The Boy and the Beast

It took a while for The Boy and the Beast to come to Canada. Initially slated for theatres via GKids in March, the license fell through and the premiere went into limbo. It was then picked up by Mongrel Media, only to be pushed to late-May and screened in subtitles only, select theatres and at select times. It didn’t end up mattering either, as DVD releases would be following in less than a week. By the time I ended up watching the film in dub form, I was both irritated and praying it’d be worth the frustration. Fortunately, The Boy and the Beast is easily one of the highlights of the year thus far.

The Boy and the Beast tells the story of Ren, a boy who’s lost contact with his father and is in the process of being adopted by his late-mother’s family. Frustrated over not having any say, Ren runs away and wanders the streets of Shibuya, eventually stumbling onto the mysterious world of anthropomorphic beasts by accident. The world’s citizens idolize their warriors, the two most-prominent being the kind and disciplined Iōzen and the short-tempered and scatter-focused Kumatetsu. Kumatetsu needs to prove his worth as a future lord, so he takes on Ren as his apprentice and nicknames him Kyūta. However, the two soon realize how much they have in-common, leading to an unlikely bond that, while shaky, proves mutually beneficial.

Let’s start with the most-obvious point: the movie looks gorgeous. Its colours are vibrant, and its attention to detail is beyond belief, especially considering the obvious limitations of an animated release in Japan. But the key component that sets it apart from any old anime film is its character fluidity. I’m of the belief that director Mamoru Hosoda, whose previous works include The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and The Wolf Children, has a bad case of ADHD, as his characters are expressive even while idle, and it works in his favour. No two characters react to the same scenario alike, making them easily discernible. This is especially the case with children, whom he animates so well that they often steal the show.

Speaking of, the characters, like all of Hosoda’s works, are rich with personality. Ren is expertly realized as both his bratty, 9 year-old self and, later, his more focused and disciplined 17 year-old self, while Kumatetsu makes the clichéd, grumpy loner archetype feel fresh and exciting. The two share excellent chemistry as disgruntled misfits who try, fail, try again and eventually connect as master and pupil. The other characters don’t have too much depth outside of one or two basic character traits, but they don’t need to. The only blight comes in the form of Kaede, a character introduced halfway who feels like a tacked-on romantic interest for Ren. But even then she’s likeable.

Sound-wise, The Boy and the Beast is quite good. While the score isn’t as exciting as, say, Summer Wars, it doesn’t have to be to fit the overlying story. The sound effects and sound design, on the other hand, are incredibly fitting, feeling gritty and earthy without overshadowing everything. And the voice acting, particularly in the dub, is spot-on, with John Swasey’s Kumatetsu stealing the show. Then again, to say the voice acting is good in the dub, especially considering FUNimation’s track-record, isn’t saying much.

The Boy and the Beast is a story of parenting and responsibility. Where as The Wolf Children was an ode to motherhood, particularly Hosoda’s own mother, this film feels like an ode to fatherhood, particularly the father-figure that Hosoda, allegedly, never had growing up. This, sadly, makes it feel like a slight-downgrade, especially with its rather boring portrayal of manhood, but that’s not to say it doesn’t tackle interesting and important concepts in its examination of masculinity. Most-notably, it deconstructs fatherhood, as well as whether or not lying to your children is really harmful in the long-run. The emotional moments, therefore, are still strong, even if they don’t hit the same high-points as Hosoda’s previous three films.

Perhaps an unintended message, yet one that’s still important, is that of perseverance. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and giving up because something’s too hard isn’t the answer. This is most-prevalent both in how Ren learns to fight and how Kumatetsu learns how to teach, leading to some tenderness amidst the laughs. It’s especially moving given my struggles growing up with a disability. Considering how I was a late-bloomer in pretty much every field, that theme really sticks. Also, as someone who practices Tai Chi, seeing Ren struggle with training, only to master it with time and patience, is ever-so relatable.

Unfortunately, the movie has two prevalent flaws, both tying into the second-half of the film. For one, the pacing’s a little inconsistent. Like The Wolf Children, the movie goes through a montage halfway to signal a time-skip. It’s effective in showing the growth in Ren and Kumatetsu’s relationship, but then it goes back to Shibuya for a bit and the pacing slows. It never completely halts, but the time spent there isn’t as exciting as in the beast world. Then again, that’s a by-product of the beast world being so wonderfully fleshed-out.

And secondly, the movie loses its way somewhat in the third-act. Without spoiling anything, the momentum is never killed, and the events that transpire are frequently hinted at, but it ends up feeling like a different movie. An exciting movie, but a different movie. Fortunately, the part that matters, the characters, is strong enough to get through the slight detour, so it’s not a complete loss. It also still functions thematically.

I’m not entirely sure where I’d place The Boy and the Beast on the Hosoda scale of quality. I don’t like it as much as I did The Wolf Children, due to the premise and execution not being as strong. At the same time, even with its hiccups, it’s fathoms more original and unique than Summer Wars, which I already loved. The question is if it’s better than The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, to which I’d need a few more viewings to fully answer. For now, I can safely say that it’s a great movie, and that you should definitely go see it. It’s a shame that Infinite Rainy Day’s ratings system doesn’t go by decimals, as this’d be a half-grade higher if it did, but I’ll go with the next best option.


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