Hot off their hit film Promare, Studio Trigger is back with BNA: Brand New Animal, now streaming on Netflix. The anime is easily one of the studio's most thematically ambitious. Underneath the furry folks that inhabit Anima City is the all too familiar darkness of discrimination, social disparity, and a character Nick calls "the most despicable villain Trigger's ever delivered."
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Nick Steve, I've got something very important I need to ask you.
Steve I'll do my best.
READY TO GO
Citizens of Earth, the furry agenda is here. Again.
Move over BEASTARS, there's a new beast coming out of its cage (Read: Netflix) and it's a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.
Excuse me that is clearly a street-walking wolf, but then again, as we'll soon see, we're not going to be too concerned with taxonomic distinctions in this particular series The important part is that Boku n—sorry, BNA: Brand New Animal is finally here, and what an unruly Animal it's turned out to be.
The moment it was announced Yoh Yoshinari's new series would be on the +Ultra TV block I knew we'd be in for an extra wait for it to bust out of Netflix Jail, but I survived the wait for Little Witch Academia and I knew I would survive to see this, despite 2020's best efforts.
Oh yeah I've also been looking forward to the return of that Yoshinari magic. LWA is very high up there on my Trigger tier list, and the prospect of a show starring "Akko but a tanuki" seemed extremely promising.
Yoshinari knows what he likes, and what he likes is doofuses with an indomitable spirit who can also turn into animals.
Fur real though, Yoshinari's my favorite voice of Trigger's prominent directors, so I was already prepared to call BNA my anime of the year, and so far it has very, very little competition. Partly because nothing else goes quite as hard on this aesthetic:
I wanna crawl into these color palettes and live there. Like Promare before it, BNA exhibits Trigger's knack for consistent and eye-catching visual design. Even the outsourced parts, like the ED by studio Giant Ant, are very good to look at.
The blue-and-pink is just such a sharp look. It doesn't use it for the whole series, but tons of key moments are absolutely slathered in it and I never got tired of seeing it. And yes that ED is a delight.
BNA really has a lot going for it, in pretty much every sense. I cannot accuse Yoshinari and co. of trying to coast on the success of Promare, because they cram an almost obscene amount of plot, character, theme, and cartoons into twelve heavily ambitious episodes. This animal's got layers. This is actually one case where I wish we had the opportunity to watch and digest this show on a week-by-week basis. There's so much going on and so many wild turns in between episodes that it can be a dizzying experience trying to cram it all in, say, over a weekend so you can help write a conversation-based column about it. Thanks Netflix.
There's a lot to unpack with this show, so we might as well start with our lead duo: Michiru the Raccoon Tanuki and her stern but well-meaning Wolfdad.
Michiru is pretty much who you'd expect her to be based on my "Akko but a tanuki" description. She's plucky, stubborn, and has an extra heart where one's brain cells would usually be. But she's super likable and easily could carry a show on her charm alone.
Meanwhile Shirou is—at first at least—the kind of hypercool hero Trigger loves to showcase. He's a wolf in a trench coat with super sniff powers that drops devastating one-liners before kicking the stuffing out of people.
That's all well and good, but the secret sauce for Shirou is that he's introduced as big crypuppy. It runs counter to the rest of his character (and in fact I don't remember if he ends up crying again in the show), but it ends up being a smart way to hint at his hidden layers.
Oh we'll get to him. But first we have some fun adventures where our odd couple protags explore the streets of Anima-City. Oh sorry did I say fun adventures? I mean Michiru gets nearly sold for either slavery or meat—t's not clear which—in episode 2.
Don't forget the innocent orphans!
Michiru flat-out tells them that God is dead!
So yeah, turns out despite being a refuge city for the oppressed Beastmen of Japan, Anima-City houses a lot of...animosity.
I refuse to take that pun bait from you when BNA dishes out so much worse on its own.
Really though, I dig the journey Michiru goes through across the first 4 or so episodes of the series. Anima-City in her mind turns from a refuge where she's free from danger, to a dog-eat-dog (er, you know what I mean) world, to some complicated mix of both. And that very much mirrors the themes BNA is playing with across its runtime.
