The Boy and the Beast Review - Tooth and Claw
It’s gotten to the point for me where if you see the words “directed by Mamoru Hosoda” in one of my reviews, you should immediately interpret that as a confession of bias on my end. I’m not sure what the deal is with him and the rest of Studio Chizu, but I’m yet to find myself not blown away by any of their productions, and frankly I’m not sure if that trend is ever going to change. It started with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006, and after that I was hooked on everything Hosoda and his crew did afterward.
I feel like at this point, Studio Chizu films are to me what something like Call of Duty is to IGN: I’m so biased towards it that the fact I’m going to like it immensely should just come by default. I could spend the entire review nitpicking my subject in every way conceivable and still give an A+ rating even though I’ve said nothing to support that.
Does that mean that’s what I’m going to try doing today? Hell no, because that’d be only providing you half the story at best. And if I gave their 2015 effort, The Boy and the Beast, that sort of treatment all we’d be left with is The Boy, a frontrunner for the most generic title contest alongside The Thing and New Super Mario Bros.
I have to give The Boy and the Beast the full SnYves review treatment because I’d really be picking at scraps if I went the other way. The remaining 99.99% of the movie might be some of the best Studio Chizu crew has ever put out, and let’s not forget Wolf Children and Summer Wars were both an inch away from shoving me off the cliff emotionally. It’s the same cocktail of energetic humor, methodical character development, striking setting, incredible writing, detailed animation, and tear-jerking plot that we’re all familiar with from Hosoda and company, but I’m comfortable calling this the best Chizu movie to date just due to how perfected and refined the experience is this time. I know I sound like the single CD track your sister plays full-blast from her room nonstop, but what else can I say?
This is an unconditionally amazing movie.
Our movie starts off with our human protagonist Ren (voiced by Aoi Miyazaki and Shouta Sometani, the voices of Hana and Tanabe in Wolf Children, appropriately enough), a nine-year-old runaway living in the streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya district following the recent death of his divorced mother. Shortly before he settles in for the night, he has a brief encounter with two denizens of the neighboring beast world, one of whom is Kumatetsu (Kouji Yakusho, Shall We Dance?), a potential successor to the beast world’s retiring grandmaster. However, since Kumatetsu is widely unpopular with the public, and picking up a follower would be the first step towards improving his image, he decides to take Ren on as his disciple, renames him Kyuuta (kyuu being Japanese for “nine”), and begins training him in kendo.
Just from that small intro there, it shouldn’t be too shocking that this is a story about loneliness, coming of age, and finding your place, and Hosoda uses the dichotomy between the two worlds to really drive his major themes home. Later in the story, after Kyuuta’s aged a bit and Kumatetsu’s renown has risen, Kyuuta stumbles back into the human world, where he’s been practically non-existent since age nine. But steadily he manages to get somewhat settled back in his old life, trying to balance his training with Kumatetsu in the beast world and his personal life with his tutor Kaede (Suzu Hirose, Your Lie in April and Chihayafuru) and someone else whose identity I probably shouldn’t spoil.
Now it probably goes without saying by this point that this film looks amazing, seeing as how it’s Studio Chizu and also I kinda tipped my hand to that fact a couple paragraphs ago, but there’s something impressively deep with the art and animation this time around that really stuck with me. Both Shibuya and the beast world are massive, colorful, and densely populated - whether it be with modern-day neon signs, cars, and inopportunely-timed product placements, or a 24/7 Edo-themed furry convention. Regardless of the city we’re in, its sheer size and density emphasize that feeling of loneliness that plagues both of our leads. Even though there is a mess of people surrounding them at any given point, both Kyuuta and Kumatetsu each have, at best, maybe three people they can comfortably talk to.
Their only saving grace is that one of those three people happens to be arguably the only person in the other world that understands that feeling of isolation, stemming from a lack of support in some way, whether it be rooted in the loss of a loved one or just straight unpopularity. And by diluting these sparse relationships in a sea of uncountable strangers, we really do feel like those relationships come as a result of their loneliness.
