Beastars – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Beastars

 

Related: Beastars (anime)

 

Genre: Action Drama Slice of Life

Length: 196 chapters (22 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Unique art is full of expression
  • The world building
  • Louis’s and Legosi’s arcs and themes
  • Memorable side characters

Negatives:

  • Introduces concepts only to leave them unresolved
  • Forgets so many characters
  • Abrupt and rubbish ending

This may be the most difficult review I have had to write. I finished the Beastars manga months ago, the week of the final chapter’s release. However, I have been stuck on what I think of it and thus, what I would write in a review. This might end up being an incoherent ramble. I have to get it out.

Beastars is an excellent manga set in a world of anthropomorphic animals where an uneasy peace rests between the herbivores and carnivores, the latter often viewed with prejudice as bloodthirsty killers. Some carnivores have killed herbivores; therefore, all carnivores are murderers. This tension is perhaps no tighter than at Cherryton Academy, a mixed diet school of herbivores and carnivores, an arrangement on which it prides itself. Public relations take a turn when an unknown attacker eats an alpaca on campus. Legosi, a massive grey wolf and friend of the victim, searches for the predator while grappling feeling of lust and hunger of his own for the small white rabbit Haru.

Most of the first arc centres on the drama club, of which Legosi partakes as a stagehand. His shyness precludes him from the stage. Then we have the red deer Louis, Legosi’s opposite in every way – slender, upright, confidant, popular, and destined for greatness as a Beastar, the most prestigious position in society.

The heart of Beastars’ greatness is in its handling of themes as told through a cast of compelling characters in a rich world. Prejudice, nature versus nurture, and belonging play a major role throughout the narrative. It’s a brilliant twist on the premise to have the carnivores be the “lesser” part of society, those discriminated against. Even within the carnivores, some groups suffer more than others do. The venomous, for example. Instinct for such a setting is to have carnivores dominant, like vampires dominating humans. Beastars’ approach flips the concept and leans into social and political conflict instead of going for the expected violent conflict of such a dynamic. Yes, there is violence, but that hides in the background most of the time.

Legosi struggles with his love of a rabbit, his potential prey, and his care for all living creatures in general. How is a hulking creature with immense jaw strength to be a friend of the herbivores? Who’s going to buy that? On the other side, Louis is envious of carnivores for their strength and inherent superiority. He sees carnivores hiding their true strength as weakness. Why was such strength wasted on them instead of given to him? He could do great things, if only…

The dynamic of these two characters, whether on screen together or walking their separate yet mirrored paths keeps you turning the pages. Many of the side characters are similarly compelling, but more on them later.

Then we have the world. Wanting to know how this society operates raises endless burning questions. If they don’t eat meat, how do carnivores survive? How do interspecies relationships work? Procreation? Are marine mammals intelligent as well? If so, how do they communicate and live? You want to know more.

I love the answers to all of these questions.

Then you notice the forgotten and half-finished concepts. First one, then a few, and then many until you have more incomplete content than complete. Everything starts to devolve past the halfway mark.

Beastars is a rubbish manga for how it presents so much and discards most of it, from characters to plots. Never have I read a story that neglects so much of itself.

When a group of writers get together for a TV series or movie, they will often brainstorm ideas of what needs to go into their story and what optional elements could they include. Do we want a romantic subplot? What about two? Do we include family drama? How are the backstories going to work? And so on. Anything and everything goes on the board before they refine those ideas into a tight narrative full of engaging events. Unused ideas might find a place later. Beastars is like reading that brainstorming board. Seemingly every idea the author had went in without thought of where they would lead or how they integrate with other ideas already in place.

This predicament is particularly egregious when it comes to the side characters. Author Paru Itagaki has a real knack for memorable characters, even minor ones, with such efficient and impactful introductions. You don’t see this skill that often. It recalls J.K. Rowling’s ability to make every character in Harry Potter memorable after one scene. There is the giant snake working as the school security guard (one of my favourites); then we have the beloved “seal bro,” nudist extraordinaire (another favourite); the Michelin Star egg-laying chicken; the rodent leading the newspaper club; the stripper zebra giraffe; and so many more. Each of these are worthy of recurring roles in any story. Sadly, Itagaki likes to buy new toys every few chapters before throwing them away for the next thing. For some of these characters, it’s okay, they need mere chapters. More often than not though, many have such a strong presence and importance in the story (as presented by the author) that you expect them to return. You’ll get to an incident further along and think, “Oh, we’ll see that character again! This is the perfect moment for them.” But no, she’s forgotten they exist.

