The Show Must Go On
Beastars, volume 1
By Paru Itagaki
Paru Itagaki’s anthropomorphic manga Beastars was serialized in Akita Shoten’s Weekly Shōnen Champion from September 2016 to October 2020. Volume One, collecting issues 1 to 7 in tankōbon format, was published in 2017. The English translation was published in 2019.
Herbivores and carnivores attend Cherryton Academy together, secure in the knowledge that the carnivores have forever set aside their impulses to kill and eat the humanoid herbivores. Alpaca Tem’s brutal murder casts doubt on school safety. At least one carnivore is still willing to consume their frail herbivore schoolmates.
Faced with this shocking disruption to normalcy, the students do the only thing they can do.
Put on a play1!
Murder is bad but it’s something students are in no position to solve. The drama club plays an important role in maintaining school morale. As horrifying as the murder is, the show must go on!
As soon as the director recasts the part previously played by the murdered Tem.
Hulking gray wolf Legoshi belongs to the drama club. Preferring to stay in the shadows, he is no actor, merely a stagehand. Many students overlook Legoshi. Those who do notice him are aware Legoshi is enormous, extremely odd, and something of a social outcast. Legoshi is certainly physically capable of the murder. Which would matter if this were Solve the Murder Club. As it is drama club, Legoshi is simply regarded with suspicion and side-eye.
Louis the red deer takes his position as leader, director, and star actor of the drama club very seriously. Thus, Legoshi, that great inarticulate brute clearly capable of rending herbivores limb from limb, is a figure of concern to Louis. Louis’ keen insight assures him Legoshi is no killer. Nor is Legoshi an actor. However, Louis needs someone to stand guard while Louis and a struggling actor have a late night, unsanctioned rehearsal. Legoshi is ideally suited for that role.
Late that night, social pariah dwarf rabbit Haru, seeking isolation from hostile schoolmates, crosses Legoshi’s path. Haru will discover for herself whether Legoshi is the harmless giant Louis believes him to be or something far more deadly.
The art in volume one is not great. Somewhat off-putting, in fact. I looked ahead and can report that it gets more polished.
At least in volume one, the author is not interested in justifying her world. People in this are anthropomorphic animals, but whether this is a natural state of affairs or if they were engineered in the past is never addressed. Rather like the quite similar Zootopia, whose nearly simultaneous release suggests independent, parallel development.
Louis is mostly right. Legoshi has … urges … but he is able, as are all but one of the students at Cherryton, to suppress them. In fact, while some of his behavioral quirks are because he is in some way neurodivergent, other quirks are due to his ongoing efforts to avoid scaring or accidentally injuring schoolmates. The fact he would kinda like to eat his friends is the subject of enormous amounts of guilt.
Legoshi has entirely different …urges… where famously promiscuous Haru is concerned and he suppresses them as well. Add more guilt and shame to flavour.
Many readers may be surprised that the students limit their detective work to muttered suspicions. I certainly was. However, on reflection, it is probably unrealistic to expect high schoolers to have previously untapped potential for incisive detective work. Drama clubs are more plausible. Directors insisting the brutal death of a cast member cannot interfere with staging a play is, of course, entirely plausible.
This is more of a character-driven story than a puzzle. It turns out that high-school students, even recluses like Legoshi, have complex social lives. This goes double for drama students.
I am not sure if I entirely liked this manga but I am willing to try a second volume.
Beastars, Volume 1 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).
1: Odd coincidence: Robertson Davis’ Tempest Tost will be the subject of an upcoming review. Tempest Tost also features a noteworthy the-play-must-go-on moment.