Review: BNA: Brand New Animal

Animal/Human hijinks.

BNA: Brand New Animal is the latest anime from the, what I've heard, top-notch anime studio Studio: Trigger (Kill la Kill, Darling in the Franxx). It's an original work of theirs that has since its airing gotten both a light novel and manga series, the latter of which is currently in publication in Japan. It tells the story of a young girl who has suddenly transformed into a so-called beastman and runs off to Anima City, a place where beastman live separate from humans. The series aired in Japan at the beginning of the year and through the magic of Netflix, the series is now available worldwide.

I got to tell you: I'm not that big into anime. I've watched some of here and there, like Nanatsu no Taizia AKA Seven Deadly Sins, but I'm very much a casual when it comes to it. So if you expected a deep dive into the genre, you won't find it here. This will be a review through the lens of someone more used to the type of animated shows done here in the west, so keep that in mind.  With that said, I do think that BNA is a good and enjoyable series for anyone interested in animation and a decent starting point for newcomers, even it does have a fair share of issues.

Let's dive in.


The pilot episode of the series starts with a young tanuki girl, Michiru Kagemori, on the run from a group of humans who are clearly out to get here. Beastmen are human-like beings who can transform into humanoid animals. They have been around for thousands of years, but have only made their presence known a few decades ago. Beastmen live predominantly in Anima City, a safe haven where they can live their lives separate from the humans. She manages to catch a ride going the direction of the city on top of a bus, but's not long before the aggressive group of beastmen haters catches up with her. They're about to kill Michiru when she's 'saved' by a group of beastmen smugglers. They get her into the city (for a price) but once she gets there she finds the place seemingly abandoned.

It turns out that Michiru had nothing to fear, as she has simply entered the city right before the start of a festival celebrating its founding 10 years ago. Through some shenanigans, her wallet gets stolen and while persuing the thief she ends up right in the middle of a group of beastmen attempting to bomb the festival after getting paid by a group of beastmen haters to do so. It's here where she meets, and bonds with, Shirou Ogamia wolf beastman who isn't the forgiving type when it comes to humans and violently beats up the criminals. He's only stopped from outright killing them by Michiru who reveals that she used to be a human, something long thought to be impossible.

If it wasn't already clear from the summary on the pilot episode, the Beastmen in the series is an allegory for race. Throughout the series 12 episode run, the relation between humans and beastmen is used to explore topics such as racism, discrimination and segregation. This is something you can't get away from, especially during the first few episodes, as BNA slaps it right in front of your face starting with the very first scene and doesn't ease up on this approach until a few episodes in. It was a bit surprising to me as the trailer and the little blurb Netflix provided didn't mention or allude to this at all, so keep that in mind when watching the series. If you'd rather not have clear political and societal overtones in your entertainment than BNA isn't something for you.

If you think that these themes allude to the anime being a rather (heavy) dramatic affair, then you're actually pretty wrong. While it features these themes predominantly throughout, the overall tone of the series is best described as joyful. There are some heavy moments here no doubt, but on the whole, the show keeps it light and fun. There are plenty of jokes, humorful character and situations that Michiru finds herself in that gives the series an overall sense of fun and keeps it from becoming a bit of a dark slog.

The two tones don't balance out perfectly though. In case you binge-watch the show or at the very least watch 2 or 3 episodes in a row, you can get moments where you go from a fun and cutesy episode straight to a heavy and somewhat dark episode. You can get a little tonal whiplash due to that. On the whole though, the series balances the two tones out rather well.

BNA is very character-driven. The show features a respectable cast of characters, all of which have been given a good amount of depth and character. Michiru, as the protagonist, is given the most time to shine and I found her to be a surprisingly good and deep character. She's very upbeat, energetic and somewhat naïve with a passionate stance on what's right and wrong. She had all of the makings to turn into something of a very annoying protagonist. She has a tendency to jump into a situation without thinking it through, getting herself into trouble and forcing other, primarily Oshirou, to bail her out. She doesn't turn into this archetype though. She has layers to her character, most prominently her insecurities and self-hate about having become a beastmen.

What also helps to move her away from fitting into an archetype is that Michiru isn't stupid. During the pilot episode, she immediately understands that the people who have come to her rescue are gangsters and not to be trusted. Her tendency to jump into action without thinking it through is something that she gets called out for and what causes friction between her and her best friend Nazuna.

The other main character of the series is Shirou Ogami, a wolf beastman and a foil to Michiru in many ways. He's calm, collected and definitely doesn't share Michiru's optimistic worldview. His journey runs parallel to that of Michiru. He's prejudice against humans and his friendship with Michiru forces him to face and rethink this stance, while he helps Michiru realize that being a beastman isn't as bad as she thought. The two work well together and as they are the pairing the show follows that's a good thing.

