Screen & Page: Grab The Sword In Your Soul In ‘The Boy And The Beast’
The Boy And The Beast is the latest film from Mamoru Hosoda, Hayao Miyazaki's heir apparent. It's a poignant fable about growing up and parenthood, as well as a stunning, fun adventure film. Screen & Page looks at the appeal of the movie, and its adaptation as a manga by Renji Asai.
The Boy And The Beast is Mamoru Hosoda's first film as solo writer and director, and the first to be animated by his own Studio Chizu. A conscious blend of Hosoda's earlier original films, Summer Wars and Wolf Children, it combines the blockbuster action of the former with the latter's POV shots and sense of introspection over isolation, it winds up an appealing blend of both. Though maybe not as emotionally fulfilling as Wolf Children, it's still a highly impressive run, with some of the most spectacular CGI and battles you might find in recent anime.
After a prologue setting up the alternate world of beasts --- specifically the city of Jutengai --- and how a battle to succeed the current lord is underway, the film proper opens with nine-year old Ren tearfully running away from relatives after his divorced mother's death.
Starving on the streets of Shibuya with only his pet mouse, Chiko, for company, Ren meets one of the beasts fighting for succession --- the bear-man Komotetsu. He reluctantly becomes Komotetsu's apprentice, and receives the new name Kyuta --- a play on "kyuu," the Japanese word for nine, to reflect his age.
Between arguing with and learning from his master, Kyuta bonds with the pig monk Hyakushubo and vagrant monkey Tatara, while trying to grow in a world not meant for him.
Having used montages and some gorgeous, running POV shots to great effect in Wolf Children, Hosoda brings both back here. The POV shots come as a young Ren runs through Shibuya and later Jutengai to capture his disorientation and distress, and reappear during the final battle. I hope Hosoda keeps using this technique, as it allows him to really showcase his and his studio's talent for chaotically familiar yet creative environments.
What really impressed me this go-round was the character's weight. In comics, inking and pencilling together contribute to a character's look and movement. In animation, it's somewhat the same, with the bonus of actually fluidly depicting movement. And fluid is the key word here.
There's always something moving on screen. Even during the silent shots that crop up, and the repeated shots that always signal production shortcuts, there's energy that crackles. In that way, Hosoda lives up to his fan-appointed moniker as "the next Miyazaki," though his work still doesn't have the same clear authorial stamp that such a title implies. Even the way characters sweat and bleed is fully felt; when punches land, you can almost feel the impact.
A fun ride with very likable characters, stellar action, and a terrific sense of energy ---plus terrific English performances, led by the wonderful John Swasey as Komotetsu --- The Boy And The Beast is most assuredly worth your time.
In keeping with the unofficial tradition of having each Hosoda film's manga drawn by a different artist, the Beast manga is by Renji Asai (previously an artist on action manga Sento Josai Masurawo). Asai --- working from Chizu's storyboards --- faithfully reproduces the film's look, managing to convey Hosoda and company's sizable talent for facial expressions with her own spin.
Given that this manga was published monthly in its original form, Asai has more pages to work with. That's always a good thing; unless you're Katsuhiro Otomo or Masashi Kishimoto --- and sometimes even then --- the crushing deadlines of weekly manga will usually force you to compromise your art. Working to a monthly schedule, Asai's art comes off very polished and focused. Komotetsu's vibrancy is pretty hard to capture in still panels, but Asai pulls it off.
My only real complaint is that Asai's heavy use of hatch work sometimes either obscures detail or adds too much. For example, it feels like raindrops have been added to certain scenes that they weren't in the film, which is distracting.
While not substantially different from the finished movie, the manga adaptation absolutely captures its fun roller coaster vibe.
The Boy And The Beast is widely available digitally and on DVD & Blu-Ray from Funimation Entertainment. The manga is available digitally and in print from Yen Press.