The Boy and the Beast
by Paul Jensen,
I was briefly tempted to buy a model kit the other day, but then I remembered one of my favorite stories from the old Calvin and Hobbes newspaper comic. Calvin buys a model plane, struggles with the tiny parts and incomprehensible directions, and eventually smashes the thing and claims it was hit by anti-aircraft guns. I realized that my experience would probably be about the same, so I decided to save myself twenty-odd dollars and untold hours of frustration. Besides, there's too much anime out there for me to be throwing money at a new hobby anyway. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
The Boy and the Beast
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Shelf Life Reviews
I took a look at The Boy and the Beast for this week's review. This movie recently got the fancy limited edition treatment as part of Funimation's "Hosoda Collection," but is it any good?
The story follows Ren, a young boy who runs away from his less than sympathetic family after his mother dies. As he wanders the city streets of Shibuya, Ren stumbles into another world populated by intelligent talking beasts. He's eventually taken in as an apprentice by Kumatetsu, a strong but slovenly beast whose goal is to become the new leader of his city. Kumatetsu renames Ren “Kyuta,” and the two of them gradually go from a bickering pair of rivals to an adoptive family unit. As Kyuta grows up, that bond is put to the test by his desire to return to the human realm, as well as a dark force that threatens both worlds.
The Boy and the Beast shares some family-related themes with Wolf Children, another of Hosoda's films, and in some ways it feels like the fatherhood counterpart to Wolf Children's story of motherhood. Kyuta and Kumatetsu argue constantly with one another, to the point where their clashes come to embody both the good and bad parts of their relationship. Their conversations are straightforward to a fault, and much of their bonding occurs through shared activities like training or traveling. In short, they're exactly what you'd expect from a gruff father and a hotheaded son. The relationship between these two characters dominates most of the film, and the chemistry between them is generally strong enough to carry that weight.
The trouble with this movie is that no matter how much fun it is to watch Kyuta and Kumatetsu do their thing, they can't manage to cover up the weak points in the story. The pacing is uneven at times, and the narrative begins to feel disjointed once Kyuta starts splitting his time between the beast world and the human world. The dialogue is also in need of some additional nuance, as characters have a tendency to spell out their feelings and motivations in a way that doesn't feel natural. The supporting cast in general is underdeveloped; Kyuta's love interest Kaede in particular suffers from being boxed into a limiting role. These problems don't derail the plot or distract from the overall experience, but they do leave the movie feeling less special or memorable than it might have been.
Even so, The Boy and the Beast has its fair share of emotional high points. As Kyuta struggles to find a balance between standing by Kumatetsu and spending time with his real father, his inner conflict comes through quite well. Some of the movie's final scenes also hit home for me on a personal level, though I should note that they might have had an unusually easy time drawing me in since I had some of my own father figures on my mind when I watched it. Even if all the emotional dad moments don't tug at your heartstrings, the sense of wonder and adventure that accompanies Kyuta's journey through the beast world is plenty compelling on its own.
It helps that The Boy and the Beast looks really darn good. The character designs and animation for the beast characters are particularly eye-catching, as are some of the environments. This “Hosoda Collection” release from Funimation is certainly a fine way to watch the film, as it offers up a more impressive collection of on-disc extras than the standard edition version from 2016. The higher price of entry also gets you a booklet of interviews with the cast and crew, which are particularly interesting if you want to look at The Boy and the Beast from a filmmaking perspective. The English dub is strong all around, and I'm tempted to advocate watching the dub just to let your eyes spend more time focusing on the animation.
While this isn't a perfect film by any means, it has enough going for it to get a Shelf Worthy rating out of me. I enjoyed watching it and would happily watch it again, which means it meets my criteria for this rating. I don't think it will stick with me in the way that some of Hosoda's other works have, but it fares much better when you step back and look at it in a wider context. When viewed as just a regular movie that happens to have a well-known director, it makes a pretty strong case for itself.
That wraps up this week's review, but I do have some good news to share before we go: the Shelf Life email is back up and running, so I can take submissions for Shelf Obsessed again! If you'd like to show off your collection, send me your photos at [email protected].
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