Still from the killer baseball focused episode early on in the series. You'll get it once you've seen the episode.

The rest of the cast are well-realized as well. From Major Rose to Michiru's best friend Nazuna, they're all well-realized and interesting characters, except for the shows obvious bad-guy that is. Not everyone might get the same level of screen-time or attention put into their arcs but most of them go on their own little journeys nonetheless and those are interesting to see unfold. The only real exception is, again, the shows bad-guy. He's just not interesting enough. He keeps skulking in the background being obviously evil (which almost no one seems to notice) and his motivation for his action comes very late, out of nowhere and doesn't actually explain a lot. 

Just an interesting little tidbit before I move on from the characters. Shirou and Alan Sylvasta are voiced by the same two actors that voice Ban and Gilthunder in Seven Deadly Sins/Nanatsu no Taizai respectively. I find this so intriguing as Ban and Shirou and Alan and Gilthunder have a lot of similarities, it's like the dub team saw their performances in Seven Deadly Sins and cast them for that very same reason.

Now that I'm talking about the dub anyways let me just quickly tell you that the voice acting and translation is done well here. Some of the things I am aware of when it comes to anime and its community is that the quality of the dubs aren't always the best and are frequently mocked and looked down upon. There's nothing wrong when it comes to BNA's English dub. The voice actors all hand in good performances, the lip-syncing is done rather seemingly (except for one very glaring moment early one) and the translation team put in the effort to keep the essence of the original Japanese dialogue intact. You can watch it with the Japanese audio and subtitles on like most anime fans do, but the dub is good enough that I recommend just sticking with that one.

While the series is successfully balancing both of its tones, it doesn't do so perfectly. This can be best seen during the second half of the show. It's at this point in which the series takes a narrative turn and while watching it, I got the distinct feeling that the producers were trying to fit two different ideas into one show. The first six episodes are pretty much what I described earlier. Michiru finds herself in a situation that is analogues to some sort of social or political issue and tackles those head one with her positive attitude and through some sort of shenanigans, the issue gets resolved at the end of the episode. They're serious issues, but it's all executed with a sense of fun. Lots of humour and all that.

The second half of the series isn't like this. The tone becomes much darker and depressing. The lore of the world, what beastmen are and their history are heavily explored and the series becomes much more action-packed. Giant monsters start the show up that our protagonists, Shirou especially, have to deal with and the series goes from that point onwards. It goes from a fairly grounded slice-of-life style series to two superpowered beaspeople fighting giant monsters. That's quite the turn.

To be fair, these aspects were alluded to in the first half of the season, the very societal overtones are kept and these episodes are enjoyable in their own right but this shift is jarring nonetheless. It just feels unnecessary. The original approach was interesting and enjoyable enough, why try to fix something that isn't broken? It also doesn't help the series ends rather abruptly, that there isn't enough time to resolve all of its plots satisfyingly. Something that more series Studio: Trigger series suffers from I've been told. I think that if the studio had stuck with the formula of the first half of the series, didn't do this narrative shift, the series would have been stronger and more cohesive. As it stands now though, this shift is the shows greatest flaw as it's too jarring and just not as well-executed as the first half of the show.

Before I wrap this thing up, I want to give some attention to the animation and soundtrack. Both aspects are top-notch here. The show is animated in glorious HD and is fluid in motion. The designs of the characters are both distinct and imaginative and the background, the world, isn't bad either. I especially like how the show conveys different moods and emotions with their character through only the smallest changes. The fights, which start popping up a lot more thanks to the series shift, are well choreographed and while I could have gone without them for the sake of sticking to a much more coherent narrative, I can't deny that they're pretty cool to watch unfold.

With only some eye and posture changes the animators makes the rather cute Michiru look quite intimidating.

I also quite liked the music. Music is a bit of a recurring theme in the show, it's used as symbolism to explain the relationship between Michiru and Nazanu. Both the shows main start and end themes are very nice to listen to and the soundtrack of the series also helps in building out its world and the atmosphere. There's not a lot of it, but what is here is very good.

Conclusion

BNA: Brand New Animal is a fun and enjoyable series that uses its premise of beastkin living alongside humans as a way to explore different societal issues like racism, discrimination and even the expectance of oneself. While capable of some heavy and emotional moments, an overall sense of fun keeps the show becoming too much of dark, melodramatic affair. The series has its problems, it doesn't always manage to balance the heavy with the fun and the shift in the narrative was jarring, yet these aren't that hard to overlook. It just keeps the show from achieving greatness is all. All in all, BNA: Brand New Animal is worth a watch.

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