The Fandom Post

Anime, Movies, Comics, Entertainment & More

The Boy and the Beast Anime Review

6 min read

The Boy and the Beast Header Bakemono no Ko HeaderThe Boy and the Beast ought to be a story of closeness, but the distance of its storytelling sadly undercuts its ability to be effective at all.

What They Say:
When Kyuta, a young orphan living on the streets of Shibuya, stumbles into a fantastic world of beasts, he’s taken in by Kumatetsu, a gruff, rough-around-the-edges warrior beast who’s been searching for the perfect apprentice. Despite their constant bickering, Kyuta and Kumatetsu begin training together and slowly form a bond as surrogate father and son. But when a deep darkness threatens to throw the human and beast worlds into chaos, the strong bond between this unlikely pair will be put to the ultimate test—a final showdown that will only be won if the two can finally work together using all of their combined strength and courage.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Boy and the Beast is most definitely a film in the heritage of Mamoru Hosoda’s family-friendly fare, a fact obvious (if not from the plot synopsis) from the very beginning of the film. As two older, yet clearly friendly, voices narrate the events surrounding the upcoming succession of the ruling crown in the beast world, bestial figures rendered in leaping flames bound across the screen to the sound of Masakatsu Takagi’s exuberant score. It’s an immediately recognizable film aesthetic—in fact, this opening sequence reminded me of the opening to one of the preeminent recent Western family-friendly animated films, Dreamworks’ 2010 How to Train Your Dragon—the upbeat classical music blending together with the easy-to-digest introduction and dynamic camera. We know immediately that this isn’t the real story, but it clues us in as to what kind of story is about to unfold before us. It’s comfortable and inviting, exuding the pleasant feeling of assurance that we can just sit back and enjoy the familiar beats of the story.

I mention all this because—on and off—The Boy and the Beast feels like a film that follows this pattern less on its own initiative and more out of obligation. Hosoda has done these kinds of slightly offbeat family stories before—Summer Wars and Wolf Children being the most recent examples—but The Boy and the Beast feels less like an attempt to take a new angle on a familiar subject than a regurgitation of the same vague “family theme” through a slightly altered storyline. As a result, The Boy and the Beast comes across as largely half-baked, a film hemmed in by the expectations of past success and past critical acclaim, and as a final product that never stretches to fully articulate its most ambitious ideas. Rather, Hosoda (who wrote the script and directed the film) largely plays it safe, both in terms of his visuals and his storytelling. While calling The Boy and the Beast calculated might be a little too harsh, it certainly fails to break any new creative ground. And alongside this sense of non-inspiration comes a distinct feeling of distance—one that appears consistently throughout all elements of the film’s construction.

At the heart of The Boy and the Beast‘s struggles is its ultimate failure to narratively or thematically reconcile its two worlds—the beast and the human—and (subsequently, you might say) even its character-level resolution of this idea winds up unconvincing. The irony is that the film’s setting basically dictates that this be the case, as the titular “boy and beast” unite on a individual level that doesn’t signify any kind of larger unification. If the film’s primary theme is “being with and being loved by others can help us to resolve the darkness and loneliness of our souls,” it extends only as far as Kumatetsu’s reincarnated salvation of Kyuta. It’s an exclusive relationship that necessarily shuts out everyone else—most prominently, Kaede and Kyuta’s human father—from the resolution against a tragic villain whose motivations are never really fully explored and whose own redemption is glossed over in favor of Kyuta’s triumphant return to the beast world in the wake of his shared victory.

All hail Kyuta, is essentially what it boils down to. Everyone bows down to push Kyuta forward, rather than actually challenging him to grow.

But “all hail Kyuta,” whose childish pluck morphs into a voracious appetite for learning and unearned teen angst, is a pretty unsatisfying message from a film that ostensibly is about the necessary connections with other people that help us find ourselves. Months and years flash by in short minutes during multiple lengthy montage sequences (I counted at least 4 major montages that covered large periods of time in the film), leaving development in character relationships mostly left to audience assumption. In other words, the core lesson The Boy and the Beast is trying to convey is actively contested by the very way it’s chosen to communicate it. We’re shown everything at a distance. The gritty groundwork of building relationships exists only in the audience’s imagination—we see a training montage flash by or a series of shot shots of Kyuta and Kaede studying together, but actual growth is merely implied, never demonstrated except at the starting points and the ending points of the montages. Kyuta is really the only character who actually grows throughout the film—despite multiple characters blatantly stating, “Kumatetsu’s grown more than the boy,” we never see this until it’s time for Kumatetsu to save Kyuta—but the superficial connections drawn between him and the characters who are supposedly impacting him makes this journey feel empty and aimless.

Compounding upon the film’s structural issues is Hosoda’s uninspired direction, when leans heavily into long and repeated shots throughout the film. In isolation, these directorial tells wouldn’t necessarily be a weakness for the film, but their pervasiveness develops a sense of detachment from the events of the story. The audience is always held distant: early in the film, there’s a long take of Kyuta and Kumatetsu chasing each other in a circle inside and outside of Kumatetsu’s house—a clever idea to start with, but the long shot winds up sapping all the energy out of what should have been an intimate moment between a boy and a father-figure gradually coming to understand each other. This is just one example, but The Boy and the Beast filled with other such moments. On one hand, perhaps it’s for the best, as the film’s character animation is stiff (aside for a few stand out moments, the film’s general animation quality barely rises above serviceable), filled with shortcuts, and generally fails to convey any sort of meaningful personality for the characters; on the other, the emotional distance effected by Hosoda’s storyboards greatly reduces The Boy and the Beast‘s ability to engage the audience or effectively portray closeness between its characters.

The list of minor failings in The Boy and the Beast goes on, but all of them really are no more than small expressions of the film’s core issues as already stated. Clocking in at just under 2 hours, The Boy and the Beast feels simultaneously way too long and way too short, wearying in its scope and yet unfulfilling in its details. This isn’t to say the film is entirely without merits, but aside from Masakatsu Tagaki’s superb score and Funimation’s excellent English dub on the technical side, those positives are more a function of The Boy and the Beast‘s established goals than what it actually achieves. The idea of parallel beast and human worlds, while not original, is a nice one well-suited to the story being told, and the film’s reflections on family natural and found, emotional support, and the core weakness of the human person are all (despite their relative inconsistencies) ones worth talking about. Everything The Boy and the Beast sets out to do is worth attempting; it’s just a shame the film falls so far short of the actually succeeding in meeting any of its goals.

In Summary:
Mamoru Hosoda’s first effort directing and handing script duties winds up generally ineffectual as The Boy and the Beast‘s emotionally distant storytelling, over-reliance on montage, sterile direction, weightless climaxes, and characters that feel like mere outlines cripple its attempts to carry any sort of real power. It is, in short, a very disappointing film—particularly coming from a director who’s supposed be one of film anime’s modern luminaries.

Grade: C-

Streamed By: Funimation

Review Equipment:
2011 Macbook Pro; Intel HD Graphics 3000 384 MB; Samsung SMB2230 Display.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.