Yeah, BNA gets extremely real extremely quickly, dashing any cutesy pretense with a promise to look at the many-faceted politics of oppression through the lens of fursonas. This, necessarily, comes with all the caveats inherent to using a blanket metaphor for society's ongoing reckoning of its imbalances, and this is the thing that's gonna make or break the show for you.
If you have little stomach for Fantasy Prejudice allegories, BNA is almost certainly dead on arrival for you. But if you're ok with political commentary being expressed through Fursonas, there's a lot of surprisingly thoughtful ideas being explored here.
However you come down on it, I think BNA's density means it's going to, at the very least, be good fodder for discussion. Unless you're one of those Twitter randos who think all anime is inherently apolitical. In which case, I assume BNA will appear to you as 12 episodes of pure static, because lol this thing is DRENCHED in contemporary politics.
Though that isn't to say BNA is entirely a race allegory. Like BEASTARS before it, the coding for much of its commentary is layered and broadly structured enough that it ends up speaking to the topic of marginalization in general rather than saying "Beastmen = 1 particular minority group" which is probably for the best. You don't want to be the X-Men movies.
Oh yeah I'd agree that ends up being to BNA's advantage, but it also leaves its core metaphor open to a wide variety of interpretations, and those are not going to be universally charitable. I liked the show, but I'm still digesting it myself. Right now, though, I'd say I'm surprisingly impressed with a lot of individual moments in BNA, even if the big picture is much messier. Like, to go back to the second episode, I really liked how it followed up Michiru's escape and justice-fueled admonishment of her kidnappers with the rawness of this statement.
That's where a lot of BNA's nuance lies. That's a heavy line that, while not excusing the whole selling children thing, directly acknowledges that there are forces at work larger than Grand Grandma being a bad person. These aren't problems that will be fixed by just beating people up.
It's so good. Not only does it address the raw deal that women get, especially on the lower rungs of society, but it also calls out the fact that Michiru is speaking from a place of privilege here. She's obviously not what we'd call a "white savior," but she's part of a long tradition of protagonists inserting themselves into oppressed cultures and coming out as their heroes. BNA still isn't perfect, but this one moment is more cognizant and critical than many entire stories that utilize this trope.
Perhaps my fav moment though is in episode 4, after Michiru gets dragged to a party outside the city by her new dolphin influencer friend. Said party is uh...a little suspect, given BNA's allegory.
That's one of my favorites too. Just an exquisitely bitter piece of satire about tone deaf and egocentric celebrity activism.
It initially throws you for a loop - every human we've seen til now has been either nasty or actively violent towards Beastmen, but the party guests are so cool with it I kept expecting they'd secretly called the police or something. But instead it's something both more insidious and insulting, They're thrilled to have a token beastman there as an example of how tolerant and kind they are. Despite, y'know, dressing in the BNA equivalent of a Washington Football jersey.
BNA's framing of it is (correctly) off-putting from second one, but the party's hypocrisy gets more blatant as the episode goes on, until it's bluntly obvious that none of these people care about Nina. She's an identity, she's a distraction, but she's not a person to them. She's barely even a living being.
And it's here where Michiru's whole savior thing finally turns on its head. She recognizes that same self-centered hypocrisy in her own actions, so despite having an out to re-enter her old life, she chooses to stay and learn more about Beastmen and their world.
Yeah! Even this is fraught, but it's leagues better than something like Avatar (Cameron, not anime).
It helps that while Michiru is important to the overall thesis of the show, she's not its sole voice. Shirou is just as important and his voice is one entirely from the Beastman perspective, with all the history that entails. And he's a very good boy.
A very good boy...for Michiru to dunk on.
But yes, Shirou is a good counterpoint who does know what life is like as a Beastman and consequently sees the world a lot differently than Michiru does. While BNA makes sure to examine and criticize his beliefs as well, it also makes sure we understand and empathize with where he's coming from.
