This is a review of Trigger’s recent series BNA that I wrote two months ago for Anime Quarterly. You might recall that I wrote about how I started contributing to the site when it launched back then. Going forward, I’ll be re-uploading my reviews and other such content from Anime Quarterly here two months after they have premiered on AQ.
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I have followed Studio Trigger since I started watching anime back in 2014. Back then, Hiroyuki Imaishi’s Kill la Kill was in full swing and poised to be the most talked-about show of the year. In the time since Trigger has only earned more and more of the initial hype that some claimed was unwarranted at the beginning. I fell in love with Space Patrol Luluco, was enchanted by the original Little Witch Academia OVA, adored the visuals of Kiznaiver, named SSSS. Gridman one of the best of 2018, and watched Promare four times in theaters.
When BNA was announced, I had no reason to think any less of it. After all, between it and Studio Orange’s Beastars, the prospect of Japan’s growing pandering to furries was exciting enough to an onlooker such as me.
Animator and director, Yoh Yoshinari, would be helming the project, a man whose directing skill I’d only seen in Little Witch Academia previously. Upon the recent Netflix release, I went in excited to see more of Yoshinari’s directing skill compared to someone like Imaishi who I’m more familiar with.
After finishing it, I have found myself somewhat disappointed, though I would never claim the fault lies entirely upon the director. As it happened, BNA ended up lacking much of what I have come to expect from the studio, not for artwork or animation, but for story and hype.
In the world of BNA, humans co-exist with half-animal hybrids known as Beastmen. Prejudice against the latter is high, to the point that a city has been constructed in Japan known as Anima City, where Beastmen can live in peace. Michiru Kagemori was a normal girl until her and her friend got into a strange accident and found themselves turned into Beastmen, something that shouldn’t be possible. They ran away from home and made the dangerous journey, avoiding hunters out for the heads of Beastmen, and eventually made it.
Anima City isn’t a utopia, though. High crime, a large wealth disparity, and attacks from anti-Beastmen terrorists are par for the course. She soon meets Shirou Ogami, a super-strong wolfman with a strong desire to protect all Beastmen, coupled with a strong hatred for humans. After meeting, the two begin a rocky partnership, helping to stop threats against the peace of Anima City while trying to find out the secret behind Michiru’s strange condition, something that will reunite her with a long lost friend.
I enjoyed the first half of the series considerably more than the second. In the beginning, as the audience is still learning about the city, there is a large focus on themes of prejudice, be it internal or external. In the standalone episodes, this is handled well and creates some genuinely emotional moments. For instance, in episode four, Michiru meets Nina, an influencer who hides her nature as a Beastman. See, most Beastmen can change between their human and bestial forms, but initially, Michiru can’t, something the episode elects to resolve.
As the two get closer, Nina takes Michiru outside of Anima City to a party at a human girl’s house. The premise alone got me anxious with the possible drama to be had, but at first, it seemed quite pleasant. The human characters met in the episode appeared to be more accepting than most humans in the series before that point. Soon enough, though, the episode touches upon the idea of people who claim to be accepting of underprivileged races but harbor negative internalized stereotypes, making their attempts at kindness a lie. It’s a small moment within the larger episode, but it stuck with me.
Similarly, the next episode is a good ole’ fashioned baseball episode (haven’t seen one of those in a while). A baseball episode that is both hilarious, but manages to hit you in the feels in the latter half as you learn more about the underdog team. These early episodes, before the main plot has had time to ferment, are where the themes are at their simplest, yet strongest, thanks to a strong visual presentation that Trigger is known for.
Unfortunately, that second half didn’t quite age well in the writing room. I’m used to Trigger or Gainax going big on the theming, but BNA feels a bit too cluttered. There are themes of racism and prejudice for sure, but also more extreme themes genocide and fascism. There’s even a good dose of religion thrown in for good measure.
My favorite Trigger stories are typically tied to a singular theme that might branch out in a couple of directions. In Kill la Kill it was duality, in Gurren Lagann, it was maturity/ masculinity, and in Kiznaiver, it was empathy. And those are just the first examples I could think of off the top of my head.
I’m willing to believe that one of the many themes of BNA is the central one that is tied to everything, but the fact I can’t quite tell which one is the most central based on the ending is telling of the show’s cluttered story. As soon as the show diverted all attention to the main plot, it became a lot less engaging and interesting. So much time is spent highlighting a religious group and themes therein without much being said about those themes by the end.
None of this is to say that the script doesn’t say something with that plot element. However, there is a difference between having a couple of lines saying what something is, and crafting a story to convey a theme through emotion and action. As time goes on, fewer episodes focus on prejudice and racism, things the show previously used to great effect to bring the audience and the characters closer.
