A young high schooler named Tem runs through his school after hours, a murderer hot on his heels. We never see the killer, but we do see Tem plea for his life, begging the murderer to reconsider. We’re classmates, Tem reminds him. Would you do this to a classmate?The killer responds by ripping Tem to shreds.
It’s a disturbing way to start any manga. Still, there’s a twist: Tem is an alpaca, and his killer is a carnivore who has lost control of his animal instincts. Welcome to Cherryton Academy, and the world of Beastars.
A brave new world
This manga takes place in a world populated with humanoid animals who walk and talk like people but still retain many of their animal features. Mice are tiny, elephants are enormous, and canines go everywhere in packs. The stage of the story is Cherryton Academy, an elite boarding school that caters to all animals.
This is a world where carnivores and herbivores have overcome their natural differences and work, live, and play side by side. For this society to function or for the lions to lay with the lambs. Two laws are in effect:
Eating meat is forbidden.
A carnivore must never harm a herbivore.
Carnivores eat dairy products and meat substitutes to get the protein they need, but their hunger for flesh never goes away. Each day, every carnivore has to overcome the desire to hunt and kill other animals. Most succeed. Unfortunately for Tem and herbivores like him, however, some fail. It is in this world that we meet the three principal characters of Beastars.
The characters of Beastars
The first of which is an enormous gray wolf named Legoshi. A second-year student at Cherryton, he can best be described as a gentle soul, trapped in the body of an apex predator.
Legoshi is a member of the drama club. He works in the technical department and specializes in lighting. He is an awkward, quiet, sensitive person, someone who can’t bear even to harm an insect, and all he wants is to live a peaceful life and be left alone. However, he is also one of the biggest predators in school, and so inspires fear, suspicion, and hatred from herbivores, even before Tem’s murder.
Legoshi wants to be invisible, but nature has conspired to make that impossible. Legoshi is destined to draw unwanted attention, and it is mostly through his eyes that we see the story of Beastars.
The second main character is a red deer named Louis. The head of the drama club, and it’s lead actor. Talented, charismatic, and a natural leader, Louis seeks to become the Beastar, an animal which is completely respected by both carnivores and herbivores alike, and an instrument in maintaining the peace between the species. Like Legoshi, Louis is a walking contradiction. He is a narcissist who is obsessed with gaining power and personal glory but lives his life in pursuit of an ultimately selfless goal.
The third character is a dwarf rabbit named Haru. Rabbits are, by nature, sexually promiscuous, and she is true to her nature. She develops a reputation that earns disrespect from boys and hatred and bullying from girls. The paths of these three slowly begin to converge throughout this volume.
The paths of these
three slowly begin to converge over the course of this volume.
The main story revolves around preparations for a play called Adler, put on by the drama club. Adler is a story about a grim reaper who falls in love with the woman who is his target to take to the afterlife. Louis plays the starring role.
Before preparations for the play can take place, however, Tem must be mourned. All the animals deal with it differently, but Legoshi gets especially strange about it. He’s secretive and oddly focused on one of the female students, a sheep named Els.
Legoshi behaviour gets stranger still, as he’s spotted looking in Tem’s locker. Eventually, Legoshi corners Els alone in the school auditorium. Posing the question; is Legoshi the killer? Has he completely lost control of his animal instincts?
Beastars Volume 1 Spoilers
As it turns out, Legoshi’s strange behaviour towards Els has nothing to do with food. Legoshi and Tem were friends. Tem was in love with Els. He had written her a love letter but never worked up the courage to give it to her. Legoshi, in his awkward but thoughtful way, decided to give Els the message in his place.
As Legoshi walks back to his dorm, we see again how determined he is not to hurt anyone, refusing even to step on a flower. His resolve is sorely tested on a later night when he finds himself alone on school grounds, and a small herbivore wanders just a little too close. His animal instincts take over, and he catches the helpless animal instantly. It turns out to be none other than Haru, who has unwisely decided to walk the school grounds by herself at night after another unfortunate run-in with the other girls.
Legoshi catches her and holds her, but doesn’t kill her. Somehow, he retains enough control to fight off the demons whispering in his ear. Haru eventually escapes, but Legoshi will soon show up in her life in all sorts of unexpected ways.
On the surface, the story of Volume 1 revolves around preparations for the play. However, the real story is Legoshi’s struggle with his demons and his soon-to-be very complicated relationship with Haru.
Art of Beastars
Beastars is one of the most uniquely-drawn manga I’ve ever seen. The animals may be humanoid, but there is nothing cartoony about their heads and faces. The realistic way in which the animal heads are illustrated creates what feels like an intentionally unsettling effect. One that serves as a stark reminder that there are animal instincts at work under a fragile layer of polite society. Author/artist Paru Itagaki does a great job of painting human expressions on these animals while still retaining their animal feel. It’s quite a trick.
The backgrounds are rich with details that reward multiple readings. Here’s one of my favourites: the boys’ bathroom, outfitted with urinals that range from tiny to huge to accommodate all the different types of animals attending Cherryton. Little details like this help the world come alive and create a space that is unique in manga.
Is Beastars Volume 1 worth reading?
Absolutely. Along with Plunderer, Beastars is my pick for one of the best new releases of 2019. Beastars is a manga with an exciting world, memorable characters, distinctive art, and a constant undercurrent of tension. This is high school drama with real stakes and one of the most unique stories you will ever read. In a world of copycats, Beastars shines as an example of originality and is worth a try based on that alone. Beastars volume 1 is available both physically and digitally.