There’s a scene in Beastars Vol. 7, out in print in English today, where the carnivores of Cherryton High are grilling Legoshi about what he did on the night he didn’t return to boarding school. The carnivores know Legoshi was out with a girl, which means that sex was likely, except they can’t wrap their heads around how that would work, exactly.
Legoshi, our deceptively meek hero, is a wolf. Haru, the girl he was out with, is a dwarf rabbit — and a herbivore to boot. Surely, the crude carnivores say, both parties involved have anatomies that would make such a pairing tricky. Legoshi, embarrassed out of his mind, responds to the carnivores with pure indignation.
As a reader, I’m actually with Legoshi, despite the hilarity of his statement. The memories he speaks of, where he spends time with Haru, are striking enough that I, too, am satisfied with the proverbial lack of action. Beastars is at its best when it builds up the nearly explosive chemistry between its characters.
Beastars, for those who haven’t been reading (or watching the Netflix show) up until now, is a manga about an animal society composed of carnivores and herbivores who are attempting to live peacefully. The problem is that, in order to attain this tenuous harmony, everyone has to make an active effort to fight against their natural instincts to eat one another.
As you read through the manga, you come to discover that the only reason anything works is because, all along, the carnivores have been satisfying their urges through a black market of animal meat. The newest volume dives into the larger politics a bit more here, showcasing not only the leadership council herding the animals together, but also discussing apparent genetic experiments that make certain animals more amenable for the society they’re trying to build.
Legoshi wasn’t genetically engineered, however, which means that he struggles with his urges all the time. He’s become obsessed with Haru the rabbit, except he can’t tell if it’s love or hunger — or perhaps a twisted combination of both. Manga creator Paru Itagaki accentuates the stakes by always reminding the reader of Legoshi’s dangerous body. Panels zoom in on his hands and fangs, so even when Legoshi is shaking with uncertainty about what he’ll do next, we can never forget what he is.
Part of the issue, we are told, is that everything in this world has a natural order, and this goes beyond the herbivore/carnivore dichotomy. Species traditionally stay with one another, because it allows them propagation. Haru and Legoshi’s budding love is marred by teenage confusion about sex, sure, but the bigger problem is that of societal taboo. This just makes their continued dalliance all the more charged. The two are afraid to be seen in public together, instead resorting to unpopulated stairways and secret meetings. We, of course, can see everything.
Paru plays off Legoshi’s repression by continually putting him in compromising situations. Volume 7 introduces Cherryton’s security guard, who happens to be a giant rattlesnake. It’s not long before we’re seeing Legoshi enveloped by the slithering reptile, who can’t help but be taken by Legoshi’s “beautiful” arms and legs. The snake, by contrast, has to hide from most of the school population because his mere existence feels shameful. Without arms and legs, the snake is relegated to crawl through the ground, as if filth.
Legoshi knows about shame — he wades in it all the time. And so, even as the rattlesnake starts to strangle him, Legoshi isn’t scared. Instead, we are treated to a panel where he muses over the softness of his attacker’s scales, which startles the Snake enough to let Legoshi go. Legoshi didn’t mean anything by it, of course, but his ability see the humanity in all creatures, regardless of species or diet, disarms the snake all the same.
Volume 7 continues the series’ fascinating exploration of power and who gets to wield it, but these conflicts are the most potent when the manga zeroes in on two animals occupying the same space. The characters don’t have to fuck to move the pressure valve one way or another. They don’t even have to kiss. The mere reality of their bodies reminds us that their societal contract is a series of choices they make every day.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.