THE BOY AND THE BEAST
(Bakemono no Ko)
The Boy and the Beast is set in one of the familiar parallel worlds that anime seems to love a magical place hidden beneath or in the corners of this world and filled with a rich menagerie of strange and wondrous creatures. This has become an anime staple ever since the huge hits of Hayao Miyazakis My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001). See also the likes of Pom Poko (1994), The Cat Returns (2002), Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (2009), Children Who Chase Lost Voices from the Deep (2011) and A Letter to Momo (2011).
The story that Mamoru Hosoda throws into the mix is an appealing variant on the prickly sensei and his pupil theme that has worked through The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Karate Kid (1984) and countless martial arts films. Hosodas variation is to turn this into a grudgingly caring and supportive relationship between two mutually stubborn personalities sort of like Mowgli and a much grumpier version of Balaoo from The Jungle Book (1967). This starts well and the film has a lot of fun progressing through the standard training montages. The main complaint I would make is that the world we are in seems a little sketchy and taken for granted other than a strange bestiary of creatures and the occasional rule about how peace is maintained, we get very little about it that sets it aside from the other worlds listed above.
It is in mid-film that The Boy and the Beast does a strange tonal shift where it goes from the comically amusing sensei/pupil film to abruptly take the story away from Jutengai and back into the real world. At this point, it starts to slow down and become a teenage romance of sorts one that peculiarly pushes the importance of education to the forefront. It is also Momora Hosoda venturing back into the theme of the boy divided between two selves human and beast that we saw in Wolf Children. It all starts to come together nicely at the end, even if you feel that Hosoda rushes to a big dramatic denouement the film didnt need a typical mass destruction and epically-scaled climax because thats what anime does, not to mention creates a villain figure who only emerges out of left field in the last twenty minutes. It is not a film that soars with the same huge emotional rewards that both Summer Wars and Wolf Children did but suffices rather enjoyably.
(Screening Courtesy of Sparks Animation Festival)