And where he's coming from is...a lot. But what's key is that BNA doesn't treat his distrust of humans as some "both sides are wrong!" nonsense. Humans do suck, quite a lot, and often his judgment is right on the money. What the show brings up is that it ultimately leaves him incapable of trusting individual humans, and that makes him incompatible with Anima-City's goal of cohabitation. He's not wrong, per se, but he's an old dog who needs to learn new tricks eventually.
It does get liiiiiiitle too close for comfort to Both Sidesism in some spots, but overall BNA does actually seem to realize how shit of an argument that is. Like, there's a flashback to Furry Jackie Robinson that ends with him beating the shit out of his abusive teammates, but at no point is that violence framed as inexcusable.
Ah yes, the integration allusion packaged inside the lost Kill la Kill episode.
If Imaishi wants to spend his allotted episode storyboarding murder baseball and asshole flamingos, then that's his right.
The episode gets heavy at key points, but it ends up being important to the overall story. The Coach's violence was ultimately protest against constant, institutionalized pressure and harassment, but it's treated by the world at large as reason to condemn him. Surprise: this comes up again later.
In retrospect, it's wild that we get that heavy thematic inception in the same episode where we meet Jackie, but that's The BNA Experience™.
Jackie is a precious bean bag who must be protected, especially from herself.
Jackie is like "what if we made Mako smaller and also a bear" and if you said to yourself "that's genius," you'd be correct.
As any Chicago sports fan can tell you, being a Bear is suffering, but Jackie takes it all in stride.
The baseball episode is one of my favorites, not just because anime baseball episodes are always good (another reason to also watch Dorohedoro, wink wink), but because it hits the wacky Tex Avery stylings of unfiltered Imaishi while also keeping things sufficiently real. Anime is a land of contrasts, and sometimes you wanna see those contrasts crash into each other and make something uniquely beautiful.
Like, you have all that great poignant stuff about poverty, and then you also have Michiru saying this with a straight face. It's so good.
I keep saying it but it's true: BNA is A Lot. It has a lot going on, a lot to say, and many of its ideas are so condensed together that I could spend way too many words dissecting even just one character. Which brings to...
Ah yes, yours and everyone else's circa-2002 Deviantart OC.
Man I wish my teenage OCs were as extra as the disaster Fox/Wolf/Angel/Idol/Cult Leader.
Nazuna is here to be an idol, and if that means she's also got to trick people into thinking she's Furry Jesus, then she's gonna goddarn do it.
And as if that wasn't complicated enough she's also Michiru's equally former-human ex.
Now people can argue that Michiru and Nazuna being gfs is just subtext, but I'd respond to that simply by pointing out the giant table that Michiru uses exclusively for pining at this picture.
If this is subtext then it's a sub that has breached the ocean surface for shore leave.
But really, Nazuna is probably the most complicated mess of a character in this whole thing. In part because she's an Idol in both senses of the word.
Snce BNA apparently didn't consider the entire political history of oppression enough subject matter, it also digs into the myriad ways both individuals and societies use and/or abuse religion. Not that you can really divorce the history of religion from the history of oppression in the first place, but c'mon, BNA, you can slow down! You're a single-cour anime, not a PhD thesis.
Nazuna makes for an interesting nexus for all of this, and not merely because she's a pink kitsune girl.
A pink kitsune who moonlights as a white wolf with angel wings. Girl knows how to make A Look.
On the one hand, appropriating the legendary patron saint of the oppressed is not a great look, but on the other I can understand starting a NEW religion for her.
She's the perfect foil for Michiru, because she does fully embrace the savior narrative thanks to a concoction of outside manipulation, personal ambition, and good intentions. This also blows up in her face.
It's clear from the get-go that the whole Silver Wolf Church thing is not on the up-and-up, but it's not til we really start digging into the REAL Silver Wolf that it becomes clear how fucked up it really is. Spoilers: Turns out the grey wolf who's seemingly immortal and capable of supernatural strength is, in fact, related to the whole mystical silver wolf who's protected beastmen for a millennium.
Double spoiler: lots of blood is involved.
A LOT a lot.
So Nazuna and others using the Silver Wolf as a means to their own ends would be shitty regardless of the circumstances, but BNA contrasting that with the hard, blood-soaked path Shirou has had to cross time and again for his people really puts the shameful power dynamics in sharp relief.
