An anticipated Netflix release for many is Beastars, an adaptation of the manga of the same name. Beastars is definitely one of my favorite recent mangas, so I’ve also been curious to see how it would take the mature storytelling and translate it. As of March 13th, the series has appeared in North America with an English dub attached.
After watching the first episode, there are many things that stood out in its presentation and as an adaptation. It was an interesting watch to say the least, so let us break it down to its core and discuss what made it work and stumble at the same time.
The first thing people will notice is that Beastars is a CGI animated production instead of the typical 2D animation one usually sees in anime. Everything appears to be CG, from the characters to the scenery. Design-wise, everything looks very good. The world is beautiful, and the colors can just pop with lighting and hues that fill rooms. I especially liked the opening scene where Tem gets attacked where it both sort of uses negative space and inverted colors with only Tem’s outlines being seen in pitch blackness. Plus, the amusing nod with the use of some panels from the actual manga to convey Haru going through the lunch room was also nice.
The designs and look make it feel like the animators were having a blast and getting really creative. However, the character animation is where it gets a little mixed. Everyone’s movement is very fluid and flowing usually. When there’s a lot of motion or energy in it, everything feels on point. But in moments of more subtle movement or slow walking, the animation feels a bit jittery or stilted. These moments definitely come across as awkward, but thankfully they don’t pop up too often.
When it comes to voice work, I watch dubs only since reading subtitles can cause headaches for me. Listening to the English dub, everyone put in a decent job. Legoshi’s voice actor is good at conveying his inner conflict and quieter tone, while making his voice deep enough to match the physique of the character. Louis is a particular standout, capturing his more regal, cocky, high and mighty attitude — his conversations with Legoshi are particularly good. Haru’s voice actress is good at portraying her quiet, reflective demeanor, though she does sound a little too old for Haru at some points. The only thing that really lets the voice actors down is the occasional poor lip syncing or odd translation to match the lip syncing.
But all of that aside, the main meat of Beastars is its story and writing. How good is it in capturing the manga in animated form? Adaptation-wise, the first episode of Beastars covers the first four chapters of the manga. For context, this is the introduction of Legoshi, Louis, Haru, the world itself, the unsteady alliance between herbivores and carnivores, the whole drama club, Legoshi and Haru ‘meeting’, and a few minor points. This is a lot of content and the episode is around twenty-two minutes long.
With so much happening and so little time, the first episode is forced to condense a lot of the material down, abridge certain parts, and play around with what scene comes first. Now, this works more often than it doesn’t due to the cleverness of the writers at play. For instance, the very first scene of the anime is Legoshi pouncing on Haru. In the manga, that opens with Tem’s murder while the pounce doesn’t take place until the end of chapter three. This switch is better at conveying what the series will really be about: Legoshi and Haru and what ultimately spins out of this single moment.
Haru appears much earlier as well. She is formally introduced in chapter four after Legoshi already attacks her. Here, the anime takes its time to introduce her character, personality, and allude to what she does on campus in an original scene. It makes her feel more important to the series and that she is a bigger player, her screen time on par with Legoshi and Louis. These particular changes and adaptation of the material are great choices.
The anime isn’t as great at adapting other parts. The manga’s first chapter is summarized in about five minutes of the actual episode. In that chapter, it does well at showing and emphasizing the fragile situation between the herbivores and carnivores. It allows the reader to better understand its world and get a good understanding of things. That element is still here, but it comes off as downplayed and lacks that impact. Legoshi’s awkward, off-putting attitude is mostly cut, leading to Els’ reactions to him feeling a little over the top. The choice with that may be due to the writers trying to make Legoshi line up a bit more with his more normal characterization later on, but it doesn’t work as well here.
Even with the anime’s good points, I found this episode to be a touch lacking. Given this was released on Netflix instead of television like a lot of anime, I feel that the creators should have gone for a longer first episode. It would have helped the pacing and flow more, especially with its world and character building. An extra five or even ten minutes would have done this show wonders.
As a whole though, as far as first episodes go, Beastars‘ kicks things off on the right note. While its animation has some quirks to it and its writing choices could be better, it does fairly well at introducing everyone to its world and characters. Everyone feels on point with a good script and decent voice work, leading to some likeable to relatable characters. If the first episode caught your attention and made you want more, definitely check out the rest now that it is available.