I think my biggest complaint is the underuse of the cast. In something like Promare, this was forgivable because it’s a film and there isn’t as much time to spend on the supporting cast when the two leads are such powerhouses in themselves. However, that excuse doesn’t work in a 12-episode TV series. The supporting cast felt especially side-lined, and yet Trigger still went in on bringing every character back for the big finale. It just doesn’t hit the same way their other shows do.
Speaking of Promare, the main plot and the ending feels less like Kazuki Nakashima wrote it and more like an intern copied the cliff notes, even down to the main villain’s powers and motivations. But… miraculously, Nakashima did write it… so what in the heck happened?
For a moment, let’s clear the table on something. Some have criticized Promare for having unoriginal themes that just copy from Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill. However, I will defend that Promare‘s script was a synergy of those two shows’ themes that paid homage to the creative staff’s past in recognition of it being Trigger’s first feature film. It was a loving homage that became its own story about finding one’s other half to change the world.
Nakashima is a smart writer. The guy has been penning the scripts for some of Imaishi’s best works for years. I’m disappointed to see a series so derivative of better material released only a year ago. His works with Imaishi almost always accel in two things: great characters and monumental endings. And yet, this show felt underwhelming in both respects.
The main duo is admittedly the most competent. I appreciate Michiru’s slow journey to find comfort in her new circumstances. She has to not only abandon her old life but learns that the new one she found solace in isn’t all she expected. On the other side, there’s Shirou, whose hatred for humans only finds exception for Michiru because she is currently a beastman. This hypocrisy fuels Michiru’s criticism of his actions and morals, as she tries to make him understand that humans can be good. As Michiru comes to awaken powers of her own tied to her mysterious transformation, the two become a good team together, something that could have been strengthened with more time.
It’s funny. Looking back to Kill la Kill, I often say that the show was too long and could have done fine with half its episode count, but looking at what BNA was able to accomplish with only 12, I may have to rethink that. More time to focus on the secondary cast and explore Anima city would have helped create an ending that I would have had more investment in.
Thank God that this is a show by Trigger, though, so at the very least the visual quality is great. It can look hilarious in the best and most intended of ways, and it can also present some striking imagery that gives the action a striking, exaggerated look that – like many Trigger shows – is like a comic book in motion. Hiroyuki Imaishi directed the action in several of the episodes, so it’s no surprise his influence is evident in the style.
The character designs were done by Yusuke Yoshigaki, responsible for the designs in the TV version of Black Rock Shooter, as well as in Space Patrol Luluco. If you loved how characters looked in Luluco, this show will be easy on the eyes. Characters in their bestial forms straddle a line between simple and cute or detailed and imposing. The style is as dynamic as the tone, and the designs are appreciably versatile.
I started watching the show in dub and I would have continued, except Benjamin Diskin’s performance as Shirou kinda irked me. Plus – and maybe it’s just a result of the quarantine – it sounded like his lines were recorded through a low-quality mic. It still might be worth sitting through if you like dubs though.
Finally, there is the music. Never before have I heard an ending theme pop up within the actual show so much in another show. “NIGHT RUNNING” by AAAMYYY is canonically a song loved by both Michiru and her best friend and acts as a recurring theme for them. The only downside is that I didn’t like the character of Nezuna, so the song kinda became ruined for me as a result of it being associated with her. But your mileage may vary, and I’ll be honest, it’s still a jam.
The opening, “Ready To,” is sung by Michiru’s voice actress Sumire Morohoshi and is also great. I never realized until writing this that both the opening and ending themes were each sung by two of the major characters. Just a fun detail. The soundtrack throughout is done by Mabauna, who the more music-savvy recognize may recognize from Megalo Box. As you’d expect, the music is done well as a result, though I will say his work here isn’t as memorable or ever-present during the viewing experience as his other work.
At the end of the day, BNA has every visual trait that those familiar with Trigger have come to expect. It’s fast, it’s colorful, and it is endlessly enthusiastic to show you cool things. It, therefore, saddens me to see the substance beneath that proves wanting. If you are looking for a story of fighting injustice with solid visual flare, you could do worse than BNA. But you can very easily do better as well.
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BNA: Brand New Animal is available for legal streaming through Netflix.
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Also, fun fact, there was one other writer credited for BNA and it was Nanami Higuchi. They wrote two episodes (four and six) but they also wrote all 12 episodes of Beastars. Now clearly, Beastars was an adaptation, but think about how within one year, that one writer was involved in both of the biggest furry-pandering animations from Japan… I find that oddly commendable.
What are your thoughts on BNA? How does it compare to other Studio Trigger shows you’ve watched? Leave a comment below and tell me what other Netflix anime you are excited for.