Manga Review: Beast Complex

Beast Complex is a compilation of six short stories set in the world of BEASTARS, and four of the stories were drawn before BEASTARS began. The compilation is considered to be Paru Itagaki’s debut work.

Beast Complex
Written by: Paru Itagaki
Publisher: Akita Shoten
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: March 16, 2021

The first story in the collection is titled, “The Lion and the Bat.” This story is set at a school with the same rules as Cherryton Academy in BEASTARS. Even though the school is never mentioned by name, I assume that this story is ultimately taking place at Cherryton. I’m guessing Itagaki didn’t give a name to the school until she started developing BEASTARS. In this story, a lion named Raul serves as the student council president and is given the task of convincing his classmate, a bat, to return to school. Azmo, the bat, isn’t keen on having Raul visit him, and their first meeting ends with an argument and Raul baring his teeth. Later, Raul goes back to apologize, and offers to share his notes to help Azmo catch up. Raul learns why Azmo quit coming to school, and the two gain an understanding of each other. I appreciated the message that Itagaki was trying to portray with this story with a carnivore and an herbivore trying to understand one another.

The next story, “The Tiger and the Beaver,” is also set at the school. Unlike the previous story, though, these characters are at the younger end. Instead of being teenagers, they’re around 10 or so. The tiger, Gon, has been friends with Mogu, the beaver, since they were born. In this chapter, it’s established that at the school, the herbivores and carnivores are separated from each other at school when they’re 10 years old. These two are young enough that they don’t understand why this policy exists, especially since they’re still good friends with each other. When they secretly meet one night, they witness older carnivores at the school bullying an herbivore. Unfortunately, the two are discovered when they try to take a picture as evidence, and a chase ensues. I appreciated getting a story with a younger herbivore and carnivore at the school and learning how the school rules work when they’re at this age, since what I’ve read of BEASTARS at the time of this writing hasn’t addressed this at all. It’s a nice little piece of background knowledge that helps to flesh out the school and its policies. And it was also sweet to see these two younger and innocent characters interacting together in the world that readers would get to know better in BEASTARS.

The third is titled, “The Camel and the Wolf.” This is a story set in the town and features adult characters. Garom, the camel referenced in the title, is a journalist who is telling some of his friends about an encounter he had with a snow white wolf named Abby. He encounters her at a coffee shop as he’s writing what he believes will be his final article before submitting his resignation. After a rocky start, they end up in a one night stand for Abby to “devour” him. To be honest, of the six stories presented here, this one was my least favorite. While I appreciated seeing a story focusing on adult characters in the world of BEASTARS, there was just something about this one that just didn’t sit right with me.

Next is “The Kangaroo and the Black Panther.” The kangaroo is the manager of a hotel that has seen a noticeable decline in guests in recent times, and the black panther is a young woman who comes to stay in one of the rooms. It turns out the black panther is harboring a secret that’s connected to the criminal gang that has moved its headquarters nearby recently. When the kangaroo figures out the truth, he’s left with the dilemma of letting her go or killing her. I applaud the decision that the kangaroo ultimately makes, but it’s an ethical question that makes the reader think as they read this story.

This is followed by “The Crocodile and the Gazelle.” Luna, the gazelle in the title, is a sous chef on a cooking show. She has only been on the show for five out of its 20 years, but the ratings are slipping. Her co-chef on the show (another herbivore) is quitting. A crocodile named Benny is brought in to be the new chef, much to her chagrin. She doesn’t trust him, since he’s a carnivore. During their first live broadcast, Benny starts saying some things, such as making the “fake meat” they’re cooking taste like the real thing, which upsets Luna. The director just lets this go on, especially since they’re seeing the ratings going up. They just continue to go up as Luna begins arguing with Benny. But even though they’re arguing, they’re still cooking the dish. This was the most unique story in this compilation, although you really have to wonder what the producers and the director were thinking. Yes, they were trying to shake up the show to try to increase the ratings but pairing up a carnivore and an herbivore kind of feels like it was a little much.

The final story in this compilation is “The Fox and the Chameleon.” We return to a school setting for this final story, and it tells the story of a female fox and a male chameleon. The chameleon seems to have a crush on the fox and tends to camouflage himself with his surroundings when they’re alone together. One day, after the fox is bullied by some other foxes at school, she asks him why he doesn’t stick up for her. His ability to camouflage becomes important the next time the fox is bullied, although he has to do something he normally doesn’t do in order to become invisible. This one was a lot closer to a typical “school story” than the other stories in this compilation that were set at the school.

Overall, Itagaki writes about compelling stories involving a carnivore and an herbivore, with the main exception being “The Camel and the Wolf.” But even with that story, she told six unique stories that are set in this world, and none of them feel like a carbon copy of any of the other stories. This ended up providing some great “world building” for her BEASTARS series, and as a reader, I appreciated getting to see where the manga series ultimately got its start. And it was also interesting to see how much Itagaki’s art style evolves over the course of the six stories in this compilation.

If you’re a fan of the BEASTARS manga, I would recommend reading Beast Complex. It allows the reader to gain insight into BEASTARS’s beginnings, and it also provides readers more stories and characters that are set in the same world. In a lot of ways, I see the Beast Complex compilation serving as a companion volume for BEASTARS.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

Additional post about Paru Itagaki’s work:

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