The single volume Beast Complex collects six stories by Paru Itagaki, the creator of Beastars. They’re set in her world where anthropomorphized carnivores and herbivores try to co-exist, in spite of one type of being wanting to eat the other. It’s a potent metaphor. Characters are constantly under threat because of what they are, not what they choose to do, although these tales make it clear that everyone has choices.
Each story puts one of each type of creature into conflict, in a variety of roles. The pairs include:
- Schoolboys, a tiger and a beaver, who try to keep their friendship in light of everyone telling them that they’re going to grow apart
- A crocodile and a gazelle forced to work together on a cooking show
- A chameleon boy who wants to protect his school friend, a fox girl, from bullies
- A high-achieving lion student sent to find out why a bat classmate is no longer coming to school
The stories are set in a well-realized world, one that may spur the reader’s imagination into imagining their own ideas of life as a humanoid animal. The situations here run the gamut, so note that it is rated for older teens. One story is about someone wanted as an accessory to murder. Another shows us a one-night stand between a wolf woman and a camel man that explicitly addresses the question of one type wanting to eat the other. Even the school bullying has an undertone not of violence but of possible murder.
The fine-line art style allows for character expression as well as creating a world where detail matters, that rewards reader involvement. The characters suffer as they feel bound by their natures, compelled into particular roles that they may not want. (You can see preview pages at the publisher’s website.)
The lion/bat story, for example, forces the lion to confront his own feelings and fears. He worries he’s not able to live up to the leadership role and expectations of achievement forced upon him. The bat expects him to bully or even abuse him, which requires the lion to actively choose another way to behave.
The cooking show story (the best of the bunch) is a welcome lighter installment, with a less challenging premise. A long-running TV show changes up the hosts to attract attention, and the gazelle hates her new partner. The crocodile prides himself on creating dishes that satisfy a carnivore’s desire for meat, although the substance itself is forbidden. Their faithfulness to their craft eventually overcomes their differences.
Beast Complex serves as a terrific introduction to the world of Beastars, demonstrating how much can be done with the basic idea of different species of animals living together. (The publisher provided a review copy. Review originally posted at Good Comics for Kids.)