The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no ko)
Written and Directed by Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children)
Review by Jordan
Grab the sword in your soul
The Boy and the Beast commences in a classic fashion, as through flaming silhouettes animated gloriously it tells the tale of two distinct warriors challenging to become lords for the ultimate prize of reincarnation. Iôzen is strong and charismatic, with many apprentices and his two sons learning his techniques and demeanour. Kumatetsu is gruff and undisciplined, having the favour of the current lord Jūtengai but no apprentice to prove his commitment. That is until Kyûta arrives.
Alone and lonely (save for his newly acquainted pet rat), having run away from home after the death of his mother, Kyûta is stumbled upon by Kumatetsu and follows him down the narrow Shibuya alleyways and into the parallel world of beasts he inhabits. Initially viewed by Kumatetsu as a controversial tool to assist him in obtaining honour, Kyûta is adopted as his apprentice, but his stubbornness and strong will prove to be difficult obstacles for an already lousy teacher to manoeuvre. The greater difficulty though is understanding the darkness that lies within the hearts of all humans, and whether it can truly be kept at bay.
The source of this darkness and Kyûta discovering a sense of belonging are the themes that The Boy and the Beast are built on, while making a smart decision to remain relatable to children before appealing to older fans of Japan’s favourite genre. Director Mamoru Hosoda, whose previous film Wolf Children wonderfully captured the struggles and triumphs of parenthood, uses Kyûta’s unspoken search for a father figure as a catalyst for him to be able to find his own way in life; aided by being swept up in the grandeur of a world where the idea of a brave warrior is defined before his eyes.
If there is a drawback in the storytelling technique employed, it’s that it requires an increasing commitment to Kyûta’s life in Shibuya, as he enters a friendship and finds his motivation to launch into a promising future. This leaves less dedicated to the world of beasts, where the colourful inhabitants and their traditions offer far more fun and interest. It’s a shame that there couldn’t be more adventures shared between Kyûta and Kumatetsu, especially given the significance of the story’s conclusion. Jūtengai too is a fun character whose brief appearances never seem enough; but ultimately these criticisms speak more to what The Boy and the Beast does well, and not poorly.
A tale of courage and strength that further solidifies Hosoda’s strong reputation, The Boy and the Beast may not reach the esteemed heights of his previous works, but is a vibrantly animated, enthralling journey lead by a likeable, unlikely duo.