Review for The Boy and the Beast
Here’s one movie that by rights, we should already have in the UK. It is after all Mamoru Hosoda’s most recent feature film. Mamoru Hosoda has long been touted as the next Miyazaki, somewhat ironic given his One Piece feature’s thinly veiled criticism of Studio Ghibli. In the UK, Manga Entertainment has released most of his feature films, especially his more critically acclaimed titles, including The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and Wolf Children, as well as the aforementioned One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island. You’d expect them to release his latest as well, but as so often happens when a director hits a certain zenith, the big boys come knocking. The home of Studio Ghibli in the UK, Studiocanal outbid everyone else for The Boy and The Beast, and a release was scheduled... and then unceremoniously dropped. No one but Studiocanal knows what has happened to The Boy and The Beast in the UK, and they aren’t telling. Fortunately, the US release from Funimation is coded for Region A and B, so one quick import later, I can see if Hosoda’s latest builds on the legacy of his earlier films.
The Beast World exists parallel to the real world, where those beings on the path to godhood reside. One of the biggest cities Jutengai is congruent to Shibuya in Tokyo, and now that the Lord of Jutengai is about to take the final step to immanence, he needs a successor. The competition comes down to the popular Iozen, and the powerful Kumatetsu. If strength and braggadocio were all it took, then Kumatetsu would be a shoe-in, but he lives the life of a vagrant, is unpopular, has no family, and has no disciples either. No one will stick with him long enough. It’s gotten to the point where Kumatetsu will take any disciple who can bear him, even a human.
In Shibuya, a young boy named Kyuta is homeless, following the break-up of his family, and subsequent death of his mother. He lives on the streets, avoiding the police who would see him returned to his extended family, which he has come to hate since his mother’s death, a hate that is gradually extending to the rest of the world. When Kumatetsu encounters this weak, ragamuffin child, he’s found his disciple, although neither of them know it at first. But the others warn Kumatetsu about taking in a human, as their hearts contain a darkness that could threaten both their worlds.
The Boy and the Beast gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this Blu-ray. The image is clear and sharp, with strong consistent colours, and no signs of compression or even digital banding. This is a decent presentation of an anime feature that does the quality of the film justice. The parallel worlds concept works well here, with Shibuya presented in an almost photoreal way when it comes to backgrounds, settings, vehicles and the like, while Jutengai is a more traditional Japanese setting, rustic back alleys, and almost a rural, natural feel to it. The degree of anthropomorphization varies from character to character in Jutengai, but allows for a wide variety of character design. It’s a magical version of OZ from Summer Wars. Hosoda’s trademark character design is evident here, comparatively lighter on details to allow for much more fluid and energetic animation.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track. Once you resolve Funimation's traditionally low volume levels, The Boy and the Beast’s audio design comes across well, with the surrounds really immersing you in the worlds of the story, presenting the action sequences with impact and nuance (the LFE really does impress at these points), and with the movie’s music driving the emotional core of the film well. Dialogue is clear throughout in the Japanese version that I watched, with the subtitles timed accurately and free of typos, while what I sampled of the English dub indicated that Funimation went the extra mile to give this a good one.
Another sign of a director reaching a certain level of notoriety is that distributors start being priced out of extra features. Hosoda’s earlier films got audio commentaries, featurettes, behind the scenes glimpses and the like. This time it seems Funimation couldn’t even afford the permission to record one of their raucous cast commentaries for perceived added value.
This is a triple play release, with DVD and Blu-ray discs on each inner face of a Blu-ray Amaray, wrapped in an o-card that repeats the sleeve artwork. The inner sleeve has some nice imagery to it as well, although due to a blank spine, isn’t reversible. There is an Ultraviolet code inside, although it’s probably expired by now.
After a trailer for Funimation NOW, you get taken to an animated menu from where you can access a whole bunch of trailers for the film, and more trailers for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F.
The Boy and The Beast is a fine film from Mamoru Hosoda, another urban fairy tale once again exploring the nature of family and connections from a rather fantastical point of view. With his customary fluid animation style, and an eye to striking characterisations, you can easily lose yourself in the worlds of The Boy and the Beast for two hours, be thoroughly entertained, and come out the other end feeling better about the world. It’s centred on a classic odd couple, the bratty orphan Kyuta and the layabout Kumatetsu, both reluctant to be together, but both of them needing the other to make them whole. For Kyuta, Kumatetsu becomes the father figure that he has long been without, and for Kumatetsu, Kyuta is the family that he never knew that he needed. It’s as classic a tale as you can imagine, but Hosoda makes it all fresh and original through wonderfully observed characterisation, and an appealing story.
It’s only when you compare it to Hosoda’s earlier films that The Boy and The Beast seems wanting. I could connect to films like Summer Wars and Wolf Children in a way that I couldn’t with this film. Those films engaged me on a wholly emotional level, had moments that could wring tears from even this cynical soul, but The Boy and The Beast doesn’t, it comes across as contrived and somewhat manipulative. Perhaps it’s the fantasy setting which is more divorced from the real world, but it’s more likely the characters, sparkling and entertaining though they are. It’s harder to connect with them when they are comparatively thin ciphers, the bratty orphan and his layabout teacher. The film doesn’t quite succeed in selling their surrogate father son relationship as much as it does in revelling in their mutual tomfoolery. It also isn’t helped by a time-skip.
Halfway through the story, we get a jump of eight years courtesy of a training montage. Kyuta goes from brat to teenager, and the focus of the story shifts from the unwanted street urchin finding his way in a magical world, to a surly teenager trying to reconnect with the real world. It’s necessary given the direction the story goes in, but that doesn’t stop this movie actually feeling like two stories instead of one. They are both good stories, but it still felt like a full stop in the middle of a sentence. When Kyuta first returned to Shibuya, the film had to regain my confidence and trust, as I had absolutely no idea where it would be taking us now. Fortunately it goes in the right direction.
It’s just typical! A master filmmaker creates a great movie, a delightful family adventure, a modern day fairy tale that entertains and captivates, and then along comes a cynical reviewer, only to compare it unfavourably with his earlier works. Watching The Boy and The Beast is definitely not time wasted, and it deserves a place in anime collections, indeed film collections in general. Studiocanal notwithstanding, Funimation’s US release is very conveniently Region B compatible, and it’s well worth the import.