Japanese Title: Bakemono no Ko
Similar: Wolf Children
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Watched in: Japanese & English
Genre: Supernatural Adventure
Length: 1 hr. 58 min. movie
- Good humoured fun.
- Fluid animation.
- Main antagonist out of nowhere.
- Feeble setup.
- Characters are rather shallow.
- World left unexplored.
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So far, Mamoru Hosoda has been two for two with me on his films, Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt through Time. Can he hit the hat-trick?
At its core, The Boy and the Beast is a story of two externally different people that share the same internal strengths and weaknesses. One is a boy, the other a beast.
Kumatetsu is in line for the throne after the current beast lord ascends to godhood. Kumatetsu’s chances don’t look good, however, with his anti-social behaviour and being weaker than his rival, who is loved by all beasts. He sets out into the human world to find an apprentice and prove he is worthy. For no real reason, he chooses runaway Ren, who lost his mother in an accident and whose father has dropped all responsibility, and renames him Kyuuta. They return to the beast world and begin living together as dysfunctional roommates while one tries to teach the other to fight.
A lack of thought shows itself early in The Boy and the Beast. Our first introduction to Ren/Kyuuta is of him wandering around Shibuya, angry at the world and everyone in it. He yells in the middle of the street about hating everyone. ‘Cringelord’ comes to mind. There is no subtlety to the conveyance of his emotions and personality. This introduction screams of a writer trying too hard to tell us what we should think of his character.
What follows is the pairing between Kyuuta and Kumatetsu, which has no ground to stand on. We never see reason as to why Kumatetsu chose Kyuuta. Yes, later it shows us that both share much in common, feeling like outcasts from their societies and without much to be proud of. However, Kumatetsu knows none of this on first meeting. For all he knows, Kyuuta could be a kid separated from his mother while shopping. He just declares Kyuuta as the best candidate for apprenticeship.
After this bad start, the story improves greatly with its chemistry between the boy and the beast. Now is where I can see the Mamoru Hosoda that made his previous films great. The constant back and forth, balance-counterbalance dynamic of two delinquents getting on each other’s nerves, yet still feeling camaraderie works perfectly. It’s believable, engaging, and funny. A highlight is the first sword-training lesson from Kumatetsu. “You grip it and bang! That’s it.” Instant swordsmaster! “What?” Great lesson there, mate.
The Boy and the Beast is a tricky beast – pardon the pun – for its faults aren’t clear until the film is almost over. You start with these questions and unresolved threads, which is to be expected of course, assuming the story’s direction is to answer these questions and resolve those threads. Not until the finale do you realise none of those questions had answers and the threads they started aren’t the ones they ended. The worst of this is the villain. He comes out of nowhere in the finale. When he popped up, I thought he would be a throwaway before the real threat takes the stage. But no, he is the villain. That’s what you were building up to all this time? He is irrelevant.
The third act retroactively crushes The Boy and the Beast. Other than the villain, you realise Kumatetsu and Kyuuta have no payoffs to their arcs, missing that seal to justify all that came before. Oh yeah, whatever happened to that girl back in the human world? Then you realise we saw little of the beast world and how its society works. Why do these kings need an apprentice to claim the throne? If it’s a test to cure Kumatetsu of his anti-social behaviour unfit for a king, why is that necessary? He would be king, not your best bud. How does any of the beast world operate? Why does the lord need to retire? Not all of these questions need answers, but you do need to give something for the audience to latch onto.
In the end, The Boy and the Beast leaves me with nothing. I will forget this film in a week.
Art – High
The animation is fluid and the environments gorgeous, but the characters’ lack of shading is a noticeable during day scenes.
Sound – High
Solid music and acting. The dub doesn’t shove in celebrities, much like other Mamoru Hosoda works, so it’s good in either language.
Story – Low
A beastman takes in a runaway boy to raise him as a warrior in a fight for the throne. The story sadly doesn’t dive deep enough into its world or characters to create a meaningful connection with the audience.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. The Boy and the Beast isn’t good enough to be necessary viewing, nor is it bad enough not to warrant a chance. You may find more value its good qualities than I did.
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