Following Michiru’s introduction to Shirou, Episode 02 of BNA highlights the challenges that Michiru faces in Anima City as she’s introduced to multiple unsavory facets of the town. With so much of the town’s infrastructure built around a “survival-of-the-fittest” mentality, Michiru leaves the episode appalled by the state-of-affairs entrenched in Anima City and quickly embraces her past humanity.
One of the first blows to Michiru’s confidence in being accepted by Anima City is their overall dress code. Much to the rejoicing of those worried about the “furry” designs of the characters, everyone in Anima City prefers to retain their human form in their everyday lives. The only excuses they give for letting their animal side out is either to celebrate in festivals or to whip out when they want to bear their fangs and get ready for a fight. But as someone young and impressionable who only wanted somewhere to fit in, it was the first strike for Michiru in a series of demerits that would eventually cause her to be disgusted by beastmen as a whole.
The most damning cause of her breakdown is Rabbit Town, a slum where Grandma Gran shelters women abused by men and also happens to be aligned by the Yakuza, who pressures her to procure women and children to be sold in a trafficking ring. It might feel a little on-the-nose and unfortunately topical, but in a year where subtlety has been long dead, it feels cathartic for a bombastic studio such as Trigger to put out a series where power structures are challenged for their complicit measures to empower those who commit human trafficking. It also calls to question just how much crime Anima City is entrenched in to have beastmen collaborate with human criminals to exploit other beastmen and drag the community’s progress further into the mud in being recognized positively by humans.
It is around this point where I’m also reminded of some of the older Gainax productions. I’m unsure of how many of Studio Trigger’s animators carried over from productions like Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi and Tengan Toppa Gurren Lagann, but the animations when Michiru was breaking out of the cage reminded me more of the fluidity and expressions that came from those shows. It’s easier to see resemblances to LWA given the director, but it was very pleasant to see how fun and expressive the animation was as Michiru gained Gum-Gum Fruit powers.
One more subject that would be important to take note of is Shirou. In this episode, he acts as the antithesis for Michiru by taking action without thinking about those around him. Some have found Michiru’s passionate empathy to be overbearing, but there is some much-needed duality between her and Shirou considering where he’s at by Episode 02. Even though his heart bleeds for those who have pride in being beastmen and fights to protect the women and children of Anima City, he relies on his best judgment as to when he should act.
In this episode, he not only dismissed Michiru’s humanity due to his preconceived knowledge, but he also followed his rigid code of ethics by sitting back until Michiru and the children were at the dock, ready to be shipped out to be sold before coming in to rescue them. Even worse, by the time he came out, Michiru had already been freed and put into a headlock by one of Grandma Gran’s enforcers.
What Michiru does by being abrasive about him, Anima City, and beastmen is to both challenge his notion of justice and challenge the nature of beastmen as she confirms with her Student ID that she was born as a human. It’s a necessary force that makes him confront some of the mental blocks he has to continue being more concerned about his track record than what’s going on around him.
And by making Shirou consider how a human can become a beastman and having Michiru come to terms with her new life as a beastman, it adds another layer to BNA by offering a reflection on identity. How do we conceptualize our own identity, our relationship with others based on our identities, and our fundamental understanding of other identities? We’re still very early into BNA, but it’s definitely worth watching to continue down the path of finding out how Michiru and Shirou continue to observe the phenomena that have been occurring across Anima City.