Now that Hayao Miyazaki is retired and that Studio Ghibli had shifted its focus to smaller projects, there have been talks about who is going to be the next great Japanese animation director. A notable candidate for Miyazaki’s successor is an up-and-coming animation director by the name of Mamoru Hosoda. Hosoda was a longtime animator who worked on various anime shows such as “Digimon” and “One Piece”. He made a name for himself with 2006’s “The Girl Who Leapt through Time”. Thanks to 2009’s “Summer Wars” and 2012’s “The Wolf Children”, Hosoda managed to gain a loyal fan base on both sides of the Pacific Rim.
The film follows a young boy named Ren. After his mother died, he runs away from his apathetic legal guardians and decides to live on the streets of Tokyo. One night, he follows a bear-man named Kumatetsu through a portal of some sorts into Jutengai, the kingdom of the beast men. It is then Kumatetsu accepts Ren as his apprentice as he’s supposed to compete for the lordship over Jutengai.
Once again, Hosoda manages to score another hit with the “Boy and the Beast”. The film’s concept is just as fantastical as its animation. The film’s main strength is its relationship between Ren/Kyuta and Kumatetsu. It takes a unique approach to the surrogate father-son relationship by also applying a master-student angle to it as well. While they both bicker at each other like an old married couple, they do care about each other. The film does well in showing how Ren/Kyuta grows as an orphan nine-year-old who resents humanity into a mature seventeen-year-old. Kumatetsu is also an enjoyable, cocky character who has a soft interior. The film’s supporting cast is also worth mentioning, thanks to the reasonable Hyakoshubo and the comic relief Tatara. This movie contains some of the best animation Hosoda has ever done in his career. He has a distinctive style to his animation that’s both fluid and colorful. His character design once again stands out from other anime movies. The overall dubbing on this movie is very good thanks to the efforts of Funimation. John Swasey is a great fit for Kumatetsu. The film’s main problem is its third act. It seems that the movie forced a final conflict in order to pad out the running time. It’s not as bad as the ending for “The Return of the King” but it does drag the film’s pacing down a little bit.
Overall, it’s another great entry into Hosoda’s ever-growing filmography.