Ever wonder what would happen if Disney’s Tarzan or Jungle Book were a master-disciple, coming-of-age kung fu movie? Or, better yet, wonder what would happen if Karate Kid—the one with Pat Moriaki—were cartoonish? This film, then, is for you. Directed and written by Mamoru Hosoda, (The Girl that Leap Through Time, Summer Wars and Wolf Children), this is an engaging, well-written, and entertaining movie. It’s a great achievement for the second animated movie produced by Studio Chizu (the first being Wolf Children).
The story is actually about someone doing something. They are the two things that matter when one builds a story: characters and conflicts. As Henry James famously said, “What is character but the determination of incident? And what is incident but the illumination of character?” And Bakemono no Ko or The Boy and the Beast excels at these. It has strong two lead protagonists, with meaningful conflicts. Cleverly, and most amazingly, the movie showed how it could happen in the most subtle way possible: in the interaction between two protagonists. It’s lovely to see those two interacted! This review will contain some spoilers, so be warned.
Enter the human protagonist, Kyuuta/Ren. A broken-home boy, who hated everyone and his dependent self. An outcast and a loner—in a literal sense. He’s alone because he had left his family; he’s also alone because he’s the only human child in a monster world. Seeking strength, he aspired to become a strong, independent man, while also find a place where he can belong. He then met Kumatetsu, a bear-beast strong martial artist, though his childish and stubborn nature made him an outcast in the beast world.
Both were child-like—well, Kyuuta was indeed a literal child. Both wanted to become stronger. Kumatetsu needed a disciple in order to be able to challenge his rival, Iouzen, while Kyuuta wanted to become stronger because he hated his weak self. This interaction is beautifully captured and reveals each characters’ characterizations. Witness how the story unfolds as we get to see these two socially-awkward master and disciple find the meaning in strength. Though both seek strength, they see strength in different ways. And this is the start of the big conflict in act one. Kumatetsu saw strength as spirit, as will—“sword in your heart,” he said. This is due to him having trained alone since little. Slightly different, Kyuuta saw strength in someone else, precisely because he had a mentor and often seen mimicking Kumatetsu’s movements. Both lacked what the other had, and that made them stronger as they teach each other.
See how they both have grown by the end of act one.
Not only their interpersonal relationship is explores, as the story progress into the second act, we get to see how they encounter their respective personal conflicts. We are made to see that there are more to strength than brute physical force, as both Kyuuta and Kumatetsu faced their most fundamental differences—they were of different worlds.
After meeting with the girl Kaede back in the human world, Kyuuta (now a teenager) began to rediscover his human side. His lust for knowledge and desire to meet with his long-lost father, drove Kyuuta to long for human live. And this put the relationship with his master on the edge.
Now we get to see that Kumatetsu actually saw himself as Kyuuta’s foster parent, and Kyuuta saw a father figure in him. Losing his goal, Kyuuta harbors a darkness inside his heart, a nature apparently specific for humans. The second act ended with the two acknowledge each other’s differences. And Kumatetsu won the duel to become the grandmaster.
However, the story did not end there. By the beginning of the third act, right after the second concluded, it quickly escalated the conflict. We are now introduced with the antagonist–actual antagonist. We saw how both protagonists deal with personal and interpersonal conflicts, but we haven’t seen them deal with life-and-death situation.
Meet Iouzen’s oldest son, Jiroumaru. Now, this might be the most beautiful part of this anime . At this point, audiences will get to understand Jiroumaru’s true nature, and how he also had the hole in his heart like Kyuuta.
It should really gives the idea of why Jiroumaru wears a tusked-hood, when his father is a boar-beast, as if a premonition of the event that will unfold. Jiroumaru fell into darkness and endanger both monster world and human world.
But, what good is a conflict if it did not change the inner desire of the protagonists? Indeed, we got to see Kyuuta changed a lot, from a little boy who cared little about other people, to a teenager whose lust of knowledge got his human-self back, and finally to someone dependable who’s willing to sacrifice himself to save everyone–even Jiroumaru. He even said it himself that he harbor no grudge towards Jiroumaru, now that he knew he had been there: lonely.
Kumatetsu’s desire to win the duel had also changed. He became less selfish, and seeing himself as Kyuuta’s foster parents, decided to become his sword. Quite literally, as after Kumatetsu became the grandmaster, he ascended into godhood and became a tsukumogami taking the shape of sword. Because, like every family kungfu movies, the enemy is the darkness in the selves. Both overcame their selfish and stubborn nature.Elegantly, the film took our little protagonist and brought him into adulthood, along with his now mature, and selfless mentor. This movie effectively used its two hours running time by exploring deeply the dynamics of both lead characters’ characterizations. Though unfortunately, the director also used Deus ex-machina plot device to move the plot whenever convenient, especially in the closing scene. Despite that, this film is still one that can be enjoyed both by grown-ups and children alike.
The Indonesian Anime Times | by Paksi Pradipta