I have complicated feelings about Trigger. As the offshoot of the legendary Studio Gainax, their projects are stylized and ambitious but sometimes lack consistency. For every time they’ve knocked it out of the park with a Kill la Kill or Little Witch Academia, they’ve whiffed with a Darling in the FranXX. Their latest anime, BNA, is somewhere in the middle. It’s got fun characters and important things to say, but the pacing and lack of focus make it not quite as amazing as it really should be.
Furry anime has become a trend this year, with the recent Beastars and Gleipnir making waves for their dark, subversive takes on animal people. BNA is a bit more conventional – it’s basically X-Men meets Zootopia, with whole bunch of Trigger all over it. In this world, Beastmen are systematically oppressed by the human majority, and have founded their own city named (UGH) Animacity separate from human civilization. Our hero, Michiru, is a young human girl who spontaneously transforms into a tanuki Beastman and travels to Animacity to find a way to become human again.
So yeah, BNA is hella political, and I have mixed feelings about it. Many fantasy and sci-fi series comment on real-world sociopolitical issues, and this can work well with smart, consistent writing. But any time you use fictional humanoid creatures to talk about issues like discrimination, you run the risk of muddying the message or coming off as condescending to people who have experienced those things in real life. If “fantastic racism” tropes aren’t your thing, BNA might be dead in the water for you. At least the Beastmen are distinct and varied enough to not be a 1-to-1 analogy of a real marginalized group, unlike a certain other Netflix property I could mention…
Still, I was totally onboard for BNA’s first half. Trigger’s signature style of over the top action with wacky cartoon physics works great here, and I love the blue and purple aesthetic. The music is great too, especially the vaporwave-inspired ED “Night Running”. It’s a real song in the story and plays at key scenes to highlight Michiru and her childhood friend/rival/secret lover Nazuna’s isolation from each other in this new, confusing world.
The main characters aren’t too complex, but they’re all interesting and relatable in their own ways. Michiru is basically Akko’s fursona – dumb, hyperactive, more than a little over her head, but so big-hearted and determined you can’t help but root for her. Shirou is the gruff mentor with a heart of gold, a total badass and a very good boy. And Nazuna is an idol in every sense of the word, a morally ambiguous antihero who deserved way more screen time than she was given.
Around the halfway point, though, things start falling apart. As if systemic oppression of Beastmen wasn’t bad enough, we also have an evil religious cult, an evil pharmaceutical company, government corruption, mob mentality, and the brainwashing effects of pop music to worry about! To put it mildly, it’s a bit much for a 12-episode anime. Constant new reveals take up so much of the last half that there’s barely time to focus on the characters. By the end, the pacing becomes so fast and haphazard that the obligatory Gurren Lagann-esque action climax feels like mindless noise instead of a triumph.
But despite its flaws, I still had a good time with BNA. It’s far from Trigger’s best series, but the unique style and charming characters are enough for me to forgive its plot and pacing issues. There are a lot of spectacular fight scenes, and a darkly hilarious episode where Michiru joins a baseball team. It feels like a superhero show, only starring an adorkable tanuki girl instead of a big muscly dude who solves everything with his fists. Despite the muddled message, I believe it’s heart was in the right place. And it gave us the adorable trainwreck lesbian furry couple we all need and deserve in this world, so I can’t hate it too much.