Let me reiterate. The problem isn’t the plethora of minor characters. The problem is the promise made by the author of their importance each time, yet rarely delivering on that promise. It gets worse.

Major characters also suffer. Most notably, Haru, the main love interest and a driving force in Legosi’s arc, drops off the face of the plot for what feels like a dozen volumes at times. The anime has given her more screen time (for the material covered) and developed her into a better character within two seasons already. If all you have seen is the anime, then you probably can’t imagine a logical way to remove her from the [potential] upcoming seasons. How do you remove the third most important character? Of course it isn’t logical, yet the manga does so.

Every problem comes to a crescendo in the final arc, which introduces a herbivore-carnivore hybrid villain to present a possible outcome for Legosi and Haru’s future. The world expands with a ton of lore, more questions, and even more characters. Almost none of this comes to fruition. Furthermore, the style of the story turns into a battle anime with superpowers (don’t even get me started on these, which also appear once before she forgets them next battle), combat training arcs, and a climactic fight. Gone is the subtlety and social commentary of the earlier arcs – for that matter, gone is the commentary setup at the start of this arc. Yes, the second arc/season has a climactic fight, but it isn’t about the action.

Beastars is up there amongst the most disappointing endings of all time, and not just across manga. I have experienced an absolute ton of stories and few come close to going from such a high quality down into absolute rubbish. Off the top of my head, only Game of Thrones (TV) has outdone it in terms of the quality drop.

You could create a several-page list of characters, subplots, and questions on which Itagaki fails to deliver. When I read the final chapter, I didn’t believe it was the end at the time. I called my friend who introduced me to Beastars to ask if this was right, if it really was the end. Perhaps this was a Naruto situation, where it returns as a “sequel” Naruto Shippuden, surely.

That was it. The end.

The author gave up. There’s no simpler way of putting it.

She has continued the franchise by returning to the Beast Complex series that introduced this world, but it’s just a series of single-chapter stories independent of each other. You know, those short stories that make you want to see a grander continuous story set in this universe…

I don’t really know what to rate Beastars the manga or whether to recommend it. Do I recommend a series with moments of absolute brilliance knowing where it all leads? Do I rate it well for the high points or poorly for the atrocities?

I truly hope that the anime changes a great many things in future. Season three will still be great, but season four onwards will need to change 50% of the material to avoid disaster.

Art – High

Story – ?

Recommendation: Try it. Maybe? Beastars is a great manga until it isn’t. By reading this, you will find many elements to capture the imagination in this animal world, but much of it leads nowhere. Beastars is a fascinating study in storytelling and the dangers of concept bloat.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

2 thoughts on “Beastars – Manga Review”

  1. Hey thanks so much for the always incredible reviews. I started reading your site when I was looking for an anime to watch. I had seen LOGH come up a few times and when I searched for reviews for it, yours came up. Your review was so compelling that I watched the show and it is now one of my favorite shows of all time. And I’ve watched pretty much all of the great non-anime shows from the golden age of TV, so that is saying a lot.

    Anyway after that I’ve been reading your site religiously. I’ve tried to find others like yours just so I can have multiple perspectives and I haven’t found anything remotely close to as good.

    In fact if you have any recommendations on that front (excellent anime review sites) I’d greatly appreciate it. I know I’m asking you for recommendations for your own competition haha, but trust me, you’re always going to be my go to no matter what. It would just be nice to have additional places to look for content that you might not have reviewed or just to get a second perspective on things.

    Since then I’ve watched pretty much all of your “very high” anime recommendations. I devoured them honestly because they were almost all incredible…

    I’ve commented here before telling you how much I appreciate your site. But that was when I had only watched a few of your recommendations. Obviously I’ve gone a lot further than that by now haha. So I just wanted to say again, thank you so much for putting so much time into the site. It has brought hundreds and hundreds of hours of absolutely beautiful art and incredible enjoyment into my life.

    Not to mention that you actually got me started on manga as well. After I saw your Pluto and billy bat recommendations (and having loved Monster, the anime) I pretty much went nuts and read Pluto, Billy Bat, and 20thCB, then I read ES, Land of the Lustrous, and Liar Game.

