There are anime where, if you really sit down and try to read deep underneath the surface for messages, you’ll find some surprisingly political messages. Then there’s BNA: Brand New Animal, which says to hell with subtlety—we are going to talk about racial politics, and we’re going to juuuust barely disguise it with furry characters. BNA is a story featuring stark looks at the act of othering, the specter of assimilationism, and the way society and government create negative stereotypes of minorities to then use those fabrications to push racist policy.
BNA takes place in a world where humans share the world with part-animal beastmen. Kagemori Michiru is a human girl who one day finds herself as a tanuki, and must deal with anti-beastman prejudice. She travels to Anima City, a city built and run by beastmen, in order to find answers. There, she meets a wolf beastman named Ogami Shirou who considers it his mission to protect his fellow beastmen. Michiru soon finds herself further embroiled in the complicated politics of both Anima City itself and its relationship with the human world.
One of the major points of conflict in the series is how humans perceive beastmen. Some are well-meaning but prone to exoticizing, others believe beastmen are inherently inferior. Even Michiru, once human and now beastman in appearance, has a perspective that is both insightful and limited due to her unique situation. She knows what it’s like to face prejudice but does not have the lived experience of those who are born that way.
Also important is that the very purpose of Anima City is to provide a safe haven for beastmen, but its astounding success and prosperity are seen as a nuisance by powerful forces—including those that ostensibly support Anima City. Though I do not know if this is a direct reference, the city has parallels to Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma—aka “Black Wall Street.” A predominantly black space where residents thrived commercially and financially, Greenwood was burned to the ground in a racist massacre in 1921 due to the absolute fear and resentment from white people towards the notion of black success.
As BNA moves towards its climax, events similar to Tulsa begin to emerge, particularly by outside attempts to frame beastmen as being inherently one step away from violence and chaos. Michiru and Shirou, as well as their allies, must fight against the racist idea that the beastmen must be “saved from themselves,” presenting an argument against what Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Anti-Racist) calls “assimilationism”: the flawed belief that a race can improve itself by behaving more like a “superior” race. The climax of the series even includes something about constructed notions of racial purity, and how flimsy they are when scrutinized to any real degree.
Due to some muddling of metaphors, BNA’s approach isn’t perfect. A racist viewing this series could potentially use it to reinforce their own beliefs because of the human/beastman distinction, and allegory often gets lost on those who ignore it, even when it’s this on-the-nose. However, the series ultimately rests on the notion that those who are disingenuous about equity and equality will constantly move the goalposts in order to maintain their oppression, rendering the notion of achieving success as a model minority is inherently limited.
While there’s the possibility that I’m reading too into a show about a tanuki girl and wolf guy, Studio Trigger’s previous works show an awareness of politics in the US and elsewhere. Promare features a thinly veiled reference to ICE (Immigrations and Custom Enforcement) known as Freeze Force. A very special episode of Inferno Cop has a fat and obnoxious parody of Donald Trump. Because of the content of the anime itself and this history, I think BNA can only really be interpreted through the lens of racism, both in its effects on society and its perpetuation by the powerful.