I finally gave into Carlos’ request and to my desire to actually start a newer anime. He recommended Beastars and I suppose in my madness or in my lucidity, I listened to him. In all fairness, the last anime Carlos got me to watch left me a babbling mess over Satan and his demonic boyfriend but we’re not here to talk about that. So let’s talk about Beastars, racism, coding and the merits of trying to figure out where you fit in an animal allegorical society.
Let’s start with a summary.
Beastars centers around a wolf, Legosi, and an entire school full of anthropomorphized animals; some predators and some prey. If this sounds like Zootopia, you are right. But Legosi is different. He is a predator who is trying to be chill. That is until he meets an incredibly horny rabbit named Haru and continues to entangle himself with a weird sexually coded deer named Louis. It’s all a mess as the school is reeling after the vicious murder of a prey student and everyone is pointing the finger (paw, claw, apendage?) at each other and tensions run high. At its core, this is a furry coming of age story but there was something striking about Legosi that I found as I dove into the series. I could weirdly relate to him. But we have to talk about Legosi a little more which I know would make him uncomfortable. Legosi is fascinating because even though he is a wolf and is physically imposing in nearly every way, he’s mostly gentle and quiet and introverted. He’s very aware that he’s scary and thus does his best to show off that he isn’t scary at all. He’s sensitive and doesn’t like a lot of attention. He’s loyal despite being a loner. He’s confusing in a lot of ways but he’s very aware of something that I have become increasingly aware of: optics. He’s aware of how situations must look. Surely if he as a predator were to be seen engaging in risky behaviors, it would be, regardless of his intention would have been read terribly.
Legosi seems obsessed with showing how he isn’t like other predators and he’s perpetually trying to be the bigger person even if it is inadvertently sometimes. Honestly, it was curious to watch and only became more obvious with his interactions with Louis, a deer who I still don’t know how to feel about. Louis is perpetually overcompensating because he is a prey animal. He’s in theory weak and thus is overly capable, charming and puts himself in the spotlight. He is performing strength.
Louis is perpetually trying to force Legosi to show his strength and Legosi mostly wants nothing to do with it and then stating a line that’s rattled around in my brain for a while: “There is nothing special about a wolf being strong.” and…well, he’s not wrong. There is absolutely nothing special or unexpected about a wolf being a wolf. What is unexpected is watching a wolf constantly lower himself so that he seems non-threatening. That makes it even more curious when Legosi has his, let’s be frank, sexual awakening when he attacks Haru.That primal, carnal, lustful energy that comes with domination and the metaphor is lost on no one that Haru is a lily white rabbit in comparison to this stark, dark colored wolf.
When Carlos and I talked about the series after I got a few episodes in, I mostly found myself sort of joking about the show. I mostly fixated on the small things that usually make such series hard for me to watch. How does a society like this work? Would they really basically build a human society but with animals? How do toilets work? How do clothes work with tails? Buttons? Why are the school uniforms such a fashion disaster? But within the talk of buttons and clothes I mentioned almost flippantly that Legosi was aggressively black coded. Carlos pressed my opinion but I started talking and was able to tell him something that I hadn’t really given much thought to. I related to Legosi in a weird way. I also know what it’s like to have to “check my power” and I also know what it’s like to be concerned about how others look at me. Which brings us to coding.
Coding is a tricky thing in media that uses short hand and cultural stereotyping to broadcast abstract concepts in race, orientation and gender without using them bluntly. Think about Star Trek where even if a character was an alien you could attribute Jewish, black, female or queer “traits” in them. That’s coding.
Legosi read as black to me almost immediately because I was raised by a gentle giant of a black man who was constantly having to be aware of himself and how he looked around others: my dad. My father was 6’3’’ and over 300 lbs. He was a gentle giant but if I was someone who did not know him, I probably would assume the worst. But dad was constantly trying to portray to others using humor, kindness and wit that he was not a threat and it worked for the most part. I’ve also had to be aware of that in my life. As a black biological female, there are plenty of social stereotypes that are not in my favor; mostly that of the angry black woman. Luckily, I’m petite and most don’t see me as a threat until I open my mouth as I have been a mouthy little thing since I was a child. But in professional settings, I’m very aware of my tone, my facial features and my actions because I don’t ever want to come off as too aggressive; that can be career suicide for black women and for some, has been.
There was comfort in that coding with Legosi of being aware that he had some strange prejudices around him and he was doing his best to fight those with kindness and stand up to others who perpetuate harmful stereotypes about their kind. But that coding is also a little dangerous with the whole…feral lust for a white rabbit thing.
Remember Zootopia and how many people of color were able to relate to that world so easily? Remember how it made race simple and made it a predator vs. prey thing? Well, I feel Beastars did that too. And I feel Legosi’s coding is very fluid: I think if you’re of color, you’ll probably read him similarly to yourself. I read him as black because I am black.
Beastars is an interesting anime. I would never have started it without Carlos’ encouragement and I’m for sure interested. I plan to continue the series as I got about half way through season one before taking a break after dealing with some personal stuff. But it’s shockingly smart and definitely an interesting look at race, prejudice and the masks we all wear to hide or reveal who we really are inside.