A bond to withstand worlds.
Director Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Wolf Children) crafts two worlds in The Boy and the Beast; the human world we know, and the beast world where intelligent animals rule and have the ability to reincarnate into gods. As we follow to characters from each world, I found myself a little let down by how some plot details go unanswered and the ending felt a bit predictable. Even still, The Boy and The Beast is a good film about acceptance and showed the growth of a beautiful relationship between two fiercely independent characters.
On the human side, we have the nine-year-old boy Ren, or Kyuta as he’s nicknamed through most of the film. After his mother passes, he runs away from home to find a place where he can belong. He is brash and unruly, but his unyielding determination makes him easy to root for.
On the beast side we have Kumatetsu, a bear-like beast that’s competing with another for the lordship of the beast kingdom. The Boy and the Beast never explains why the beasts venture into the human world other than to walk around, but this leads Kumatetsu to finding the lonely Kyuta in Shibuya. Kumatetsu is wild and in every sense a beast. He’s showy and short-tempered, and a ton of fun to watch when he throws a fit.
As a beast up for such a high honor, it’s puzzling to see how Kumatetsu is so unfit to be a leader. And, unfortunately, it’s never really explained why he was chosen as a possible successor to the role other than for his incredible strength. The other beast in the competition seems so much more competent, so I didn’t feel like I had a reason to believe or want Kumatetsu to win. The other beasts in the kingdom emulate this feeling early on in the film as well. That opinion changes, but it would have been nice to know why the lord believed in the incompetent Kumatetsu in the first place.
In order to put himself in a better position for the lordship, Kumatetsu has Kyuta become his apprentice. The two don’t mesh well. They constantly butt heads and neither take the high road when it comes to an argument, but that’s what makes their dynamic so enjoyable. These two independent characters learn how to teach each other to become better versions of themselves. The growth of their relationship is easily the most enjoyable part of the film.
The animation and voice acting in The Boy and the Beast are also wonderful. Every background is colorful, beautiful, and full of life. Action scenes are also lively, and the few scenes with CGI were fitting. The voice actors also fit their roles well, especially Luci Christian’s young Kyuta. Children’s voices often sound a little strange in anime, so it was delightful to hear Christian’s natural and emotive young Kyuta.
Unfortunately, the final third of The Boy and the Beast felt weaker than the rest. As most of the focus is Kyuta and Kumatetsu’s journey as master and apprentice, its biggest conflict is mostly put on the back burner. The slow build to the finale feels like a predictable explosion, but it could have been better if the person carrying the conflict hadn’t been sidelined for a majority of the film. This made the character’s contention with the protagonist feel unfounded. While the events do have a bit of an explanation, they felt rushed. That being said, Hosoda still made the finale work through emotional flashbacks and great action scenes.