    Now I was about to start Vagabond or Berserk, but I watched the Beastars anime and really really enjoyed it and I’m debating reading it’s manga first instead. Given your warning about the drop in quality I would probably just stop at a certain point or skim. So I’m going into it knowing that it’s going to go to shit at a certain point. But it sounds like the manga gets into much more detail than the anime and I’d really love to check that out at some point.

    So basically I guess this message has one point and a few questions:
    1. You are amazing. Seriously. Thank you so much. This has really opened my eyes to a whole new field of art that I wouldn’t have really considered otherwise.

    2. As mentioned above, do you have any recommendations for other review sites similar to yours? Also as mentioned above, I hope this isn’t an awkward question. I absolutely will always check your site for every new update, I’d just love to have another perspective on things. It’s weird because it seems like manga and anime don’t have something like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes where you can find a number of different reviewers to read. Nor have I found any good reviewer‘s that just post on their own blogs. It’s pretty much you, terrible Clickbait sites, very brief recommendations on Reddit, and MAL / Anilist / other similar. And for Reddit, MAL, Anilidt, and other similar sites, they are useful in a way, but user reviews are not always the best.

    3; Do you think that it is worth reading Beastars the manga if I really enjoyed the anime? And if I’m OK with skipping the parts that get bad? Basically is there enough additional content in the manga that makes it worth it? Obviously everybody will have a different opinion but I just wanted to get yours.

    4: Do you have any recommendations for great seinen manga? Like I said, I’m about to read berserk or vagabond (and if you have a recommendation between the two, or just of your opinion on either, I’d greatly appreciate it), and I’ve read pretty much all of Urasawa. I also have heard some talk about Homunculus or Planetes. I’m definitely open to broadening my horizons, but I have to say I really enjoyed Urasawa’s stuff and I would love to find more stuff like that. It seems like a lot of the other seinen manga is really just focused on ultraviolence. Which I have no issue with, but I like a psychological element to the story. That said, it looks like enough people love vagabond and berserk that it seems like they’re probably worth reading, so I don’t have an issue with something like that if it’s good. And to be clear I have absolutely no issue with violence whatsoever. I don’t have an aversion to it. It’s just, I’m not really a fan of manga or shows that are just focused on gore and violence without much else, probably with the intention of attracting a teenage audience or whatever. But yeah, I guess I would love to see something like Urasawa’s work, or anything you recommend generally even if it’s totally different (probably sticking to the seinen genre just to make it simple for you by the way, although I’m open to anything). And by the way, I have read all of your manga reviews so far. Which is why I read ES. Which I thought was good although maybe not fantastic? I don’t know how to put my finger on what I thought was missing. Maybe it’s just because I read it right after Urasawa haha.

    Sorry for the super long post, and obviously feel free to ignore my questions if it’ll take too much time, or to just answer really late. I don’t want to add any burden to you. But whenever you get a chance I’d definitely love to hear what you have to say if you have time.

    Like

  2. I made this into a separate post because it’s so different than the other one, but I did also want to say this. I’ve mentioned this before on previous comments, and so I will make this the last time I say it.

    But I really really think that you should monetize this site. You have made something amazing and you deserve to be compensated for it, even if you never make another post in the future.

    I have a few quick thoughts on how you might monetize the site, and I also have a few quick thoughts on how and why you could blow up your traffic.

    I also want to say upfront that I am not some sort of consultant and I am not looking for you to pay me for anything haha. I hate that I have to even say that but I’ve seen so many of those spam posts that I just want to put that up front.

    FWIW I do work in tech. I started one mildly successful startup and joined another one that did pretty well. So I am pretty familiar with tech, but on the other hand I’m a software engineer not a marketing person.

    That said, I feel like there are a few things you could do right away without any effort to bring in a lot of money:

    1: You could put up affiliate links to sites where you can stream or purchase the anime that you review (hopefully a digital version, but worst case, maybe a Blu-ray set if that’s the only option). Ditto with the manga.

    I’m sure you know what affiliate links are, but just on the very off chance that you don’t, they are links to a page on a store (for example Amazon) where you can buy something. It also includes an identifier to you. So if that user buys that product from your link, the store will know you sent them and you get a percentage, usually 7%, of the purchase price.

