Feline Friday is my chance to celebrate famous cats across the arts, whether their origins are in gaming, film, anime, literature or anywhere else.
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FIRST APPEARANCE: Beastars, Chapter 35 (2017)
If you don’t know what to expect going into Beastars, you’re probably going to be in for quite a rude awakening. Set in a world where anthropomorphic animals try to peacefully coexist, it has obvious parallels to Zootopia — albeit, without the kind of restrictions that come with being a Disney family film.
The tale of Beastars isn’t limited merely to the struggle between predator and prey, delving into darker territory such as black markets, performance enhancing substances, and so much sexual tension you practically expect each and every character’s genitals to simultaneously burst.
In short, it’s Zootopia, but horny.
Our first encounter with Ibuki the lion is not a positive one, as he is a member of the Shishigumi mob that kidnaps the dwarf rabbit protagonist, Haru. The big boss has a hankering for flesh, but specifically, seeks to humiliate and terrify his meals before sinking his fangs in.
What proceeds is a perverse and uncomfortable series of events before she is ultimately rescued by her lupine friend Legoshi, as he overwhelms the boss with his ferocity. Following this defeat, he is too weakened to fend off their irascible classmate Louis, who ends his life with a bullet to the brain.
When the rest of the mob find this uppity young deer standing over their former employer’s dead body, their first reaction is something akin to ‘well shit, now we’re fucked. Let’s eat this kid to make up for it’. After some consideration, however, they instead elect to appoint the vulnerable lad as the new boss, a role he takes to naturally.
Apologies for the lengthy preamble, but it’s important to establish exactly how Ibuki finds himself in the position that makes him so compelling as a character.
Ibuki acts as a dependable moral compass for the young leader, offering his strength and support with quiet dignity. Considering his line of work and tarnished past, he is definitely not one of the heroes of this story — and yet, I would be remiss to define him as a villain.
Like Louis, he was initially sold as a product of the underworld. Where the deer was intended to serve as a meal for underhanded predators, Ibuki’s flesh was harvested to be used for drug manufacture. Upon his escape, he wandered the streets until he was enlisted as a member of the Shishigumi.
Despite their callous acts, they served as the first true family for Ibuki, and he treated them all with compassion and respect, performing in his role without question. In Louis, he seemed to find a genuine connection; someone who had suffered like him, and yet would not accept his station as a victim.
The interplay between these two characters is some of the most fascinating you will see in storytelling. Is Ibuki a bad guy? Technically speaking, yes, but to quote the sage wisdom of Zangief, “you are bad guy, but this does not mean you are bad guy.”
There is a genuine warmth to Ibuki, as he shows concern for his young charge and even goes so far as to offer him salads in secret to nourish his herbivorous body. This is all part of what makes his fate that much more more tragic.
Sensing that his aid is needed elsewhere, Louis announces he is going to leave the Shishigumi, causing Ibuki to get in a car with him in an effort to talk him out of it. When he is unable to convince him otherwise, Ibuki is duty-bound to prevent the red deer from living and lunges at him in an apparent attempt to devour him.
A gunshot from one of his trusted colleagues, Free, stops Ibuki before he can land the fatal blow. Free goes on to reveal that Ibuki had once instructed him to gun him down should he ever attempt to give into his urges and attack Louis.
This violent, hardened criminal knew that there was no way he could simply let Louis walk free, and so he gave his life in exchange for that of his protege. Free honours his fallen friend’s memory by allowing Louis safe exile, and the hitherto leader of the Shishigumi steals away into the night.
Ibuki’s character arc may be brief, but it is very much by design and altogether satisfying to see unfold. As much as I would like more time with this charming wildcat, he died exactly when he had to for the betterment of the story as a whole.
His role as an enforcer for the mob sealed his fate from the very beginning, and yet it did not encapsulate who he was as a person. If Paru Itagaki were ever to consider penning a spinoff that chronicles the lion’s younger days leading up to his employment with the Shishigumi, you’d best believe that Beastar fans would eat that shit right up.
Pardon the pun.