Original blog post here.
You may be wondering what a Greatest Living Author watches when he’s not writing. Well, how about a whole city full of animal people?
Let me answer that question with another question: Hey, are you ready to go?
Brought to you by Studio Trigger, the good people behind Little Witch Academia — which (that’s not a pun, I swear) as you’ll recall, Harry Potter, but good — BNA: Brand New Animal tells the story of Michiru Kagemori, a previously normal high school student who suddenly finds herself mutated into a tanuki.
Quick sidenote: Michiru’s Beastman form may look like (and occasionally be referred to by other characters as) a raccoon (to the point that the first episode is called Runaway Raccoon), but she is explicitly established to be a tanuki.
FYI: real ones look like this.
And they are, in fact, dogs — members of the biological Canidae Family. For reference, tanukis and raccoons are only as closely related as taxonomic Order. For reference, that makes them as closely related as humans are to lemurs.
That Michiru is specifically a tanuki is almost certainly deliberate on the writers’ part, given that tanukis feature pretty prominently in Japanese folklore. In particular, folkloric tanukis are known to be shape-shifters, which obviously applies to Michiru given that no only does she end up as a Beastman, but also that her Beastman form itself gains to ability to adopt new abilities and shapes as the series unfolds.
Pardon that digression.
After discovering her new Beastman form and getting stuck in said form, Michiru is chased away by humans — that the humans are prejudiced against the Beastman is established pretty much from the first scene of BNA; but it never really gets a deeper explanation than “humans are jerks.”
Which I suppose is authentic to real life…
Michiru is then forced to flee to Anima City, the one place one where the Beastmen are able to live in safety and peace.
At least theoretically.
It becomes clear that humans are conspiring to destabilise and destroy Anima City and the Beastmen — again, largely just because humans are jerks.
For a show that’s overall pretty wacky and fun, BNA does delve into some pretty deep themes: the aforementioned racism, going so far as attempted genocide, historical successful genocide featuring prominently in the backstory, lies, betrayal, and a seedy, dark underbelly to Anima City that invovles things like drugs and human trafficking.
That being said, it is still overall an episodic comedy. It’s just a comedy that happens to have some surprisingly insightful, um, insights to say about some pretty deep subject matter.
And while there is an overall story arc, dealing primarily with the aforementioned humans being jerks and conspiring to destroy Anima City, there are also several episodes that don’t contribute to the overall story arc and mostly just serve to be funny.
For example, my favourite episode in the series: one where Michiru joins a scrappy, underdog baseball team only to discover that baseball in Anima City is often played to the Death, or at least to the Grievous Injury.
BNA is only 12 episodes long. On the one hand, while that means the plot does move at a pretty brisk pace, the negative aspect of this is that the plot doesn’t always have time to really breathe and several elements of the story are left under-explained or without proper, satisfying closure.
Overall, however, BNA succeeds from a storytelling angle. There’s no individual episode that’s worse than “good”, and the best episodes are fantastic.
The main characters are all engaging and interesting and have good interpersonal relationships that contribute meaningful emotional depth to the plot. In particular, most of the story revolves around the contrasting personalities between the two main characters: Michiru and Shirou.
Michiru is energetic, impulsive, and a newcomer to Anima City, while Shirou is quiet, dour, and works for the Mayor of Anima City. He’s more or less the city’s guardian superhero, basically Anima City’s Batman. Except he’s a wolf…
Most of the drama in the back half of the series is driven by Michiru’s reunion with her estranged friend Nazuna and the ongoing attempts and failures for the two to reconcile, and the lingering questions over whether or not Nazuna is finally, decisively going to turn Face.
The bad guys are pretty one-dimensional, but they do at least succeed in giving the audience somebody to hate.
All in all, BNA is probably a mid-point, in terms of content, depth, thematic maturity, and just plain wackiness between two of Trigger’s other animes, the aforementioned Little Witch Academia and 2013’s Kill la Kill (which I loved, but which is definitely adult enough that I’m not really comfortable going into depth about it on what is supposed to be a family-friendly blog).
Little Witch Academia is a family-friendly, feel-good story that remains pretty grounded in everyday life and problems, even considering its about a magic school. Kill la Kill is, as mentioned, 12 000% not for kids and also completely ridiculous, madcap, and off-the-wall, which even gets reflected in the animation itself.
BNA isn’t even remotely as adult-oriented as Kill la Kill, but does have enough intermittent violence and mature themes (up to and including genocide) that will likely upset younger children or particularly sensitive adults. It’s there for sure, but BNA is still essentially a comedy with some good messages; there’s nothing in it that should be overly scandalous or traumatising.
And, for reference, I’d like to remind you that the first season of Sailor Moon brutally murdered all the Sailors (yeah, sorry to bring that up again). BNA, even at its darkest, has nothing anywhere near that grim.
And, as a final sidenote: I love how catchy the theme song is.
So, I suppose the real question about BNA is: Hey, are you ready to go (watch BNA: Brand New Animal)?
Copyright 2021 J.B. Norman. Revised and updated 2023.
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