It’s time for another Netflix jailed anime review along with a Studio Trigger anime at the same time. So magical that way. It has been more than a year since a Trigger anime crashed through the doors and shocked the world in movie form. That movie was Promare and it was a wild ride. Some people looked at Promare as Trigger’s take on Fire Force. I feel like a similar thing can be said about Brand New Animal compared to Beastars. It’s a good thing that both Trigger series are so wildly different from those other pieces of media that only a glancing and surface level comparison can be made. Studio Trigger has their own unique style on everything that they do. Just like with Promare, this studio has something to show everyone with Brand New Animal. Well, kind of at least.
When looking at the plot of Brand New Animal, it hit at an important time during the start of the 2020 Black Lives Matter Movement. The show is another examination about racial relationships. Maybe that Netflix jail thing was divine prominence in a way for that to happen. In the world BNA, humanoid animals named Beast-men exist. The only safe haven for them is a city called Anima City. Everywhere else, Beast-men are hunted down to be killed or who knows what else. Possibly slavery, but that is something more implied then shown. That’s the state we meet our protagonist, Michiru in. She recently turned into a Tanuki out of nowhere and is on the run for her life from human hunters. With a scammy Mink’s help after taking all her money for her life, Michiru makes it safely to Anima City.
All of this is pretty solid and efficient story telling because we get to see the experience from Beast-men and Anima City through the eyes of Michiru. The horribleness of human hate groups and then the experience of little Michiru in the Big City. The festival of the Beastman appearing and sharing their culture brings the highlights of what it means to be a part of this society. How fruitful and exciting that it is. Too bad that isn’t the case because otherwise, the show would either be shorter or less dramatic then it is. I would be fine with that, but whatever. BNA is Michiru’s look at the culture of the Beast-men in Anime City with the help of the older Wolf Shirou Ogami through his love and protection of the city itself. Two different perspectives of the same issue.
BNA is two a one cour series in which, to me, feels like each half could be such a different show. The first half is my favorite portion of this show because of the way it’s built. It’s a lot more grounded in nature and shows how imperfect life in Anima City is. I know I spelled the beans on how imperfect life is in Anima City already, but not the specifics. There is so many factors in Anima’s City’s existence that relies on deals with the human businesses to keep it running. There is a similar truth regarding many citizens living in dire straits to just live that Michiru and Shirou try to stop or solve in their own ways. Or even Michiru traveling to the human world for a little bit and seeing people who are pro Beast-men, but don’t spend any time learning about them at all. Very good commentaries for the world we are in.
The best example all this is the famed Base Ball episode, which was fun, chaotic, and meaningful in its own way. I won’t dive into that episodes plot too much, but there is a lot more going on in the baseball game besides Michiru showing off her tanuki powers against bigger and scarier teams. This is Hiroyuki Imaishi’s episode and you can tell in so many ways from the art and extra cartoony nature of it all. The baseball episode is a true underdog story about the poor holding onto their one passion in order to survive against many different sorts of threats from the opposing baseball teams and some outside threats behind the game itself. I didn’t like it as much then, but I feel better about it now.
The second half is a lot less focused and quite a bit rushed, is a lot more Gainax with robots and explosions, and is pretty gay as well. The last one is something I love because the show introduces Michiru’s “childhood friend” Nazuna who also turned into a transforming Beast-man fox. She provides an insight into Michiru we haven’t seen and some changes of thought processes in how Michiru is perceived by her challenges. Just like a couple. Michiru is a tomboy and Nazuna who wants to be an idol so they are perfect for each other. Tying Nazuna as a part of the coming in religion as the main star is a great set up for a lot of things through efficient story telling. She knows how to navigate Michiru’s upfront-ness to her advantage and can move in interesting ways. Too bad it doesn’t go anywhere or that impact goes away.
Moving to the other aspects, the second half is messy with well-meaning but sometimes thoughtless political and racial commentary. Some unfocused spoilers here. The villain doesn’t show their true form until the last episode which means it comes out as a little cheap and easy to me. Some more hints would be nice. Same with the whole usual turning groups of people into one form of another. This case, turning Beast-men into not humans for their survival without the intriguing looks or more nuanced takes in whether the citizens of the city have a say in the matter. Something the first half actually did. That is not something an anime should look at from the perspective of outsiders and the anime knew that too because it was course corrected unaturally. I say unnaturally because it’s so incredibly noticeable.
In this anime, the most developed character is everyone around Michiru. I need to say that I do like Michiru quite a bit. She has had a personality from the beginning and is the character we follow in these stories, so that’s fine. Her learning about Anima City and Beatmen culture is her arc and it’s the one we need to keep everything moving forward. There is one flaw in her that she’s a little over bearing in expressing her opinions on situations toward everyone and I’m glad that it’s noticed. Shirou has a secret past I don’t want to mention and he eventually follows her point of view. Nazuna is the only person that challenges Michiru’s overbearing nature and she eventually goes along with Michiru’s thinking and recommendations too. Otherwise the side cast is just fun and never changing as well.
I have to admit that I love how BNA looks because a lot of work was put into characterizing the city and giving each character on screen at least two different forms. The human form and the animal form that still looks a little bit like their human form so you know who is who. There is also the fact the Anima City feels like a living and breathing city with so many layers and districts to it as well. I also really like the Noir pink and blue lighting and shadow work in the show. Same with the more cartoony nature of how Michiru moves and uses her powers compared to everyone else. Then again, every person in their animal form moves differently. The only disappointment I have is Michiru’s human design is so lame compared to her Tanuki form. We don’t see it a lot, so that might be the point. Might be an after thought.
I have some complicated feelings about Brand New Animal. Like everyone else, I wish that this show was two cours or 24 episodes to fully flesh out everything that it wanted to do. The mess of the second half would have worked together better or at least had more an emotional point then “Trigger is doing that Gainax thing it’s doing again but with more racial commentary”. At the same time, the main characters are great, the concept of the anime is solid, and the world feels very believable and interesting too. Plus, the first half is constructed pretty well too. So, I feel like that lands Brand New Animal into the good category for me I think. I did have a good experience with the show despite all its flaws. There is just something about Trigger anime that I just like a lot even if not all of them are so spectacular.