The Boy and the Beast – An unlikely combo

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From the director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, comes the tale of a lonely boy and a lonely beast. When I first saw the poster for this movie floating around on the internet last year, I was instantly intrigued.Mostly because it hinted at the kind of Japanese animation I liked, the type that blended Japanese folklore with the modern world – and then intrigue transformed into excitement when I found out that it was a movie directed by none other than Mamoru Hosoda!

His movies are stellar and I have yet to see any that suck. To date, Summer Wars remains one of my favourite anime movies of all time while Wolf Children and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time are two of the most feel inducing movies I had the pain and pleasure of watching.

The premise of this movie is revolves around a boy named Ren, who becomes a runaway when his mother passes away. With his father missing, the man disappearing after the divorce, and Ren’s dislike of his Mother’s extended family – Ren decides that living on his own is better than living under the roof with people he despises. When his unstable emotions reduce him into a crying wreck in the back alleys of Shibuya – it is there, surrounded by a sea of parked bikes where he first meets his future mentor – the sword wielding bakemono named Kumatetsu.

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Before I get into the character development in the movie, I want to get my thoughts on the overall story out of the way first. The story, in my opinion, is only decent. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t quite as invested in the story of The boy and the beast as much as I thought I would be, maybe because it didn’t go in the direction I hoped it would. This is not the fault of the movie of course. It might have been that I was expecting too much, and in the end, it didn’t quite live up to the absurdly high bar I’d set for it.

Keep in mind that this is not me saying this movie is not worth watching. The boy and the beast is definitely worth setting your time aside for, especially if you’re a fan of Mamoru Hosoda. I think it just boils down to personal taste, and regardless of whether or not you’d like it, I think the movie is still worth watching.

One reason for my lukewarm reaction toward the story may have been because of the time skip that occurs midway through the movie. I’m not treading into spoiler territory here so don’t worry.

I really liked seeing Ren (whom Kumatetsu renames as Kyuuta after taking him in) doing his best to become stronger, but unfortunately, the movie barely shows us what hardships he goes through or how he overcomes them except for a bunch of scenes in the first half of the movie. That really irked me. A lot. It feels sloppy, and though I understand why this occurred  – I still felt kind of cheated.

The snippets of training montage would have been better if the movie really took the time to expand on it – how they presented it to me just felt like they were tossing a bunch of exposition in my face.

To be fair though, the story does have several unexpected plot twists. They were done pretty well, and I didn’t see a few of them coming. Kumatetsu’s own story weighs a great deal in the movie as well, and gives a lot more weight to the characters. I guess what I’m saying here is, is that you should draw your own conclusions by watching it. Who knows? You might just fall in love with this gem.

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Character-wise, The boy and the beast does an exceptional job at developing the main characters as well as the supporting ones.

Ren does mature over the course of the movie, as does Kumatetsu. Their relationship can be summed up with one word: Explosive. The two are remarkably similar, in both their negative and positive traits. Kumatetsu is like a big man-child, stubborn and set in his ways – snapping at anyone who tries to point out his flaws. However, what separates him from Ren is his missing trait; perseverance.

There is one scene where the they have a heated argument after an abysmal training session, where Kumatetsu stomps off in a huff. Meanwhile, instead of wallowing in anger or annoyance, Ren does some self-reflection and takes the steps to try and improve himself – asking for help and listening seriously to feedback he receives. As the movie rolls on, it also becomes apparent that the Ren and Kumatetsu have a sort of symbiotic relationship wherein the relationship benefits both parties. They learn from each other, in a sense.

Another character whom I thought was fairly well written was Kumatetsu’s sort-of-friend, Hyakushubo. He has the build of an average human but his face is that of a humanoid pig. As a monk, Hyakushubo is a calm and reasonable individual and tempers Kumatetsu’s fiery and often times abrasive personality. From the start of the movie, he establishes himself as the voice of reason – which is especially important considering that Kumatetsu is not above getting into shouting matches with Ren. Overall, I think that the cast is well balanced, and do a great job in their respective roles.

Another thing I found really neat about the movie was how the crowds of people reacted to the scenes playing out for us, the viewer. For example, when Ren was being chased through the city by the policemen, the people who were walking down the street or witnessing the scene actually reacted to it. This detail adds a deeper feeling of immersion to the movie, one reason being that this was usually what you’d expect to happen in real life. I find that it’s things like this that tells you how much work went into The boy and the beast.

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The music is decent, sometimes forgettable, but the animation is nothing less than great. The beasts of Jutengai are detailed and well-animated, and each beast is unique – you don’t see the same character model twice unless it was done on purpose, one example being the three wolf-men who make their appearances here and there throughout the movie. Also, we can’t forget the movie’s colour palette, which is always vibrant and brings the towns and scenery to life.

In the end, I think that while The boy and the beast didn’t resonate with me, it is still a unforgettable and remarkable movie that deserves a good chunk of your time.

7/10 – Pretty darn interesting

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