The Boy and the Beast is perfect for someone, but sadly not for me. To be fair, I may have overhyped this film. It’s only been in the last few years that I have really gotten into anime. In that time, one name that has gained a lot of popularity is Mamoru Hosoda. His last three directorial efforts, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and Wolf Children, have already become beloved anime film classics. Wolf Children especially poignant – a story about a single mother who has to raise two human/wolf children. When it was announced that the follow up to his “Motherhood movie” would be a film that explored a father-son dynamic set in a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, I was already sold.
I watched the English dubbed version of The Boy and the Beast. It is also available subtitled with the original Japanese actors voicing the roles. Tivoli Cinema is the only theater in the Kansas City area that is showing the film. It is distributed and dubbed by Funimation. Looking at the cast of voice actors, nearly all are staples of Funimation’s most popular shows such as One Piece, Dragon Ball Z, and Attack on Titan.
The film begins with a young boy, voiced by Luci Christian and later by Eric Vale, alone and wandering Japan’s Shibuya Crossing. A bear named Kumatetsu, voiced by John Swasey, happens upon the child as he passes through the human world. Kumatetsu is a strong fighter and is set to compete to become Lord of Jutengai, the beast’s city, when the current Lord, Sōshi, reincarnates into a god. One strike against Kumatetsu is that he has no disciples. His rival Iōzen, a warthog voiced by Sean Hennigan, has many disciples and two sons. Iōzen is respectful, strategic, and noble, and is heavily favored to succeed Sōshi. Kumatetsu is brash, headstrong, and impulsive. Sōshi tells him that he should take on a student if he wants to be the next Lord. So Kumatetsu half-jokingly offers the child a chance to be his disciple.
When the boy follows Kumatetsu into the beast world, many say that he should be taken back. However, Kumatetsu brazenly claims that the boy will be his disciple. When the two of them get to Kumatetsu’s home, the boy will not reveal his name. So Kumatetsu decides to name him Kyūta, which is what he is called through most of the movie until he visits the human world again. From that point on Kumatetsu and Kyūta haphazardly learn to train and live together. As time passes it becomes clear they both benefit from their time with each other.
Kumatetsu begins as a very flawed character. He can be lazy and slobbish, and he has no idea how to teach Kyūta. The film was at its best when Kumatetsu and Kyūta are training together. Seeing their relationship slowly grow while both of them work to become stronger is the most effective portion of the movie. The sequence when they travel to ask different lords, “What is strength?” is also particularly enjoyable. Moments like these, when the characters got to exist in the world of the film, were the strongest.
As with Wolf Children, issues arose when the film had to adhere to plot demands. The Boy and the Beast suffers from “Act Three problems.” It seems these films are happiest when they can explore the incredible worlds they inhabit. When it comes time to buckle in and finish, the story seems to fidget in its seat like a child on a long drive.
The reasons I didn’t love this movie will most likely be another viewer’s favorite aspect. When I heard that The Boy and the Beast would be a sort of father-son story, I imagined films like Big Fish and About Time, both of which have heartfelt moments of bonding and love between fathers and sons. Kumatetsu and Kyūta have a much more aggressive relationship. They both have a lot of anger and difficulty expressing themselves. The obstacles in their way seem to largely be placed there by themselves. Each of their backstories explains why they are the way they are, but I still had a hard time getting onboard. It felt like a less mature version of parenthood than I was hoping to see. Especially after seeing the lengths that the mother in Wolf Children went to for her children. Maybe it’s a more realistic view of parenthood, in which parents can be selfish and impulsive and disappointing.
Just because The Boy and the Beast didn’t turn out to be my favorite anime film doesn’t mean that it is not still worth watching. It is a beautifully animated movie. The fights are well-choreographed and always a spectacle. The side characters are distinct and a joy to experience. Every time Sōshi comes on screen is fantastic. If you are an anime fan or even just curious, you should check this out for no other reason than to support the English anime translating and distributing industry so that in the future, there will still be opportunities to see films like this one.