So the winter anime season was all right.
I liked a few shows, some I even liked quite a bit, but none of them were GREAT. None of them lived up to the best shows of winter 2019, “Kaguya-Sama: Love is War” and especially “The Promised Neverland”.
True, I didn’t see “Dorohedro” yet. But even so – its reputation is good, not great.
The spring season, however, is a different story. FINALLY, we have a great show: Trigger’s (Who else?) “Brand New Animal” is an absolute blast to watch!
“Brand New Animal” is the story of Micheru, a teenage girl who one day randomly transforms into a Tanuki-person (a raccoon-dog with a long history in Japanese folklore). In this world, beastpeople are a separate species who have the ability to change between human and beast forms (humanoid animals) at will.
Since the beastmen have publicly revealed themselves they’ve faced persecution from humanity, so in response they formed Animacity, a city founded by beastmen and meant for beastmen. With nowhere else to go and unsure what’s going on, Micheru decides that making for Animacity is better than staying locked in her home, and thus our story starts.
Let’s start off with the biggest issue of BNA: It makes no sense. When the series starts off, Micheru is stuck in her beast form, so that’s fine. It gives her a good reason to need to escape to Animacity. But the regular beastmen? Who even cares? They can turn into humans at any time. They’re basically just regular humans with superpowers. Why would their ability to transform cause people to persecute them? Worst comes to worst, don’t transform with people around. It’s the X-Men problem.
The strangest part is how easy it is to correct this issue. Just don’t give the beastmen human forms. There, problem solved. But their worldbuilding is immediately janked from the word go thanks to this silly aesthetic choice.
Annnnnnd that out of way let’s talk about everything this series does right.
First off: It’s a Trigger show, and if any of you know Trigger shows you won’t be surprised to hear that it looks incredible. The animation is smooth and fluid, and right there in episode 1 we get to watch an absolutely sick action scene. The soundtrack is also excellent.
Of course, those are aesthetic elements, and while those matter, there are more important things. As you’d expect, the typical Trigger style can’t help but be fun: Loud, over the top, and always trying to top itself with the sheer insanity of its visuals. BNA is also very, very funny, with a lot of great sight gags and fun physical comedy as everybody rolls with the sheer insanity of what happens onscreen. Episode 5, where Micheru is roped into joining a baseball team, is the most Kill La Kill-ish episode of the show and absolutely hilarious.
Huge hole in the premise aside, the world BNA creates is endlessly intriguing. From episode 1 we’re hit with shadowy conspiracies, terrorist attacks, evil corporations, and beastmen mafia that engages in beastmen trafficking. We even get a nifty twist where the poor put upon women manipulated by the evil men turn out to not be quite so innocent after all.
Which is a good segue into the characters. Micheru is one of the best and more realistic teenagers I’ve seen in fiction in a good while. She has a good heart but she’s sort-sighted and self-centered, but not in a malicious way. She acts like a typical teenager, in other words: She makes dumb mistakes and doesn’t think through all of the consequences of her actions but she also wants to help and is likable enough. Micheru is an easy character to root for, with enough going on plot-wise to make her compelling.
Shirou, our deuteragonist, a fairly standard noir detective, but he gets some killer action scenes and there’s a mystery surrounding his apparent invulnerability that makes him a little more interesting than the stock version of that character. And the many minor characters rounding out the cast are colorful and fun.
Finally, it is probably necessary to address the elephant in the room: “Beastars”.
Yes, “Beastars” has a lot of similarities to BNA. They are both noir, both feature mysteries as major plot points, and obviously both take place in worlds featuring humanoid beastmen. They also share a lot of the same themes, specifically unjust prejudice against outgroups and the difficulties of coexistence.
“Beastars” handles its themes much better. Its worldbuilding is much more robustly constructed, and its conflicts follow from the way its society is structured, a stark contrast to the unfortunate hole in the premise of BNA.
“Beastars” also has a better soundtrack. BNA’s is great, but “Beastars” is much more original and memorable as a result.
On the flipside, while “Beastars'” CGI style does look extremely cool it is hard to look at its somewhat jerky animation and say it looks better than BNA, which looks consistently amazing. “Beastars'” few action scenes are exciting enough but pale in comparison to BNA’s.
“Beastars'” writing may be a lot tighter but this is partially because BNA is much more ambitious, with various conflicts swirling around many different characters and Micheru’s struggles only being a small part of this story. “Beastars” certainly covers a lot of territory but Trigger’s bread and butter is BIG, and BNA is absolutely no exception to this. Make no mistake, that is a positive, because there’s always something to pay attention to and think about.
BNA is also much, much funnier than “Beastars”.
So which of the two shows is better? I think you have to say “Beastars”, if only because it doesn’t bungle its premise so dramatically, but the shows are different in a lot of ways to the point that no matter what you think of “Beastars” it’s still worth watching BNA anyway. The experience is very different.
The word I keep coming back to with BNA is FUN. The show is really, really fun. It looks great, it’s interesting, it’s exciting, and it’s endlessly addictive. BNA is the first show of 2020 that ranks up there with the best of 2019.