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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beastars is a Japanese anime series based on the manga of the same name. The original is Japanese-language, but the show is also dubbed into English. The overall tone of the show is dark and mature, with sexual and violent content that's not suitable for young viewers. One iffy plotline involves a relationship between a wolf and a rabbit with an attraction that oscillates between violent and sexual; the rabbit seems to find this dangerous combination compelling, and the wolf is barely keeping himself from killing and devouring her, an uncomfortable, to say the least, message to imagine teens absorbing (though Twilight was more or less built on the same premise). In one scene, the wolf pounces on the rabbit and holds her for long moments while "I'll eat you" runs repeatedly through his mind, and he scratches her arm until it bleeds. A murder opens the series, though the viewer doesn't see the animal being attacked, just blood and the sharp teeth of the predator attacking. A female character takes off her school dress and is seen at length in a bra and panties, telling a male character "You can be rough with me, I can handle it." She also sinks to her knees and begins taking off his pants. Male characters discuss a female classmate's sexuality, implying they're all having sex with her and that she's lesser-than because of it. Almost all of the carnivores are physically large and male, while the vast majority of the herbivore characters are small and female. Messages of self-control and empathy do shine through as we understand (and relate to) the dilemma characters are in with their dietary preferences.
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What's the story?
Based on the manga series of the same name by writer and illustrator Paru Itagaki, BEASTARS takes place in a world where anthropomorphized animals live mostly in harmony, save for one big problem: The carnivores want to eat meat, while the herbivores would prefer not to be eaten. "Predation" is one of the unforgivable crimes of this world, which doesn't stop one of the carnivorous animals attending school at Cherryton Academy from killing and devouring a gentle herbivore as the series opens. Now Cherryton's herbivores are terrified, and the carnivores defensive, and against this backdrop, self-effacing wolf Legoshi (voiced by Chikahiro Kobayashi in the Japanese version, Jonah Scott in the English one) meets kindly dwarf rabbit Haru (Lara Jill Miller) and realizes that the urges he's always been able to control may soon get the best of him.
Is it any good?
Luminous and enchanting, this series takes anime world-building to new, noirish heights -- and it's definitely not for kids, revolving as it does around barely leashed lusts both sexual and sensory. When we meet him, Legoshi is just about at the end of his rope, control-wise: "Hated and feared, that's the story of my life," he says. As we learn in a voice-over, he's spent his whole life trying to deny his appetites, keeping his head down and going along to get along. Even in Cherryton's drama club, he sticks to backstage work and spends his energy supporting Louis (Griffin Puatu), the red deer rich-kid who gets all the best roles and the admiration of the girls at school. But when he has a fateful encounter with Haru, his long-quashed hunger for blood and flesh comes roaring to the surface in a beautiful sequence that visualizes his carnivorous impulses as a spark that lights up his neural pathways like a wick of a stick of dynamite.
Even scarier for Haru and Cherryton's other herbivorous students, Legoshi's craving for meat is echoed in their world's society. Eating meat is a serious affront to morality -- and yet a Black Market exists outside the school, where carnivores can surreptitiously buy meat sourced from hospitals and funeral parlors. Meanwhile, Haru is drawn to this dangerous boy, whose interest sparks her own, though she interprets his fascination with her as sexual, like most of the other male classmates who notice her. It's a dark, creepy, and yet compelling direction, but the heavy vibe is lightened up with glowing visuals in the sophisticated color palette of a Wes Anderson movie, and cliffhanger endings in each episode that practically beg for a binge. Just don't watch with young or sensitive viewers who see talking animals and think they're in for something sweet and light, because Beastars' complicated messages about sex and violence require a decidedly mature sensibility.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the cultural differences between TV shows in the United States and in other countries. What are the distinguishing characteristics of Japanese anime series? Why do you think there aren't many U.S. shows that tackle the same topics in a similar way? How does Japanese animation differ visually from traditional Western animation? What else distinguishes it as a genre?
Beastars is similar to a fable or fairy tale, a story that often includes supernatural elements and in which the action functions on a literal and a metaphorical level. What are the metaphors at play in this series? What are the actions of the characters being compared to implicitly or explicitly? What messages are viewers meant to draw from these comparisons?
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