Raising kids is hard enough. Raising wolf children? A whole other set of problems.
What They Say:
Hana was a student before she was a mother. She was bright and pretty, and her future held endless possibilities. Then she met a man, who turned out to be a wolf, and together they built a family.Hana loved her mate fiercely, but fate took him from her, leaving her alone with two unusual kids she didn’t know how to raise. Frightened of being discovered, Hana and her wolf children fled to the countryside to build a new life. Raising her little wild things was an adventure. It left Hana bruised, scratched, exhausted, and joyously overwhelmed as her pups grew stronger and wandered further every day. This is a mother’s journey. Teach your children to chase their dreams – and smile through the tears as they disappear into the world in search of who they will become. Hana wasn’t always a mother, but it was always what she was meant to be.
The audio presentation for this release is quite good as we get the original Japanese language track in 5.1 since it was released to theaters and the English adaptation, which is also done in 5.1. Both mixes are done with the lossless Dolby TrueHD codec and that’s definitely welcome here since the film works with small sounds so much rather than big sequences. Outside of the storm in the final act, most of what we get here are the sounds of nature kinds of things that definitely has a great flow about it, enveloping you nicely whether it’s the first act in the city or the rest where it’s in the countryside. The way the sounds move about and create a good sense of life – and some important moments of quiet as well – definitely adds to the impact of the film. The dialogue works in a similar way where placement is obviously important and there’s some good bits of depth to it with how some scenes work out, but overall it’s very well presented and makes the right impact throughout.
Originally in theaters in 2012, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The Blu-ray release is on one disc here with all the extras while the DVD in the set keeps them separate. The high definition transfer here definitely brings out the beauty of the film as there’s so much detail, color and life about it that it can be a lot to take in. It’s one of those films where I’m definitely glad I have a large screen so that it can dominate more of the field of view because you want to be drawn into it. The visual quality is definitely important here as we get some beautiful colors and such a great layer of detail to the backgrounds and settings that it’s pretty impressive. The character animation in general may not feel as detailed in some ways, but there’s some beautifully fluid material here that draws you into them through the expressiveness of the designs more than anything else. This is a beautiful looking film from start to finish.
The packaging for this release comes with a standard sized Blu-ray case that comes with a slipcover card as well. The front cover goes with a familiar image to be sure of Hana with the two children in her arms, both of which are showing some wolf traits, as it’s set against the beautiful countryside images with the mountains and clouds. The logo dominates nicely without being too much while above it we get all the awards it won during its various international presentations. It’s a subdued looking cover and one where the award mentions feel like they’re done right without being too much. THe back cover provides a basic breakdown here with the right showing off various shots from the film while the left has the premise and a few choice quotes against a nature background. Production credits and extras are a bit small but they’re clean enough and we get a good technical grid that breaks things down accurately in an easy to read way. The case artwork replicates the slipcover but it has a reverse side image as well which shows off some of the mountain imagery from the film in a beautiful way. No show related inserts or booklets are included with this release.
The menu design for the release goes with the mellow approach as we get a single clip playing throughout the screen that has the flowers moving gently in the breeze. It’s got some nice greens, whites and yellows to make it quite relaxing and setting the atmosphere right. The left side has the navigation strip with the films logo along the top and the navigation is about what you’d expect from it. It’s quick and easy to navigate and the submenus load quickly, including an easy to use bit of extras navigation, which is a bit tougher to read since it’s got a lot of text and is naturally smaller. The design overall for it works well and I definitely like the mood it sets, making it an easy one to leave running at times.
The release definitely has some good extras to it, though some of it can feel a bit repetitive in a way because of the nature of it. For fans of the creators and actors behind this, we get four different stage moments here from different points in time – including a Parisian event – and they run from six to sixteen minutes. With it featuring largely the same people talking about similar things, it does get familiar but it’s fun to watch them interact with each other and the audience. We get a new English language commentary with the dub actors and production team talking about the film and experience and a few promotional videos and trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original work by Satoko Okudera and Mamoru Hosoda, Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki is a theatrical film that definitely made an impression wherever it played. Animated by Studio Chizu and Madhouse, it’s a film that definitely does everything it can to create an immersive world here so that we connect with the characters and situations that play out. It’s something that works to create a sense of beauty and character and excels at it, even if it does work with material that is in many ways familiar, not just to fans of anime but heartwarming if difficult stories in general involving family. That’s not to denigrate the work in the slightest – it does an impressive job – but it also doesn’t feel like it truly brings anything new in terms of story itself. What it does is to present something familiar in a beautiful way with a lot of polish and engagement.
