MANGA REVIEW | "Beast Complex" - Volume One
Before Paru Itagaki brought us BEASTARS, she experimented with an anthropomorphic world that would’ve given birth to Legoshi, Haru, Louis, and the rest of the Cherryton Academy students. Beast Complex, set in the same world as BEASTARS, is presented as stand-alone stories set during a time when carnivore and herbivore friendships and relationships were still rocky. (In fact, you can still say they are, as evident by BEASTARS’s last couple of volumes.)
Itagaki takes some influence from Aesop’s fables in the six chapters featured in the first Beast Complex volume. Tales about friendship, love, and trust play hand-in-hand with what would transform into BEASTARS later on in her career. The theme of opposites attracting one another is perhaps the strongest of what these stories convey, as readers see a friendship between a tiger and a beaver or a romance blossom between a camel and a wolf. All of this is captured with a lot of heart and care, with many analogies to real-world issues regarding racism and the like fitting well into what goes on in these one-shots.
This notion of overcoming stereotypes plays well in many of these stories. “The Lion and the Bat” takes the latter’s fear of the former into consideration, with the lion doing his best to earn the kind of trust the bat lost when his parents were devoured by carnivores. Taking the time to do research on how others feel about thirst and urges plays well in “The Camel and the Wolf”, although the kind of relationship the two of them start having may lead some to question certain kinks and the like. (People uncomfortable with vore fantasy may be turned off by this tale in particular.)
Beast Complex also doesn’t hold punches when it comes to the darker parts of Itagaki’s society. “The Tiger and the Beaver” attempts to do away with carnivorous bullying, only for the two friends’ actions leading the culprits to get a slap on the wrist. It’s a feeling that stays true to today’s world, as certain heinous crimes get dusted off because of status. Meanwhile, “The Kangaroo and the Panther” talks about the importance of having a good youth, with the young panther in trouble with a certain gang and in the midst of smuggling illegal meat. While the kangaroo does his best to set her straight, we’re left with an open interpretation of what may become of the panther in the future.
There is room for some cuteness and hilarity, as “The Fox and the Chameleon” focuses on the strange romance between the two. How the chameleon helps his fox girlfriend is both noble and humorous, with some added goofiness over how he’s able to stay fully invisible. Perhaps the most fun story is “The Crocodile and the Gazelle”, with the carnivore/herbivore pairing making food and chaos on live TV on a cooking show. It opens the gazelle’s eyes into realizing that carnivores make for some fantastic partners, even if their differences causes silly mayhem for all of the world to see.
While not as ironed out as BEASTARS, Beast Complex offers a fun and deep look into the anthropomorphic world outside of the Cherryton Academy campus. There are a lot of great ideas and characters showcased here, which do evolve later on in Itagaki’s series. However, these six stories do a fine job expanding a bit more into the setting of BEASTARS, as Beast Complex dives into not just how these carnivores and herbivores think, but also why these feelings exist in the first place.
Promotional consideration provided by Gabrielle Dyer of VIZ Media