I knew I had to own this one as soon as it came out, but if it weren’t for my strong attachment to the movie, the extras certainly don’t do much to lure those who might be on the fence.
The only extras the blu-ray features are the Japanese trailers and an assortment of other trailers (which, as a side note, I don’t think should be considered extra). There seemed to be a lot of opportunity for some quality commentary from Hosoda, or even some of the english voice actors (I’m sure our friend John Swasey would’ve loved to chip in. Check out our interview here!)
While the lack of extras is disappointing, watching the movie again only reinforced my previous thoughts on the film, and while there are some elements of the film that could have been better, it’s still an excellent addition for any Hosoda fan. Check out our movie review below!
Let me start by saying this: it can be really hard to get people into anime. I think we’ve all experienced this before: we come across a series we feel might be more “accessible” for our friends who are anime-curious. We expose them to the first episode or two, eagerly awaiting their whole-hearted embrace of the medium, and hope to end the day buying pocky and sharing a quality bowl of ramen. Instead, we find ourselves disappointed when yet another series fails to keep their attention. Some of us have discovered that not series, but movies actually seem like the best way to expose new fans, and what better movies to screen than those of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki?
Miyazaki certainly crafts fantastical and enchanting worlds, and has brought to life some of the most memorable characters (as “hero” and “villain” are often hard to define in his works) in anime. However, after watching Mamoru Hosoda’s most recent work, The Boy and The Beast, I wonder if I might reach for a Hosoda film instead of a Miyazaki the next time I go to introduce someone to anime.
The Boy and The Beast is about a young boy named Ren who finds himself alone after the tragic death of his mother. Further complicating matters is that his mother’s surviving family members refuse to allow him to seek out his father. This sudden loss, exacerbated by isolation from his father, drives Ren to run away from his only remaining family, and in the process he finds himself stumbling into the mystical realm of beasts known as Jutengai. There, he’s picked up as an apprentice by the boisterous and arrogant Kumatetsu, a skilled martial artist in competition for the title of Lord of Jutengai, despite his numerous personal flaws. After a particularly amusing exchange, Kumatetsu renames Ren as Kyuta, and the two begin an unlikely but long-lasting friendship that is ultimately tested when a dangerous threat emerges from within the world of beasts.
I was enamored by the animation in the first 30 seconds. It opens with some beautiful use of flame effects, and the backstory that is communicated in this way does well to lend mysticism and weight to the world of beasts known as Jutengai. From there, Hosoda brings the world to life with vibrant color and exceptional detail, not to mention a wide breadth of characters inspired by various beasts, including the current Lord of Jutengai: an ever-shifting rabbit that is doing a very good Miyagi impersonation.
While the skilled execution of animating animal/human hybrids might be expected from Hosoda, who did so well with Wolf Children, one of the more pleasant surprises animation-wise was the quality of the action sequences. During an early confrontation with his rival, Iozen, Kumatetsu shows off some fancy footwork that was reminiscent of Spike Spencer’s Jeet Kune Do fighting style in Cowboy Bebop. What Kyuta lacks in brute strength he soon makes up for with speed and the ability to read his enemies’ movements, which is also brought to life with great skill.
Animation, however, can only take you so far. As any fan of anime, or animated storytelling in general can tell you, the best animation in the world can’t make up for a poorly constructed or executed story. Luckily, The Boy and The Beast delivers some of the most poignant and relevant conversations regarding the struggles of not just being a parent, but of being a child. Not just of the frustrated teacher, but the dismayed and disenchanted student.
If previous kung-fu movies or anime archetypes taught us anything, it’s that masters are supposed to be wise. They’re expected to pass on their skill with patience and finesse, and ultimately groom a worthy successor to continue their trade or art. While others have pointed out (and rightly so) that Kumatetsu’s brash behavior flies in the face of this conventional wisdom, I would argue that it goes a bit beyond the master/apprentice relationship. As a surrogate father to the stubborn Kyuta, Kumatetsu is expected to be wise as a parent as well. He’s expected to go from being a carefree, laid-back fighter to an understanding and patient master; his frustrations mirror those of many, many parents. You don’t have all the answers, but people expect you to. The anger that Kumatetsu vents is partially in response to Kyuta’s stubbornness, but also in his own assumed failings as a guardian.
Kyuta isn’t spared from these moments of introspection either. He certainly has his own doubts regarding his abilities, as an outsider in Jutengai and rejected from the human world, he struggles with the question so many of us face in our formative years: where do I fit in? Not that he necessarily needs to be loved by everyone, but just to know that he has value in the world he’s in.
While Hosoda does well drawing out the development of Kumatetsu and Kyuta, another strength of his films is the way he highlights characters that don’t necessarily enjoy the lion’s share of screen-time. Tatara, a longtime friend of Kumatetsu who is quite vocal about him sending away Kyuta shortly after his arrival, enjoys the role of adoptive uncle alongside the calm and collected Hyakushubo. They get their opportunity to speak and share their thoughts and opinions, but they are often seen, not heard. Still, Hosoda integrates them skillfully when needed, balancing the characters and playing them off one another when necessary to help further relationships at key points in the plot.
Regarding the dub: the quality is fantastic, but John Swasey walks away with the trophy on this one. He does an amazing job of bringing Kumatetsu to life, including the way he enunciates with the frustration dripping off of every syllable during his early training sessions with Kyuta. In close second would be Eric Vale for his performance of Kyuta as a teenager. Their bouts of bickering are convincing and heartfelt; in the end their strong performances did the relationship between Kumatetsu and Kyuta great justice.
For all of the strengths, there were certainly some areas where The Boy and The Beast fell a bit flat. For all of the talk about confronting demons and being true to oneself, our central female character, Kaede, doesn’t get the opportunity to settle things with her parents. At least not onscreen. While some would argue that the first step is admitting she has a problem, I would say that it could have been refreshing to see Hosoda’s take on a teenage schoolgirl hashing it out with her parents regarding their expectations for her. As far as the story goes, the villain’s rise and fall is both completely unsurprising and also a bit rushed.
That being said, The Boy and The Beast is a fantastic film. While many may have had some exposure to anime thanks to the works of Hayao Miyazaki in the past, Hosoda has shifted the medium towards the mainstream by deftly combining the mystical with the modern. The Boy and The Beast speaks to themes and issues that confront all of us, whether they represent our worst selves (jealousy, rebellion, hatred) or our best selves (selflessness, wisdom, dedication). One thing is for sure: whether you’re looking for a great coming-of-age film to share with your friends, or trying to introduce someone to anime, The Boy and The Beast is a terrific fit. The movie will be out in select theaters starting 3/4, and you can purchase advance tickets starting tomorrow, 2/5, at Funimation Films.