Transformed by a strange disease into a 'tanuki' (shape-shifting raccoon creature) teenager Michiru Kagemori (voiced Sumire Morohoshi) escapes to Anima-City; a place where so-called 'beastmen' can be themselves. Here she meets Shiro Ogami (Yoshimasa Hosoya), a stoic yet sensitive super badass wolf-man dedicated to safeguarding his fellow beastmen from threats both outside and within the city. Together our dynamic anthropomorphic duo, with assistance from Anima-City's dedicated mayor Barbaray Rose (Gara Takashima) investigate strange goings on involving everything from powerful shark mob boss Flip (Youhei Tadano) and his missing sexy mermaid social media influencer daughter, a sinister medical research facility with a beastman-abducting robot army, a wild and wacky but crooked baseball game, and a newly emerged, increasingly powerful religious cult led by someone unexpectedly tied to Michiru's past. Gradually Michiru and Shiro unravel an elaborate conspiracy threatening the future of Anima-City.
Imagine Disney's Zootopia (2016) redone as a balls-to-the-wall sci-fi action-comedy and you will have some idea what to expect from B.N.A. (Brand New Animal), a twelve part anime from fan favourites Studio Trigger. While the character dynamics and underlining themes of these respective American and Japanese animations are quite different both of their plots involve a conspiracy wherein the citizens of an animal metropolis start reverting to a dangerous feral state. Also where Zootopia's story ultimately involves into an explicit racism allegory (whose problematic nature has sadly seen the film's critical standing take a tumble in recent times), B.N.A.'s message about oppressed minority groups gaining empowerment through community and learning to embrace identities rejected by mainstream society skews closer to an LGBTQ fable.
Lately Japan's anime industry has been obsessed with anthropomorphic animal characters. B.N.A. arrives in the wake of the similarly idiosyncratic and acclaimed Beastars (2019) and Odd Taxi (2021). Yet far from derivative it bears the stamp of quality fans have come to expect from Studio Trigger, the animators behind such modern classics as Kill la Kill (2013) and Promare (2019). Bright neon pastel coloured and dynamically fluid action sequences are among the many highlights of a gripping serial that pulls off the tricky feat of interweaving intrigue and intricate world-building with madcap, often laugh-out-loud Looney Tunes style humour. Over the course of its twelve episodes director Yoh Yoshinari and the screenwriting team of Kazuki Nakashima, Kimiko Ueno and Nanami Higuchi gradually expand the detail of Anima-City, Michiko and Shiro's respective back-stories and the scope of the conspiracy plot. Along the way we are introduced to such vividly etched and memorable characters as street hustler mink Marie (Michiyo Murase), oh-so-polite-yet sinister human political bigwig Alan Sylvestre (Kaito Ishikawa) and chubby chibi comic relief dog Jackie (Megumi Han). Especially fascinating, from both a characterization and design point of view, is Nazuna (Maria Naganawa) the charismatic lupine cult leader-cum-idol singer (!) whose ambiguous relationship with lifelong bestie-turned-frenemy Michiru actually makes up a more significant portion of the story's heart than the latter's refreshingly platonic buddy cop bond with Shiro. Nazuna, who alternates from unnervingly intense teen messiah to giggly schoolgirl with a head full of showbiz dreams, opens the path for B.N.A. to touch on the abuse of religion and means by which sociopaths twist our human longing for relationships into something wholly venal and transactional.
Although Shiro's near-unstoppable badass nature (coming across like a mix of Rambo, Superman and Sherlock Holmes) saps some tension from the various near-death situations the characters land in, the plot sagely counterbalances that with a more affecting layer of tortured sensitivity. It allows the viewer to warm to Shiro more and his desperate need to protect his race. Nevertheless it is Michiru who emerges B.N.A.'s most faceted and engaging character with her peppy, vivacious personality. Michiru longs for a normal life she can no longer have. The core plot strand within the serial charts her growing confidence in her newfound super-abilities (which eventually rival Shiro’s own) as she gradually embraces her new identity and finds her place in society. The baseball episode, wherein Michiru's tanuki morphing powers turn her into a superstar athlete while Shiro probes the mob’s attempts to rig the game, is especially outstanding. Aside from being a triumphant highpoint for the animator's gonzo imagination and artistry it is a vital stepping stone in Michiru's development as a character. It is also worth noting that the series has a pleasing arc about women gaining agency through challenging the stoic men in their lives. B.N.A. builds to a cracking finale. Much like staple anime franchise Superdimensional Fortress Macross (1982) a key character performs a spectacular pop concert as a front for an equally grandiose, even apocalyptic showdown while some juicy drama unfolds backstage. Only with the wackiness cranked up to eleven. The music, credited to J-funk sensation mabanua, is seriously infectious. In fact the end theme "Night Running" performed by AAAMYYY is not only an absolute banger but actually factors into the plot!