Burrowed discreetly within a Shibuya, Tokyo back alley is a passage to the mythical world of Jutengai: a fantastical land of beasts on the cusp of a leadership change. With the lot of contenders narrowed down to level-headed crowd favorite Iozan and his stubborn, unrefined foil Kumatetsu, the latter must search for a worthy apprentice to train if he’s to sustain consideration. When young runaway Kyuta enters the picture by literally stumbling into this land not his own, Kumatetsu takes him under his wing and the two embark on a joint journey toward evolution of character amid dual world-spanning hardship and uncertainty.
Mamoru Hosoda earned deserved notoriety with 2006’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, of which kick-started a career devoid of diminishing returns that resulted in the forming of his own Studio Chizu in 2011. Having been touted as somewhat of a successor to Miyazaki, The Boy and the Beast suggests that such an unthinkable resemblance is indeed the real deal and far from hyperbole. Imbued with a balance between slight objectivity and weighty thematic heft, Hosoda’s vision remains unfailingly insightful as it charts Kumatetsu’s and Kyuta’s budding co-dependence.
The ensuing theme of a mutual learning experience is one that the film leans heavily on throughout its first half, going through the motions as Kyuta transitions from bumbling temperamental brat to something of a dynamo. Kumatetsu’s foreseeable fondness of Kyuta is touching as can be as Jutengai’s lovingly crafted geography meshes wonderfully with the rest of Hosoda’s singular vision. Other characters’ involvement levels vary in terms of quality, yet such this minor focal inadequacy is forgivable based on just how enjoyable the proceedings are.
Just when you think Hosoda’s lost all sight of Kyuta’s former life, The Boy and the Beast‘s latter half takes some time to flesh out the entirety of the only “What if?” scenario its initial setup and trajectory presents. A slight balance issue ensues given how heavily the proceedings lean on Kumatetsu and Kyuta’s establishment of their legacy within the confines of Jutengai, but the shift is handled deftly and manages to pack a considerable emotional wallop prior to the clash of two worlds that serves to usher in the film’s nigh-perfect conclusion.
The Boy and the Beast competently assumes the role of the non-Ghibli anime benchmark. It embodies a multifaceted melding of accessible tropes, considerable depth and artistic integrity to round itself out as an altogether singular and affecting effort despite the obviousness of its influences. Having only seen the aforementioned The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, I’m determined to watch the remainder of Hosoda’s burgeoning filmography to witness his steadfast evolution as both a Miyazaki parallel and purveyor of significant contributions to the animated genre.