I was going to open with something like “every time I think I have Itakagi Paru’s subtext figured out she throws me a curveball.” But of course the truth is I’ve never thought I had it figured out – not really. I’m not sure even she does, but either way it’s above my pay grade. There’s a lot of really dark and really interesting stuff happening beneath the surface of this story (and on the surface too), but Beastars is so thematically and intellectually dense that it can be a bit exhausting to reflect on sometimes.
What we had here – though I wasn’t conscious of it until it ended – was an episode entirely free of Louis and Haru. But the story didn’t miss a beat as Beastars turned to putting on the Riz. The first question I have to ask is whether it was strictly coincidental that Shirokuma Hiroshi is playing the bear (it’s hilarious either way). Riz has been almost entirely unseen and unheard of up to this point, but his impact on the story now is one befitting his tremendous size.
As Legosi indirect kisses everyone’s drink bottles in the drama club locker room trying to ID his attacker, a terrible scene (and I don’t mean from a bad play) is about to play out in rehearsal. This was incredibly dark and disturbing (though toned down from the manga) – Tao accidentally (…) rips off Kibi’s arm, which is shown lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Everything about this is awful, not least the aftermath. Tao is legitimately horrified by what he’s done, but his panic sets off the other herbivores in the club even more. A terrified Kibi is too scared to accept assistance from the carnivores strong enough to carry him. And Legosi reminds us that this sort of incident is common enough for reimplantation to have become commonplace.
I found it extremely touching that Kibi trusted Legosi so implicitly that he was willing to make an exception for him, even in his moment of agony and terror – it’s a testament that Legosi is having an impact with his decency and integrity. But still, this is such a dark sequence, even for Beastars. Tao has only ever seemed kind and decent, but that makes the idea that this could – and did – happen that much more horrifying. The gulf between these two worlds is simply too wide, it seems Itagaki is saying – idealism can’t trump biology. And when one starts to grind on that it becomes quite a depressing thought indeed.
Riz turning out to be Tem’s killer (and devourer) – and Legosi’s attacker as well – is on the money enough that I’m kind of surprised it turned out to be true. A lack of misdirection is itself a bit of a misdirection in this case, I suppose. But the backstory here is where things get really intense. Bears are so powerful that they’re required to take drugs to suppress their strength (not even wolves and big cats must endure that). And the drugs have terrible side effects that can only be suppressed with honey (ROFL). Riz played the role of the kindly bear bro (and I’m not sure it was even really acting) very effectively. Until, that is, he got too close to Tem.
One thing we can say for sure – carnivores doing what they’re born to do doesn’t make them evil. No one should have to take drugs to suppress who they are, either. But Riz killed and ate his best friend – a best friend who, it seems, wanted to be much more even that that. It was Riz’ desire to be honest with Tem that led directly to the tragedy – and, one could argue, the first time Riz was indeed being true to himself. But what is Itagaki trying to say here? Even leaving the same-sex romance angle out of it, this is really complicated.
We still don’t know exactly how Pina fits into all this, though I still feel he’s acting out of ulterior motives. As to the school’s decision to give in and segregate the students – not to mention disband the drama club – well, in the context of the story can anyone say it isn’t a wise move? I know it would be much easier not to try and delve into the subtext in all this, but for me at least it’s impossible – Itagaki is clearly getting at some sort of message here, but I’m damned if I can figure out what it is. As of now, though, all signs point to it being a rather bleak and pessimistic one.