Kimiko SaitoHiroshi NakaMegumi HanGara Takashima
BNA: Brand New Animal
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2020: B
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2020
Director: Yoh Yoshinari
Writer: Kazuki Nakashima
Actor: Daisuke Namikawa, Gara Takashima, Hiroshi Naka, Hiroshi Yanaka, Houchu Ohtsuka, Kaito Ishikawa, Kenji Nomura, Kimiko Saito, Maria Naganawa, Megumi Han, Michiyo Murase, Sumire Morohoshi, Takehito Koyasu, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Youhei Tadano
Keywords: anime, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Website category: Anime 2020
Review date: 19 October 2022
Brand New Animal
Michiru used to be human, but now she's an animal. Beastmen are common in her world, but they suffer massive racism and no human's ever turned into one before. This is a racism metaphor, yes, but it's also more than that. Lots of viewers latched on to that reading, since this was broadcast in the year of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter... but it's also basically apartheid. There's a beastman-only city (Anima City) and there are groups of hunters who'll try to kill anyone heading there, on the assumption that only beastmen would go there, so why not?
Ep.2 has immigrant children in cages. Ep.8 touches on Nazis and the Holocaust. What's more, only the year before, Studio Trigger had made another anime (Promare) on similar themes.
The show's not trying to map reality. It's created its own society, with unique biology, rules and problems. At the story's heart is the possibility of humans being turned genetically into beastmen (or vice-versa), which has no obvious equivalent in a racism allegory and if anything is closer to all the homophobic attempts through history at trying to turn gays straight. I liked and was interested by the show's take on identity politics, but I think it stands in its own right, not just as an allegory for a viewer's preferred reading.
It is, though, both fun and strong. It's got all that Studio Trigger energy, but it's also posing challenging questions. Shirou is one of the show's heroes and he lives to defend beastmen, but there are definitely times when he'd prefer to let them die than see them be turned into humans. Michiru is the show's other hero... and, initially, she's racist. She's in Anima City because she had no choice, but she'll say to your face that she doesn't like beastmen and that she's just looking for a "cure" so that she can go home. Shirou's a beastman who (really, really) hates humans, but is going to get stuck working with one. Michiru's a human who dislikes beastmen, but she is one and she's living in a city of them. The show's most interesting thematic material, for me, might be these likeable-but-flawed people's inner journeys. Then, on the other hand, you also have sentiments like this. "Oh really? As long as you're alive, does it really matter whether you're human or beastman?" This sounds great, but the context and consequences of this statement will become horrifying.
There's a religious cult and a legendary thousand-year-old wolf. (Anime loves wolves. Don't ask me why.) It's also true that Anima City is barely civilised at times, with gangsters operating openly and a universal acceptance of the principle that "might makes right". Bullies can push around the weak and that's just the natural world. Again, this is important for the show's worldbuilding and true to their animal identities, but could look extremely awkward if you tried mapping it literally on to a racism reading.
Also, though, the show's a laugh.
Michiru is a hoot. (If I were her, incidentally, I'd choose the identity with superpowers.) She's also a good, strong-willed person, which is a big part of what makes her inner journey interesting. (Incidentally, both she and Shirou will get accused of making people's decisions for them and of imposing their own morality on others. Both make mistakes due to this.)
The murder baseball (ep.5) is very funny. It also has crazy animation, with Studio Trigger at their Triggeriest. I love Jackie and his slum chums, who remind me of Kill la Kill's Mako Mankanshoku in being a comedy best friend with no superpowers who's lovable and morally dubious. (They're nowhere near as awesome as Mako, though.) The show's always, always fun. I loved watching its episodes and I bet my children would too, regardless of the fact that they're tackling tough material and asking sometimes difficult questions. (It looks more like a Saturday morning cartoon than most anime and it's got a similar level of energy.)
It's one of Studio Trigger's best shows, with Kill la Kill and maybe Little Witch Academia and/or SSSS.Gridman. It's sharp and occasionally harsh, but also goofy. Definitely recommended.