Paru Itagaki wrote the award-winning series, Beastars. However, did you know that the story of Legoshi and Haru had a precursor? The first 4 chapters of Beast Complex were published in 2016 in Weekly Shonen Champion, with Beastars following shortly after that same year. Both series take place in the same universe where herbivores and carnivores live in peace. The world is large, nuanced, and dark. You would be quick to dismiss a manga about anthropomorphic animals, perhaps, but you would quickly walk away from a wonderful experience.
Unlike Beastars, Beast Complex consists of small stories- each coupling an herbivore and carnivore to tell compelling self-contained stories. Seeing how Itagaki has strung together an entire society with all sorts of subcultures really shows how long she has dedicated her talents to get it right. One big glaring question would obviously be how carnivores manage to survive or function in a world where eating meat is illegal. It’s important to realize that Beast Complex attempts to frame this question around different themes and settings. Can a Beaver and Tiger be lifelong friends? Is it possible for a carnivore to love an herbivore?
My favorite of Beast Complex Volume 1 has got to be the first part: the Lion and The Bat. A privileged lion high school student sets out to find a classmate who has not been to school for a long time. The story’s conclusion seemed very mundane, but after re-reading it, there is a specific part where we discover the emotions behind some of these individuals’ past actions, and from what I took from it- both of them felt fear. In a time where hate against “the other” has led to an increase of violence, seeing that the motivation behind their actions was fear really speaks to how society naturally reacts to things they don’t understand. When we are scared of something, oftentimes, we are reactionary. We tend to act on survival instincts to preserve whatever truth we think we need to hold onto. All that from a story about a Lion and a Bat? I can only tell you how I related to it, of course. It’s what kept me flipping the page!
The art in Beast Complex Vol. 1 is liberal and, at times, reminds me of older Japanese folk art. The eyes are what sell these characters. Huge empathic eyes. The look of rage, Eyes filled with love. Every emotion is sharply drawn, and there’s never mistaking what someone is feeling. I love when mangaka uses transitional panels to make small drawings of a character’s hand motion or a brief cutaway to a shadow or object. It helps give the story motion and rhythm. It works very well with Paru’s style and makes a busy page a little tamer and easier to read.
I think what this series excels in the most is its ability to give us some really well-placed character positions. Whether it’s showing where two characters are sitting from each other or showing someone’s view from a balcony, You will see great examples all over the place. You can get a lot of information from so little too. Part contextualizes all these different settings and angles to truly drive home whatever idea she is trying to get across. A true mark of a mangaka is their ability to tell a story with as much information possible with the least amount of text. That being the case, there’s a reason why Beastars won multiple awards. Reading Beast Complex feels like Paru was creating a playground for her ideas and creativity to be cultivated.
Each story, though dark at times, always offered a message of hope. Despite an imperfect world, the beasts do their best to try and make sense of it and find their own peace. It sounds very human if you ask me. Encapsulated within these short stories are nuggets of wisdom and buckets full of heart. Beast Complex strikes at the heart of what it means to live in a troubled society. While not the magnum opus that Beastars went on to become, we are given some fantastic stories from this series. Anyone who is a fan of Beastars should consider picking this up. Some of the philosophical dilemmas are already, of course, given purpose in its successor. However, don’t let that discount your experience when reading this. It will leave you wanting more and maybe make you fall in love with Beastars all over again.
Beast Complex Vol.1 – Review
Beast Complex Vol. 1 - Review
Beast Complex is as an assortment of short stories within the universe of the hit series, Beastars. Predating Legoshi's story, we walk into the lives of herbivores and carnivores trying to make sense of life.