Before getting into it, allow me to take the time to even recommend Beastars, as it is a lovely series that does a lot of neat things with its story and themes, which revolve around the hook of this post: characters. Definitely among the best anime I’ve seen in quite a while and is worth a watch, should one have the time for it.
I should also note that this will not be a standard review of the entire series. While I could make that eventually, this is more concerned with a realization I made upon the “end” of the story.
Watching it on a whim about a week ago, there was a very poignant focus on entering the minds of each character in Beastars. Prior to that point, however, it established the predator/prey contrast between species in the most carnal way possible: a herbivore is eaten by a carnivore. This incident becomes the catalyst for a lot of unrest in the society shown through the lens of a lone high school, comprised of both herbivores and carnivores. As natural for higher intelligence, it erects a subtle doubt in the minds of the herbivores of the carnivores’ willpower, and allows for one of the main characters in Legosi to struggle with the nature of his lupine species. This will become a recurring issue for him as a character all throughout.
I don’t recall if I’ve ever detailed this in the past (with hundreds of posts, loose details tend to slip), but it’s actually hard for me to remember the names of characters from anime. This isn’t out of spite or anything; just that, most often, I don’t have enough connection to the characters—whether by personality or motivation—to recall them long-term. This is usually why I refer to characters in various “Thoughts on” posts by “male lead,” “female lead,” etc. Sometimes I’ll forget names after a few weeks, and sometimes I’ll forget their names a day after finishing it. This was certainly not the case with Beastars.
Legoshi, Louis, Haru, Juno, and even Jack and Bill, whose importance are situational, are names I will likely remember for a long time. Why do I recall their names so vividly? Because I cared about them, first of all, and secondly, the anime does a splendid job of placing importance on their mindsets, motivations, and place in the story. A well-crafted and mature story that takes far more risks than a standard series in a crowded anime season. It feels like it actually wants to say something, rather than meander through some vague connotation of wholesome togetherness and daily trials that tend to gain more esteem in the anime community. And these characters act as the key to making everything work.
Beastars reminded me that it’s the characters in a series that make it work, which I already knew deep down.
In the past, I probably would have made some proclamation that characters are only as good as the story dictates them to be. A simple plea for objectivism that used to rule all in my mind; while characters added a lot of fun, it’s the narrative that ultimately provided a series worth. Since then, I’ve begun to change course, as while story is certainly integral to success, characters are what decide a series’s worth to me. People are fascinating, and watching a person grow from young to old (or whatever form of growth they should partake in) is never unsatisfying (assuming it’s done adequately). People with ambitions, desires, and personalities that are relatable and empathetic are so crucial for stories to me now. Stories are more the set pieces for the characters to drive them forward. That is exactly what Beastars did, to tremendous effect.
This point was made even more clear to me upon the follow-up series I decided to watch once the animal fun was gone: Mairimashita! Iruma-kun. Hearing some decent things about it while it was still airing, and admittedly being fond of goofy comedies in the past, I gave it a shot, high off the serotonin hit that Beastars provided me. I dropped it after two episodes. Why was this?
To clarify, it’s difficult to directly compare these two series simply because they’re so radically different in tone and intent. Beastars is a generally serious character study about a world divided by instinct and hiearchy; Iruma-kun is a goofy comedy about a kid that’s sold to a demon king by his parents, because comedy. The one thing I can say is that the characters of Beastars were always interesting; the characters in Iruma-kun were generally very boring. The latter features a lot of set-up and payoff that runs through a particular formula: something potentially dangerous to Iruma occurs → Iruma escapes certain doom by some bizarre miracle → his social standing ends up improving by the end, only heightening the potential for his demise. If you’re into that, I would recommend the series, but others hoping for a more complex focus on characters and their desires being treated seriously will be provided nothing.
Personal preference definitely plays a role in my enjoyment of characters, but one thing I tend to think works is at least some level of earnestness in development or camaraderie. Even the most satirical of series, such as Mahoujin Guruguru, which I enjoyed, can appeal to me with some manner of development… of something. There, it was the blossoming romantic relationship between the leads, as well as a very loose desire from the leads to mature as the journey continued. In Beastars, there are development cues everywhere, as well as a story that aims to push those in various dramatic directions to keep things interesting. And with Iruma-kun, there was the implication of a camaraderie between him and his classmates, and his newly-appointed “grandpa” in the demon king. But while I had doubts that it would be played out for anything other than gags, its manner of execution was so dull and cliché that my desire to find out dissipated quickly.
Essentially, characters are cool and series should make them cooler than their basic, archetypal personality. Beastars features many characters that behave in ways that reflect the complexity of those with a higher intelligence (hard to say “like humans” considering the scenario). A tsundere will act like a tsundere; a comic relief will act like a comic relief; boys will be boys and girls will be girls. With such simplicity, series won’t strive for anything more than the base enjoyment that people can provide. Characters can be wonderful in a multitude of ways, so why not take the chance to give them some heart along with that personality? (Because money, obviously, but you get the point.)
What do you think of the role of characters in series? Are they more important to their success than the story?
For more opinion pieces on this topic, feel free to browse the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.