At Cherryton Academy, the students are anthropomorphic animals and the school is divided into carnivores and herbivores, predators and prey. An uneasy goodwill is maintained until an alpaca student is found dead in the herbivore dorms and police suspect a carnivore of the murder. Soon old prejudices are stirred and species are watching each other warily. (“Are you actually going to devour me—your classmate?!”) Legoshi, a lanky, neurotic gray wolf with haunted eyes, is among the chief suspects. Legoshi himself worries about losing control of his predatory instincts, especially after he meets Haru, a fatalistic dwarf rabbit who’s resigned herself to being treated with condescension because she’s small and helpless looking. But does Legoshi want to eat Haru or romance her? He can’t tell, and in their world both options are taboo.
Like a T+ version of Zootopia, Beastars explores bigotry, injustice, and crime through the filter of cartoon animal conventions. Haru gets in trouble with her rabbit peers for attracting the attentions of a classmate from an endangered species, breaking up a “purebred couple.” Haru hangs out with dogs in the canine hall and struggles to live as a shy, awkward geek in the body of a large predator. Various characters lock horns, so to speak, with Louis, a red deer and quintessential alpha male who rules the theater department and wants to use the school play to make a statement about interspecies tolerance. The murder mystery is nearly forgotten amid the details of day-to-day life on campus: friendships, romantic entanglements, drama in the drama club.
The sketchy, gritty art is aggressively unlike typical anthropomorphic manga: the characters look like animals, not cute people with animal ears, and are designed with such naturalistic detail it’s easy to distinguish between, say, six different types of canines. (Haru is cute, but it’s hard to make a bunny look tough.) They live in a carefully observed world that looks like a contemporary private school or college campus, but with clever accommodations to the residents’ animal anatomies. Paru Itagaki clearly enjoys designing Cherryton Academy, figuring out how it works, and thinking of a new animals to draw. Beastars looks like nothing else on the manga shelves and sets out with big world building and storytelling ambitions. Whether or not it fulfills its early promise, it’s a series to keep an eye on. Recommended.
story and art: Paru Itagaki