Anime is one of those curious genres that can be a leader in creating fantastical worlds with childlike imagination with with very adult themes centred around a central character coming of age. For Western audiences you have to accept a little bit of melodrama, leaps of logic and cultural mistranslations but there is usually always something rewarding to be plucked out. The Boy and The Beast, which I was looking forward to since missing it at the Berlinale in 2015, is one example that takes all those negative traits but offers little reward as compensation.
Nine year old Ren has recently lost his mother and his estranged father is out of touch to come take care of him. Fleeing his guardians, he runs through the streets of Tokyo, encountering two strange cloaked characters who debate about taking him on as an apprentice. Following the mysterious stranger, Ren is transported to a parallel world, the Beast Kingdom. Ren encounters the giant bear like creature Kuametsu, whom he saw on the streets of Tokyo. Kuametsu is arrogant, fierce and narrow minded as he challenges his respected foe in a fight for the honour of taking the throne. Spectating at the duel, Ren is impressed by Kumetsu’s unflappable resolve, in the face of being bested and having no public support. From then, Ren becomes Kuametsu’s apprentice. Having a shoulder to lean on each other, Kuametsu becomes a better fighter and more disciplined adult, whilst Ren finds a place he can call home.
As a teenager, Ren crosses back over to the human world, entering the education system and reacquainting himself with his estranged father. But the confusion of not knowing where he belongs creates a void and resentment that in the Beast Kingdom manifests itself into something much more powerful and dangerous. When the two worlds collide, Ren faces an opponent who shared a similar journey but never found love to fill a void, that can destroy the two worlds Ren knows.
Mamoru Hosuda is a seasoned director and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a personal favourite of mine, full of charm and whim. But The Boy and The Beast lacks a clear focus and a message that just seems convoluted. The story keeps making it’s own leaps of possibility that become more tedious, confusing than as a fantastical treat. Visually it fails to reach anything of the spectacular but most of all the main characters prove to be an irritable force than empathising with. Overall it doesn’t appear that The Boy and The Beast will be a cult anime anytime soon.
The Boy and The Beast is available for digital download and Blu Ray DVD now.