Nazuna, even at her most benign, is ultimately trying to "help" the Beastmen of Anima-City from a place of ignorance. She hasn't lived as a Beastman, and certainly hasn't faced the horrors inflicted upon them in the past. Because hey while we're juggling 8 other bits of charged imagery here's another:
Have we mentioned that BNA is A LOT yet? Because it's a lot.
I'm still not sure how I feel about the show actively referencing the holocaust, but for furries. It's CHARGED, especially these days, and while it's certainly in service of the overall message, just seeing that is probably going to put folks off. Still handles it better than Attack on Titan at least!
Speaking of things I have mixed feelings about: this goober.
Oh I have entirely pure feelings for this walking pile of garbage. I want to see him punched in the face, repeatedly, until the heat death of the universe.
I certainly agree there! And show (eventually) delivers!
Really though, Alan is perhaps the most despicable villain Trigger's ever delivered. Ragyo or Alexis Kerib were just as smarmy, but Alan takes the cake for straight up gaslighting Shirou for 10 minutes about his own life.
He's a fantastically nefarious villain. He doesn't dirty his hands until the finale, always wears a smug smile, and accomplishes everything simply by virtue of the vast amounts of money and power he controls. Between him and Promare's villain Kray, it seems like Kazuki Nakashima is REALLY trying to warn us about megalomaniacal technocrats.
Granted the reveal of Alan's plan is where BNA gets...messy. Like before it was busy and chaotic and has some questionable framing, but its in the final episodes where momentum kind of catches up with it and the messaging gets more muddled than it should.
I think BNA was trying to avoid a big "humans vs. beastmen" conflict as its overall message, which is fair, but I also think it probably would've behooved the narrative and its overarching themes to keep Alan just a bigoted and sociopathic billionaire. There are plenty of real life examples! And they're a huge, if not THE hugest obstacle in the face of actual progress. Like, he could literally just have been a stand-in for any one of those instead of, well,
It's pretty much the exact twist from Promare, only in that movie it didn't matter much because the overall narrative was just "look at cool robots fight" but here it at best muddies the overall narrative in the last 10 minutes.
Shirou fighting a giant golden cerberus IS pretty cool though, so it's not a complete wash.
Hard to hate a climactic battle riding on who's got the biggest "awooo."
And I do at least like that Alan's actually given a motivation—i.e. being a Nazi—instead of the big nothing that Promare did with Kray's reveal. But it comes out of nowhere with no space to properly address it, so it doesn't feel integrated into the story beyond being a twist for the sake of a twist.
It also doesn't help that one of the plot devices his plan depends on is some John Calhoun shit that also threatens to derail its message multiple times.
Like the actual story dynamic of the plan is in line with BNA's message on structural oppression. Alan - via the Wolf Cult and outside government - conspires to incite a riot within Anima-City to justify invading, disrupting, and ultimately destroying the community it created. (And BOY if that ain't relevant) so I don't know why we also needed the bit where Beastmen have a genetic berserkmode to be exploited.
To an extent, this will ALWAYS be the fundamental problem with using animal people to address racial and cultural tensions, but BNA is spectacularly bad about it in this one particular way. Good intentions and all that, but stories like this gotta do better. And yet, there are places where BNA sings.
And I think that's why I can ultimately forgive the way it stumbles at the end. It's heart is absolutely in the right place, even if it can't articulate things as gracefully as you'd want.
Plus I can't be too down on this show for giving us the adorable disaster furry couple we deserve.
It's a neat show! I didn't expect to get this much out of it to chew on, but I love these big messy anime meals, flaws and all. Plus, it's got Michiyo Murase voicing a scumbag mink girl, so my tastes are sated for the season.
I just knew you'd fall for the weasel.
So yeah, BNA is hectic, jam-packed, and definitely shows wear from cramming it all into a single cour, but it's exactly the kind of mess I love to get lost in with anime. Yoshinari's now 2-for-2 on original anime that I love dearly, and I can't think him enough for this perfect reaction image.
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