With over 16 years of animation and directing experience, Mamoru Hosoda knows how to churn out an anime classic.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, his first non-franchise film, came out 10 years ago and won Animation of the Year from the Japan Academy. His subsequent films, Summer Wars and Wolf Children, won the same title in 2010 and 2013, respectively. It’s easy to see why Hosoda has such an illustrious track record from watching his films: his characters and their relationships are expressive enough to sweep anyone up in a wave of feels.
His latest instalment, The Boy and the Beast, does just that. Perhaps this is why it upheld Hosoda’s legacy at the 39th Japan Academy Prize last March.
The movie first introduces its protagonist, Ren, immediately after losing his mother to a car accident at age nine. With his father estranged and his extended relatives acting coldly towards him, Ren decides to run away. In the streets of Shibuya, he crosses paths with a mysterious individual who asks him to become his apprentice.
In the beast realm of Juutengai (i.e. land of the furries), the Grand Master has decided to retire and become a god — an ability exclusive to those in his position. He has two prospective successors: Iozen, the wise, popular, and responsible obvious choice for the position; and Kumatetsu, the brash and violent dark-horse candidate who’s tough to get along with.
Despite the odds stacked against Kumatetsu, the Grand Master has an affinity towards him, allowing him to compete to succeed him if he takes on an apprentice. When Ren follows him and accidentally stumbles into the beast realm, Kumatetsu makes the controversial decision to take him on, despite him being a human.
The bulk of the film focuses on the relationship between Ren and Kumatetsu. Their characters and relationship dynamic are the crux of the plot and what makes the film evocative. Their arguments and brawls are oddly cute and fun to watch. I thought Ren was a particularly well-developed character. Other high points include how the beast realm is fleshed out: the anthropomorphic characters and their society are very interesting and well conceived.
Animation-wise, it is flawless. Hosoda’s Studio Chizu did another excellent job, particularly with the characters’ movements and fight scenes. The soundtrack was also excellent, matching each scene.
Unfortunately, the story tries to balance too many elements, and is less cohesive as a result. I’ve also noticed a trend in Hosoda’s films where the final third throws pacing completely out the window. The final segment of the film could have been much better foreshadowed. The biggest downfall of this film is that it never explores the force of antagonism. Simply stating that “all humans have darkness within them” feels like a cop-out for not having any better ideas.
The ending was bittersweet, and beautiful despite its flaws. The Boy and the Beast is definitely worth the watch, especially if you’re looking for an anime that feels a little like a Disney movie.