It’s not entirely fair to say that this is essentially BEASTARS Lite, but it’s also a little hard to shake that feeling. Shino Shimizu‘s I’m a Wolf, but My Boss is a Sheep! takes a just-similar-enough premise to tell its workplace romantic comedy: in its world, people have animal characteristics and are divided between herbivore and carnivore. They’re not full-on animals, but rather people somehow descended or evolved from animals, with everyone having ears, tails (if applicable), and general tendencies inherited from their ancestors. There’s a definite sense that the whole carnivore/herbivore classification isn’t just about ancestry, however; it’s also part of Japanese slang for how aggressive (or perhaps just interested) someone is in romantic or sexual encounters. Therefore Oogami, our hero, is going to have more trouble holding himself back from pursuing Mitsuji, our heroine, because he is a wolf and she’s a sheep.
Part of this feeling stems from the fact that Shimizu’s deliberately blurring the lines when it comes to carnivores talking about things like “biting” herbivores. Based on the context, it could be either a literal bite or a form of sexual behavior, and that mostly comes from some of Oogami’s new coworkers and his job change. Before the story starts, Oogami was a salesman in the same company, and pretty much the entire sales team is composed of carnivores – a black leopard, a lion, a cat, another wolf, et cetera. Oogami remarks that he was basically herded into sales because of his wolf heritage, with the implication that that really wasn’t where his interest lay at all. Meanwhile the product development team is, prior to Oogami’s arrival, entirely made up of herbivores, and mostly sheep at that. Alice, one of the women in the department, notes that other carnivores have been brought into the department only to be run right out when they couldn’t control themselves around all of the sheep – something that Alice and two of her friends are very interested in replicating so that they can get rid of Oogami. They make attempts to railroad him into “biting” them, but none of them work because he’s so invested in Mitsuji, which, somewhat ironically, is a large part of why Alice and the others want him gone. As sheep, they’re very protective of their leader, Mitsuji, and that makes Oogami a threat to her safety in their eyes.
Part of the light humor of the book comes from the fact that despite their protestations of “I’m like this because I’m a wolf/sheep/cat/whatever,” most of the characters are acting against type. Oogami might want Mitsuji desperately, but he’s also able to behave like a decent person around her because he doesn’t want to ruin his chance with her. Mitsuji may find herself shaking in meetings with carnivores or inclined to take up as little space as possible, but she’s also incredibly capable and actually pretty comfortable around just about everyone, regardless of species. Alice is certainly no wilting wallflower and is more proactive than Hyoukawa the black leopard when it comes to getting what she wants. The animal natures feel more like societal assumptions than anything more primordial, stand-ins for gender and social class markers dressed up with ears and tails in order to lightly poke at them.
And it is a light form of social parody, so much so that you could easily ignore that entire aspect in favor of simply focusing on the romantic comedy elements. Things like the way Oogami’s tail wags enthusiastically without his awareness when he’s talking to Mitsuji or Alice tracking down Mitsuji’s whereabouts from a piece of tail fluff work with the animal factors nicely while still keeping things lighthearted and a little goofy, and plenty of the staples of office romance are in place, such as getting locked in the reference room (workplace manga’s equivalent of the gym storage room), going out drinking with colleagues, and interdepartmental competition. Oogami’s crush on Mitsuji is more or less an open secret (even Mitsuji has at least an idea that he likes her) and serves to not only drive the plot, but to allow the characters to air all of their ingrained assumptions about themselves and others in the same way that someone’s work record determines their worth in non-animal-based office rom coms. The animal bits and pieces pop up in odd moments to remind us they’re there, such as Mitsuji’s latest project being a pillow for people with horns.
Interestingly enough, there really isn’t much made of the fact that some of the sheep have horns and others don’t, which, if you’re as inclined to overthinking as I am, could have easily been used as a marker of breed; instead, it is treated here like curly versus straight hair – some people have one and some people have the other. Of course, there isn’t a ton of artistic consistency across the book as horned sheep are sometimes drawn without their horns, so it may be less intentional than it at first appears. It’s very nice to look at otherwise, and I definitely appreciate that Shimizu explains why characters have both animal ears and human ears; basically the animal ears are nonfunctional in terms of hearing, but are an evolutionary leftover that can serve as emotional expressions.
All in all, I’m a Wolf, but My Boss is a Sheep! is a fun little story. It isn’t reinventing the office rom com wheel, but it also doesn’t need to – it’s just a variation on the theme with cute animal elements, which includes a bit of wordplay with the characters’ names and their respective animal ancestors. Largely devoid of mean humor and mostly fluffy, it’s a nice light read when you just want a book to relax with.