    I know that sometimes there are not English versions of something, in which case you probably wouldn’t be able to do it for those. But you could for many of them.

    Basically this is truly effortless profit. It’s literally just a matter of putting up the links one time and then even if not that many people click on them, every time somebody does it’s some cash.

    It would not affect your editorial independence because you would put them up for everything, including the stuff you give a terrible review to. This is becoming really common and a lot of readers are happy to support people like you by using them. If they’re going to buy it anyway, they may as well buy it in a way that gives you some support. Those affiliate purchases can really add up.

    Just in case you already knew everything about that, I apologize for potentially sounding patronizing. I just wanted to throw that out there in case you didn’t know about it since you don’t have the links right now.

    2: Obviously ads and sponsored posts can make some money. And if you don’t have a ton of traffic right now, I think you really could change that very quickly. But I’ll get into that a little later.

    3: You could also do something like a Patreon account where people sign up to get early access to your reviews, let’s say one month early or something. Or maybe they get access to some extra reviews that you don’t post publicly. I don’t know. This one obviously is not effort free because it does require you to continue working, but it seems like you’re a pretty regular reviewer so even if you’re not extremely consistent people are usually fine with it as long as you’re not like on hiatus for six months like HunterxHunter haha. And actually even if you do want to take a long break / hiatus, you can always pause your subscribers payments for X amount of time and then turn them back on when you come back.

    OK, so that’s my first pass on how you can make some money from the site. But I also have a couple thoughts, for what it’s worth, about how you could potentially generate additional traffic to your site. Again, if you have some crazy amount of traffic right now then I apologize for patronizing you. But just in case you don’t, I just figured I’d throw this out there:

    There are a ton of English speaking anime and manga consumers, and the numbers are growing rapidly. These days there are far far more American consumers than there were 10 years ago. And yet there are basically no good review sites that I’ve seen (yours being the exception), nor is there anything like a rotten tomatoes or Metacritic for anime and manga as far as I know. Even if there are such sites, I’ve spent a lot of time looking for them without being able to find them, so at a minimum they’re not well advertised.

    So you fill a consumer need with an excellent product. In addition to just the fact that there are a ton of consumers, you can tell that it’s a need because there’s so many Clickbait articles on best manga and best anime. But they don’t actually fill any need because they all pretty much recommend the same manga in different orders or variations and without any reviews besides maybe a couple of sentences.

    So I really think that some basic SEO and digital advertising (which can be extremely cheap to start with) could go a very long way. People are definitely looking for this, so you just have to help them find it.

    And just so you know, you can get a ton of SEO optimization without spending a dime and also without spending a ton of time on it. It’s not a huge thing. With digital advertising obviously you do have to pay something, but you would be shocked at how little it can be. An ad can cost a thousandth of a cent on Facebook.

    For what it’s worth, I would be happy to give you free advice on this if you want it. Again for free, for real haha. To be clear, I’m not saying I’m going to spend a dozen hours on it ha ha (nor would I necessarily have enough information to fill that time), but I definitely would be happy to spend a few hours.

    I’ve gotten so much out of your site that I would be more than happy to just get on the phone and give you some thoughts / hands on help. I’m not sure how incredibly useful I would be, because like I said I’m an engineer not a marketing person, but I did some targeted advertising for a Web start-up that I started and I’ve also worked at an advertising technology start-up so I’m somewhat familiar with this stuff (albeit far from an expert or anything and there are plenty of details that I don’t know). But, if you haven’t really explored this I definitely could at least point you in the right direction.

    Especially with SEO, it can be extremely easy (and free) to get started with it and get at least half of the benefits (when I say half the benefits I mean that in comparison to people or companies that put a ton of time and money into SEO). But on the other hand it makes a huge difference to start early versus adding it later if and when you want to start making money. You can do it for free now and the benefits will start to appear in six months or so. Even if you decide not to monetize the site, this is a small amount of time that leads to you getting more readers and of course, if you change your mind and you want to make money from it, you will have far more consumers.

    Anyway, feel free to ignore this. I just wanted to put it out there one more time because this really is just such an amazing website. It’s 1000 times better than other sites that are raking in cash and I just feel like you so deserve to make money for this. But regardless, and whatever you do, you’re awesome and thank you so much for all the recommendations you’ve given so far! I will definitely be checking back in at least once a week to see what new reviews you post!

    Like

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