While the film is titled after the children, and Yuki is the one that narrates it at times, to me it’s far more about their mother, Hana. We see her at age nineteen in college where she’s doing well but becomes distracted by a young nameless man who sneaks onto the campus and into classrooms to learn. Ookami, aka wolf, and Hana have an instant connection and she helps him a good bit in getting in. Through a great little montage, we see how they keep getting together and how much she looks forward to seeing him both in school and elsewhere in the city. It’s an instant connection between the two and it’s not a surprise that a year later the two are madly in love. His reveal that he’s the last of his kind of a particular kind of Japanese wolf doesn’t shock her like he thinks it would, which made it very easy for them to become closer. And not long before their first child, Yuki, is born. And then a year after that we get Ame born, making for a very happy little family. But it’s one that doesn’t last too long as while Ookami is out hunting in the city for his kids and ends up getting killed. It’s a fast series of events as the film starts to go through all of this, but you definitely understand the impact the parents have with each other and the care they have for the kids.
But it’s the struggle of those left behind that takes the real focus of the film. For Hana, she has so much to try and cope with by having two kids in general, but never mind ones that can transform into half-wolves and run around and cause trouble like that. That has her keeping them indoors and away from others, but it also leads to the neighbors having problems with her and other issues such as social services. Life in the city can be hard as a single mother, but when you can’t get employment because you can’t leave the kids anywhere and you have little money, it only gets worse. We see Hana doing her best and coping with her kids and their very different personalities, but she also realizes that her only choice to give them what they need – space to run and explore – is to head to the far country. And she does just that, getting a place that’s essentially abandoned for very little and taking the time to repair it herself while raising the kids.
This is where the bulk of the film takes place as we see the kids growing and changing over the course of five or six years, the way the neighbors don’t expect her to last but eventually start helping out after she makes a good impression on the elder man of the village, Nirasaki, and he realizes she’s there for the right reasons. We also get the kids eventually going to school, which allows Hana a chance to get a job at a nature conservatory that’s near there as well. Everyone is growing and changing here, with some key problems and difficulties along the way as well, as their very natures are what’s driving them. Hana is parental and trying to do what she thinks is best for children she can only somewhat understand. Yuki finds herself wanting a human life and experiencing that at school as best as she can, though not without a flashpoint problem, while Ame finds that the human world is not for him and begins to drift more into the mountains to experience life and what he finds here. And poor Hana is caught in the middle but wanting the best for both of them.
Thankfully, no forced relationship is thrust upon Hana over the course of the film after the loss of Ookami and we see her generally happy and focused on her children rather than trying to find another man to complement her life. Yuki is a lot of fun to watch as she discovers her first romance and has to cope with the violent side of her personality as well since she really wants to enjoy what the world has to offer. And it’s really great to see the way that Ame discovers that he feels a stronger affinity for the mountain and its world and it’s not shown as a bad thing, but just a different way. It does strike discord between him and Yuki though and that’s a flashpoint for the family since Yuki is older and trying to do right by herself as well as Hana while Ame is retreating from human relationships and going this route instead.
The film is beautifully animated and because of the pacing it uses, it really takes the time to build some great situations and locations to make the world just as much a character. For me, watching the film with Hana as the central point works since I’m a parent myself and I can see these kinds of differences with my own two kids. She goes to the lengths she does to give them the lives she thinks are best, which is admittedly hard for her to figure out since she can’t know for sure what wolf children need and you know that based on what we’ve seen, she and Ookami never really talked about it much as it felt like they were winging it. But seeing how she perseveres, especially with the farming she does and the way she draws in Nirasaki, it’s a great thing that as a parent I can totally connect with. Yuki’s narration definitely makes it more of Hana’s story for me, though I can see how many will feel it’s really Yuki’s story as well.
With all the praise that Wolf Children gets, I’ll admit to being a bit wary of it in some ways because the hype can be dangerous, especially for a film that’s about family. But there’s definitely a great film to be had here about family, finding your way and doing what’s best even if it makes a negative impact on yourself. Hana strives to give her children a great future and a chance to find what’s best for them, and to honor their father in the same way. Beautifully animated, a great sense of pacing about it and an ease with which it moves through the story while keeping all the characters involved, Wolf Children definitely feels like it’s one of those films that must be a part of the must-see list of anime films, especially for those that don’t want anime. It’s a family film but one that shows all aspects of family life while giving positive messages even as the difficulties mount for everyone. It’s a happy ending, but the kind of real world happy ending where it’s not all quite as neat as you’d want. Very recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles,
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 26th, 2013
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.