BEASTARS Season 2
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
BEASTARS (TV 2) ?
How would you rate episode 6 of
BEASTARS (TV 2) ?
At a certain point in the fifth episode of BEASTARS' second season, “Call It Like It Is,” Gouhin has Legoshi locked in a cell with a side of beef just hanging there from the ceiling. Our intrepid hero is attempting to resist the overwhelming urge to consume the whole slab of meat raw through force of pure willpower, and it is driving him mad. In typical Studio Orange fashion, the visual flourished of the manga are represented with trails of luminescent color and shifting artistic perspectives (including a deep dive into the firing mass of neurons in Legoshi's brain). All of this, just so Legoshi can feel that he's earned the right to call himself a “protector of herbivores”, a warrior that has surpassed the base instincts of the flesh that would keep him from, by way of completely random example, having a successful romantic relationship with a rabbit. Gouhin, who is maybe the closest thing that BEASTARS has to a voice of reason outside of Haru herself, tells Legoshi, “You're the one who insisted on doing things this way.”
Man, if that isn't just the perfect summation of this series whole narrative and thematic, core, huh? As I talked about at length last time, BEASTARS' second season is all about the continuing misadventures of Legoshi and Louis, two preposterously melodramatic teenaged boys who are suffering the from the same sort of self-doubt and self-loathing that all teenagers go through, anthropomorphic or otherwise. Except, in this case, our protagonists have gone about trying to overcome those character flaws in the most absurd and self-indulgent ways imaginable. For Legoshi, that means shaving off all of his fur, committing to a life-altering regiment of ascetic strength training, and solving a murder mystery or two before he proposes marriage to his not-technically-girlfriend. For his part, Louis is dead set on taking over his little slice of the criminal underworld with a cadre of lions who may or may not be plotting to eat him, even if it means threatening his multi-millionaire father with murder so he can complete the proper paperwork to drop out of high school and pursue his dreams.
If there are any complaints to lodge at where BEASTARS has been headed recently, the biggest one would probably that the murder mystery that is ostensibly the whole point of this current season isn't actually very interesting. Then again, what did we expect from BEASTARS, really? This whole story is the product of Paru Itagaki taking a story that already would have been a heightened, genre-defying soap opera, and then filtering it through the even more stylized and abstracted filter of casting a bunch of horny, emotionally unstable furries as the cast of characters. Itagaki herself made a point in one of the manga volume's author's notes to mention the obvious comparisons to Zootopia that fans and critics were making when BEASTARS initially debuted, but if anything, the pop-culture touchstone that BEASTARS most warrants a comparison to is Twin Peaks. Both shows are about a cast of idiosyncratic weirdos who are navigating a completely insane “reality” wherein the most mundane of interpersonal conflicts can spark entire season's worth of drama and intrigue. Also, in both BEASTARS and Twin Peaks, it becomes a whole lot easier to enjoy the story when you can sit back and accept that the murder mystery that everyone keeps insisting upon isn't really all that important.
In fact, the best scenes in both “Call It Like It Is” and “Fly, O Corrupt One” are the ones that have almost nothing to do with Legoshi's hunt for Tem's murderer at all. Take Legoshi's confrontation with Pina, which is so overflowing with tension and sexual undertones that you half-expect the show's jazzy saxophone soundtrack to convert to a pornographic mélange of synth keyboards and 808 drumbeats. When Pina starts aggressively screwing with Legoshi about how uncomfortable the wolf is talking about Pina's many sexual conquests, it's another instance of BEASTARS being really unsubtle with how the carnivore/herbivore allegory is linked to the adolescent characters' tangled sex drives. Pina is the prototypical King Shit of Fuck Mountain, the kind of guy who'll accidentally call out one girl's name while he's horns-deep in another, and he wears the resulting slap mark as a badge of honor. Legoshi, meanwhile, is mentally and physically torturing himself to try and nullify his cravings for “meat”, and the show couldn't be any less subtle when he proclaims to Pina, “I don't eat meat, and I don't have a girlfriend. I don't need anything.”
Of course, no matter how much Legoshi is trying to flip-and-reverse his awkward lack of romantic and social skills into a kind of moralistic high-ground, it couldn't possibly be that simple. There wouldn't be a show, otherwise! That's why my other favorite scene of this batch of episodes comes from when Legoshi and Haru have one of their too-rare scenes together, where Legoshi is so distracted by his post-training exhaustion and his detective work that he barely notices the incredibly obvious signals that Haru is giving. She tells him that a “guy friend” is asking her to hang out, and Legoshi barely responds, and he doesn't even get it when she makes what she wants as clear as the can, given the circumstances: She doesn't want him to literally upend the social structure of society just so he can “earn the right” to be with her, or whatever—she just wants to hang out with him, and talk, like two normal teenagers that are trying to get to know each other better.
Naturally, Legoshi's interpretation of this is “Well, we might not be an Official Couple™ right now, but hopefully I will have helped contribute to a society that will be more suited to predator/prey relationships here in a few years, so we can just skip all of the dating rigmarole and go right to getting married.” Haru's response is just a perfect encapsulation of her relationship with Legoshi, when she tells another suitor, “I already have my heart set on another guy, and he's far weirder and scarier than you. Maybe…too weird…”
It's scenes like these that keep BEASTARS working as such a weird and wonderful character study, even when those scenes don't always come together to form a very cohesive plot. The same goes for all of Louis' and Juno's material in these two episodes, which are great bite-sized chunks of character development that work in spite of the fact that the show isn't giving them a whole lot of direction, since their arcs are completely divorced from Legoshi's story at the moment. I think Louis and Juno share a whole lot of chemistry here, which makes sense, given their ambitious natures and abilities to manipulate and charm their way out of the strangest circumstances. Juno, especially, is just a more interesting character when she's trying to establish her place in Cherryton's hierarchy while still figuring out just what the hell Louis is up to; it's way better than simply having her pine for Legoshi week after week (though I will admit that the “tooth exam” scene between Juno and Legoshi was pretty damned funny.
Really, it's the way Louis' scenes with his father go down that offer an ideal snapshot of what BEASTARS is, and who it is currently for, this season. Here we have a preternaturally egotistic eighteen-year-old who was sold into the life of a corporate heir after living in slavery for years. Now, after quitting his prestigious role as the star performer in his high-school's drama club, he has murdered a man in cold blood and become the boss of a literal gang of mafiosos, smack in the middle of the city's seedy criminal underbelly. Now, Louis is holding a gun to his father's head, both as a symbol of the newfound “strength” he has discovered, and as a practical means to drop out of school, since running the mafia is a full-time commitment. His father, in true anime fashion, grants Louis this request, but takes the time to mock him too, demanding that he return when he's finally “strong” enough to pull the trigger for real.
Like, it would stretch beyond the pale of reasonable, believable storytelling even if Louis wasn't also an anthropomorphic deer, and somehow the use of animal characters just makes the absurdity even weirder. And yet, I absolutely love it. BEASTARS may be struggling to find a clear direction in this season, and its commitment to unabashedly bugnuts soap opera histrionics might even scare away the fans who were just here for the furry love story from Season 1, but if the show's warped, Twin Peaks version of the animal-person puberty blues is working as well for you as it has been for me, then you're probably all in, regardless of where this twisted tale ends up taking us in the end.
BEASTARS Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.
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