I think The Sci-Fi Channel did it once back when it was still called The Sci-Fi Channel and not the Polish slang for syphilis. Why am I co-opting this now? Because I’m bad at deadlines and need to give myself more of a weekly incentive than being afraid of testing my editor, who has the patience of a saint. Also, other than Claudia Rojas’ fantastic and insightful review of Disney’s Zootopia, I haven’t seen animated films covered on this sight. That’s a niche I aim to exploit. Weeaboo culture is University culture, dammit.
Now without further ado, let’s kick off our first AniMonday with a discussion Studio Chizu’s latest film, “The Boy and the Beast.”
This was the first time I’d ever watched an anime in a movie theater. Projected in the back room of a Library? Sure. Streaming on my laptop? Most of the time. But never had I seen an anime, let alone one this colorful, on one of the massive screens in my local 14-room stadium complex. I was very lucky to catch “The Boy and the Beast” during its limited US release because, as I’ll elaborate on later, this film is epic in every sense of the word.
The film is directed by Mamoru Hosada, the same man behind “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” “Summer Wars,” and “Wolf Children.” I had some high expectations riding on this one. The three films I listed are some of the best anime I’ve ever seen, “Wolf Children” in particular displaying a mastery of the craft and a subtlety of storytelling I never thought I’d see in an anime outside of Studio Ghibli.
Does his latest work hold up to his other works? No. That said it’s pretty good in its own right.
Before seeing this film I recommend you put yourself in the right frame of mind: Prepare for a straight-up Joseph Campbell hero’s journey epic.
Is that a played out formula? Sure. But “The Boy and the Beast” adopts these tropes so earnestly and with such heart that it’s as if they think they’re doing it for the first time.
The hero in question is Ren (voiced in the English dub by Luci Christian and Eric Vale), an orphan boy on the streets of Tokyo who happens to stumble on a magical world right beside his own. Sound too familiar? Bare with me. You see this magical world, The Beast Kingdom, is in need of a new Lord. The two beasts in line for succession are the popular Iôzen (Sean Hennigan), a boar-like monster who is also the father of two children, and the powerful Kumatetsu (John Swasey), an obnoxious bear-creature who is also lonely and
lazy. While wandering the human world, Kumatetsu stumbles on Ren and, won over by his fearlessness, offers to take him on as an apprentice.
Kumatetsu, the beast of the title, easily steals the show.
He’s a rough, belligerent, Toshiro-Mifune-esque character: the lovable vagabond from “The Seven Samurai“ meets the cuddliness of “Beauty and the Beast.” Scenes in which he and Ren compete to scarf down bowls full of raw eggs and chase each other around the house over simple squabbles are effortlessly charming. As a master to his apprentice, Kumatetsu is awful, impatient, and brusque. Yet by the end of the film I cared more about him than I could’ve ever bargained for.
As with Hosada’s other films, the animation is colorful and spectacular.
The world of the Beast Kingdom, though a little generic by most fantasy standards, is beautiful and filled with unique characters and set pieces. Then there are the fight scenes. Oh god, the fight scenes. It’s hard to give animated characters weight, physicality, and substance but here they do. You can’t become Lord of the Beast Kingdom without taking out the competition and the duels between Kumatetsu and Iôzen are surprisingly fierce and visceral. Which is to say nothing of the fights later on that I refuse to spoil.
When I called this movie an epic in every sense of the word, I meant it.
The film encompasses Ren’s entire journey from adolescence to adulthood, apprentice to master. At 119 minutes, it’s the full package. It’s not necessarily as psychological or subdued as Hosada’s other work but a real adventure similar to “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Suffice it to say there’s a lot to love here and even though the theatrical release is long past, I urge you to track this one down. You won’t regret it.
Thank you for indulging me and Ani-Monday. See you next week. I promise.