First Look: BNA

Anime original by Trigger
Streaming pending

Premise

An uneasy tension exists between humanity and beastmen, a divergent path of evolution who possess the ability to transform into animal people. Michiru Kagemori, a human girl who finds herself transformed into a tanuki, flees to Animacity, the free bastion of the beastmen. There, she seeks refuge and to discover the nature of her mysterious condition with the aid of Shirou Ogami, a wolfman with a strong sense of justice. Hijinks ensue.

Iro’s verdict: Brand New Animal, Same Ol’ Trigger

Only a handful of anime studios can really claim to have a “house style” in the same way Trigger does, and BNA doesn’t shirk in showing off Trigger’s kinetic animation, brilliant shot composition, and growing excellence in color palette. Sure, they kinda keep making the same show, but it’s a good show, and nobody else could do it quite like they do. The bigger question on my mind is whether director Yoh Yoshinari can pull off another TV-length series; while I love Little Witch Academia, its TV run couldn’t measure up to the two OVAs, and even those hew towards a more “conventional” style than Trigger’s recent output. I have high hopes for BNA, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it might end up on the less-good side of the Trigger show rankings.

Zigg’s verdict: Beast Wars

BNA immediately sells itself to you the way Trigger shows always have – with a bright, energetic and slightly deranged visual style that immediately catches your attention and refuses to let it go. The studio is among the best at using animation to tell its stories and that tendency is on full and delightful display in this opener. It’s just as well, since there’s comparatively little narrative meat on the bone here, bar some allusions to human/animal race relations. It’s a welcome level of mature, but also a well-worn furlough, so a lot of BNA’s appeal to me will be seeing if Trigger can explore the issue in an interesting way. Even a bad Trigger show is generally fun and goofy, but we’ll need some time to see if this can punch above that weight.

Gee’s verdict: Thoroughbred

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. BNA, a product of fan favorite Studio Trigger, is an anime with a lot of heart, some pretty ridiculous plot beats, and an undeniable sense of style that few other studios can match. On first impression, BNA is an eminently likable anime. Its story is fairly straightforward but the characters are charming. And as always, Trigger brings their iconic sense of style and vigor to the show’s aesthetics. Its release schedule has left it in an interesting place however. For those unaware, the first six episodes of BNA have already been released, and as of this writing, I’ve watched five of them. Nonetheless, I will attempt to keep this restricted to the first episode. Honestly, this may be for the best.

Let it be said, the first episode is excellent. Between Promare and BNA, Trigger has grown so much as a studio in ways beyond just the “cuh-razy” animation they’re often pigeonholed into. Their already excellent shot composition has now been merged with a sense of color coordination that’s leagues above basically anything else in the game. In a year with visual heavy hitters like Doroheodro and Eizouken, BNA is still a legitimate contender for nicest looking anime of 2020. Also the Mabauna soundtrack fucking slaps. Getting the MEGALOBOX alum was an inspired choice, and I’m all here for it. It’s an unbelievably fun little world they’ve created, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Okay and here’s the part where I break my rule. If you don’t want any spoilers, stop reading here and check out BNA. I definitely think it’s worth watching.

Now for those of you still reading.

BNA makes me think about Studio Trigger as a whole and maybe Yoh Yoshinari’s own predicament as the paradoxical white sheep in a studio that prides itself on being the black sheep of Japanese animation.

For better or worse, while there’s still that audacious flair we love Trigger for, we’re left asking the question, “Can Yoh Yoshinari prove himself as a TV director?” This isn’t to doubt his credentials in the slightest, it would be an understatement to say he is one of the most accomplished key animators that ever lived. The man is responsible for some of the most iconic animated segments in the history of the medium. He directed both of the Little Witch Academia OVAs, which are arguably some of the most entertaining 60 minutes ever animated. But when we look at his resume as a TV director, we’re left in an uncertain place. Little Witch Academia’s TV run had its moments, but was flawed. With BNA, he’s escaped the expectations of an established franchise, but is tasked with a new obstacle; working within the limitations of a TV animation production.

Yoh Yoshinari is the studio’s straight man. He’s by far the most traditional animator of the Trigger bunch and when he’s allowed to shine, he shines like none other. We saw this with the Little Witch Academia OVAs. However, with his TV productions, we see some of the limitations of his approach. BNA looks good, but it isn’t so overwhelmingly stunning to the point where we forget the shortcomings. Whereas Imaishi can brute force through most criticisms with sheer style, Yoshinari’s more conventional approach also makes it more vulnerable to conventional criticisms.

Episode five is a miniature encapsulation of this. It was directed by Imaishi. It’s really good. It’s maybe the funniest 22 minutes of slapstick I’ve watched in years. It’s also made on a shoestring budget, to the point where multiple cuts are blatantly reused within seconds of each other. There’s so much flash tweening it brings back flashbacks to Kill la Kill’s raucously audacious fourth episode. And yet after the debut, it’s the second strongest episode of the batch. You can complain about how basically every Imaishi anime relies on the same playbook, but guess what, that playbook is a lot of fun. It’s proof you don’t need to be original to be entertaining. That’s exactly where Yoh Yoshinari struggles. Given enough time and resources, he can animate better than anyone else at Trigger. But in practice, we’re forced to accept that under more realistic constraints, Yoshinari’s directorial voice is still a work in progress.

And yes, I realize these are a lot of words to type about an anime that I think is still quite good. BNA is a solid all-rounder. There’s very little to dislike about it and much to love. Any other studio in the world would be proud to make something like BNA. But in a body of work that boasts some extremely notable members, BNA has its work cut out for it.

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