We see this further emphasized by Kyuuta and Kumatetsu’s dysfunctional-at-best relationship with one another. Seldom does a conversation between our leads not end in a shouting match or dispute, often resulting in one party storming out of Kumatetsu’s house. It’s an interesting dynamic; since our protagonists are both convinced they don’t need anybody, instead of maybe trying to get along with someone who feel the same way, they bash heads, refusing to move off of their ideals. While on the one hand it’s incredibly funny to see Kumatetsu chase Kyuuta around his house, it is nevertheless a little sad to see two characters, so similar in mindset, constantly bickering. Although the two roommates should be at least peacefully coexisting with each other, the fact we don’t see this ultimately reveals just how isolated our protagonists are.
Going back to the shallow end of the pool for a minute, the animation quality (again, like it needs to be said) is stellar, and serves to highlight the development of Kumatetsu and Kyuuta’s relationship with each other. The animation feels fast-paced without being rushed, which is a gigantic benefit during the film’s fight scenes, but also has enough detail to where each character remains expressive and sincere in their actions, which is where the movie’s humor gains benefit.
Speaking of, the writing for this movie is especially on point. Again, keep in mind that Chizu has a history with very well-written scripts, but think about what it means when I say that I really thought the dialogue and plot direction were well-executed. The story in particular has a lot of moving parts in it, moreso than what I’m generally used to from Chizu films, but the culmination of all of it and the payoff is so satisfying to watch, and it’s really a marvel to see the writing tie together all of the plot threads and small details together by the movie’s climax. Admittedly, Moby Dick isn’t the most unique allusion in the world, and the film does introduce it as one of the more significant books Kyuuta reads so there’s no real subtlety to speak of either, but the film makes it work to a pretty extensive degree while not completely beaning the viewer over the head with parallels.
Which is something I like, since that gives me material to dissect. For the more casual viewer, The Boy and the Beast is one of those films where there’s always something going on. It hits its stride a respectably short time and doesn’t slow down for anything. Even during the Act 2 downtime where Kyuuta meets Kaede and he tries to get readjusted to human society, where Chizu somehow finds a way to make a trip to the DMV somewhat engaging. Regardless of the scene or the events taking place, the show never stops developing the plot and characters in unique, organic ways.
Now, you might be wondering if there’s some sort of antagonist in this film, and you’re probably willing to bet on Kumatetsu’s rival, Iouzen (Kazuhiro Yamaji, 91 Days and Rurouni Kenshin), as the main one. While he’s definitely an opposing force to Kumatetsu, this movie is a little more introspective in its primary conflict. Remember when I brought up loneliness as a big theme for the film overall? In the beast world, that manifests as darkness inside humans, which can lead to some very destructive results. The problem with me talking about it as is, however, is that most of the film dedicates itself to developing Kyuuta as a character and letting him sort out his loneliness issues by himself. Things don’t really go off the rails until the Act 3 climax and that’s all I can say if I want to keep this review spoiler-free.
What I can say is that, even though we don’t actually see the darkness physically come into play until much later in the film, we can still see and feel Kyuuta combating it as the rest of the story develops. It’s played more like an undertone for the most part, and even though we know that the darkness is there and is probably going to wrap around at some point, it never feels like it’s shoved aside entirely. Instead, the movie keeps it in its back pocket, so that once the Kumatetsu vs. Iouzen arc ends, Kyuuta then gets a chance to confront it directly and prove that he’s managed to conquer his loneliness and overall nihilistic view on the world once and for all.
“SnYves, you’re looking pretty far into your review material again. Do I need to get the spray bottle out?”
The reason I’m trying to go deep with this review, reader, is because there’s no point in me looking at this film in any other way. This is another Mamoru Hosoda film showcasing exactly why I’m such a big fan of his. The Boy and the Beast is an inspiring, gripping, impactful story on a base level, worthy of getting a big thumbs-up from me on that alone, but, much like his other films as well, there’s so much more depth and symbolism to be analyzed beyond that, all of which compound the film’s merits exponentially.
Most important of all, it stands out, and that’s what really pushes this movie above and beyond in my opinion. While films like Your Name will be remembered for their excellent characters and brilliant art direction, The Boy and the Beast will go down as one of the most creative and meaningful anime movies to have been put out this decade.
This is not a movie to be missed, and you should jump on whatever opportunity you have to go see it. Well, you should never say no to any Hosoda movie in general, but The Boy and the Beast is Studio Chizu at its absolute finest, with all cylinders firing at redline RPMs.
THE VERDICT: A+
Next time: DeviantArt the anime