids and fighting ancient god-wolves and whatnot. There is so much “beautiful noise” it drowns out the point. Even the universal racism towards beastmen looks kind of ridiculous until you watch the entire series and then it upends the idea at the last minute with an incredibly faulty conspiracy.
But hey, it sure was pretty to look at.
- -Fantastic art direction
- -Great opening and closings
- -Fun action sequences
- -Half baked and overshadowed social commentary
- -Confusing road from revelation of conflict to resolution
- -How did they put the Dolphin-Girl in that tank so quickly? And how did they forget dolphins need oxygen?
Two girls being friendly can only mean one thing. Set sail on the Ship m’Reddit!
So yeah, BNA stands out as something that wanted to have a commentary on our human condition, but botched the landing. Every time we got close to something that could elevate it to a Kino’s Journey or even a Big O as a mix of action and thoughtfulness either something that looked cooler than the subject at hand happened or any true humans involved just got a case of the mustache twirls. I’ll say this though, there wasn’t any sexual tension save for whatever fandom decides to ship on it’s free time. Next up is a show in which a wolf loves a bunny OH GOD DAMMIT!!!
I’ve actually followed this series before it became an anime. Much like Zootopia its a world filled with anthropomorphic animals with a cultural divide between carnivores, herbivores, and even some sub-divisions therein. Unlike Zootopia here is a lot to do how this society gets along and actually discusses some rather interesting aspects of how such a society would work. But before I delve into the meat of this I have one issue with the entirety of the work to discuss. The series is named after a title bestowed upon some really powerful animals that work to keep the peace between all species. Our characters may talk about it, or strive for candidacy but in reality we don’t know much about this exalted position. And I’ve been reading ahead, met a few of these Beastars and… I’m still unsure why all animal-kind pins their hopes and dreams on these people.
Been a long day bro, wanna groom? Get our scritch on bro?
So anyway, I can’t go too far ahead on you because this series only covers the first 50-ish chapters. Our story begins at Cherryton school where a young alpaca named Tem has been murdered. This leads to an immediate strain between carnivore and herbivore on campus. And rumors start to spread. Perhaps it was his friend Legoshi, a hulking gray wolf who seems to crouch and cower to make himself seem smaller, less powerful to all around him. He just wants to steer clear of this as much as he can, because he knows since they were in the same drama club and spent so much time together he’s going to be seen as suspect number one. But head of the drama club, Louis, has other ambitions. Louis is a deer who will not let anything get in the way of the upcoming crucial play. As such he’s going to drill Tem’s replacement while having Legoshi keep watch. But during the night a rabbit stumbles into the moonlight and… instinct is a bitch.
Yeah, it’s a pretty good glove. Genuine calfski… oh right.
So now on top of trying to keep cool while being stuck in school gossip as a killer, he now has to figure out if he has fallen in love with Haru, a small dwarf rabbit, or is it merely the hunger every carnivore has? Unlike BNA, Beastars manages to take it’s time mulling over every topic brought up on how this society works. It takes us on such a tour we kind of forget the murder in the face of the following, can a promiscuous bunny and a shy wolf get over instinct? And what of Louis, who was the last… or maybe current, fling? How do carnivores get the protein they need, and how do they cope with the fact it can’t be meat? Or what about the ethics of the black market that exists to those who can’t cope anymore? Since the series takes the time to explore the ramifications of the characters decisions in this setting it’s not only interesting but also relatable.
But let’s talk about the animation. Now usually I’m not one for this 3D stylized look outside of video games. It usually ranges from kind of bad like High Score Girl, or an utter abomination like the recent Berserk TV series. But through some sort of wizardry this looks right. Something about how the shading and shadow work made it seem like a cartoon rather than an overly long video game cutscene. I didn’t know much about the director this time, Shinichi Matsumi. After a bit of digging he’s been all over all kinds of popular works, including Land of the Lustrous, Porco Rosso and a slew of stuff in the 80s. But this is his first full series since, of all things, The Noozles. And then there is the opening done in stop motion. Such a fun way to show that no, this isn’t going to be cute and fuzzy. Now I didn’t catch the dub for this one, but Lois is voiced by the VA who did Josuke on Diamond is Unbreakable so you have to listen to it in Japanese just for that.
“Oh so this occasion requires a Windsor knot not a four in hand.” “Are, are you coming onto me?” “In so, so many headcanons good sir…”
This is a psychological drama wrapped in a societal commentary wrapped in a forbidden romance like some sort of twisty-turny turducken with a side of WTF coleslaw. I’m not going to say this is for everyone, but it’s certainly something different and in a sea of lovey-dovey love triangles and comfy schoolgirls why not have an interspecies wrecked romance with a side dish of murder mystery?
- -Unique story
- -3D art that still feels like an anime
- Pacing that knows when to pull back, and when to get tense. Rare in modern anime.
- -Weak ending theme
- -While unique, the story can meander to different topics too much for those interested in the mystery.
- -So is a Beastar like, a government-funded Batman they put in PSAs and stuff too or… what?
So there we have it. Japan’s modern take on animals walking and talking and being all societal and whatnot. I’m sure there are people out there who haven’t had this much fun since they found those weird drawings in Tezuka’s hidden desk drawers.
*Record Scratch* BWUAAAAAAH!!!