Screen & Page: Cute Puppy-Kids & Hard Choices In ‘Wolf Children’
Most anime is adapted from manga, often produced by the manga publisher to raise awareness and selling it overseas. But what about the anime shows or film that go the other way, adapted from the screen to the page? How do those works hold up, and what changes or stays the same? That’s what Screen & Page aims to explore.
This week, we're looking at Mamoru Hosoda's 2012 film Wolf Children, and its manga adaptation by the artist Yu.
Known as Wolf Children Ame and Yuki in Japan, Wolf Children --- directed by Hosoda, co-written by Hosada and Satako Okudera, and the first work animated by Hosoda's own Studio Chizu --- was released in 2012 to great acclaim, and made it to the West a year later.
Hana, a university student in Tokyo, falls for a mysterious loner who shows up one day in her class. Even after learning he's a werewolf, she loves him and they have two children together. Sadly, the man --- whose name is never given --- is killed while out hunting for food.
Now left with two constantly shapeshifting kids --- headstrong daughter Yuki and sensitive son Ame --- Hana closes herself off from the world. When life becomes too hard in Tokyo, Hana moves her kids out to the far country and a big, ramshackle house with hard soil on the edge of a forest. Hana struggles to make it as a farmer while ensuring that Yuki and Ame grow up right and have the freedom to choose between their two natures.
This film won a ton of awards --- including the 2013 Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year --- and it's easy to see why. While the story's a bit simple, it's beautifully told and tugs at the heartstrings. Chizu's animation work is gorgeous and Hosoda even plays with things a little bit; when the body of Ame and Yuki's father is discovered, for instance, all sound cuts out entirely, plunging home the stark horror of the scene.
More impressively, Hosoda uses first-person camera shots to great effect, most memorably in a shot of Ame and Yuki racing as wolves through a batch of newly fallen snow. It's a remarkable sequence full of excellent music and exuberant visuals that sells the joy these two kids have at finally being able to cut loose.
More so than in Summer Wars, Hosoda relies heavily on montages in this film. While that's not a technique that works for some moviegoers, for me, when underlined with the lushness of Takagi Masakatsu's score, it totally works.
If you're in the mood for a film that speaks to questions of parenting, identity, survival and man's relationship to nature all in one lovely story, Wolf Children is the film for you.
What's even more remarkable than the fact that Wolf Children loses none of its power in translation is that this was artist Yu's first manga. If you know anything about how stressful and time-consuming manga production is, you can appreciate how daunting making your debut must be.
And when it comes to having to ape the visually distinct style of both Hosoda and character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, that makes things even harder. Yet Yu more than succeeds.
She not only captures all the big moments of the film and nails the character's looks, she manages to capture the movie's visual flourish with beautiful ink tones and some smart lighting choices.
Adding a prologue and epilogue that make Hana a bit less thin than she is on screen, Yu also follows in the footsteps of Summer Wars mangaka Iqura Sugimoto by including monologues. By getting inside the heads of Ame, Yuki and Hana's heads, we understand them a bit more as readers. The film is narrated by an older Yuki which helps contribute to its fairy tale feel. That feel is still present but there's a bit more depth present.
Yen Press' translation of the manga --- published originally in three volumes then collected in a hardcover omnibus --- was nominated for an Eisner Award last year. It's easy to see why; the story is told very well. And the way Yen packages it --- with color spreads, nice paper, and artist comments and words from Hosoda and Sugimoto --- makes for a completely immersive experience. This book, as big as it looks, can be devoured in a day, and you're gonna want to read it that quickly. For extra pathos, pull up the score on YouTube and let it wash over you. You'll howl with joy at this book.
Wolf Children the film is widely available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital. The manga is available in print from a variety of retailers and your local library.