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    theO Review: The Boy and the Beast

Mamoru Hosada (Wolf Children, Summer Wars) is the best anime director working today. The Boy and the Beast continues his sterling track record, with a couple caveats.

The Boy and the Beast begins like a cross between The Jungle Book and Spirited Away. A nine-year old boy named Ren rages against the world and runs away from home. In a moment of desperation he wanders into the spirit world, where he becomes pupil and surrogate son to a bear spirit named Kumatetsu.

Kumatetsu is a great warrior and a mean slob. Every inconvenience provokes a tantrum. Like any great teacher-student relationship, Kumatetsu learns as much from Ren as he imparts.

The chemistry between Ren and Kumatetsu is the highlight of the film. Their bickering is never boring and amplified by Hosada's direction, which makes even the smallest moments a joy to watch. During one scene, Kumatetsu is gobbling rice while scolding Ren. With every word rice spews out toward Ren (and the camera) like a torrential downpour. There are a hundred moments like this, which are more interesting to watch than they have any right to be.

Partway through the film, the tone changes. Ren returns to the adult world and the movie shifts from comedy to slice-of-life seriousness. There's a long-lost dad and a cheesy romance. Even the art style turns from bright colors to shades of gray. Then the tone changes again, with touches of Sci-Fi and Horror that reminded me of Akira. I applaud Hosada for his ambition and not settling for a predictable story arch, but the abrupt shifts made me dizzy and a lot of elements felt unnecessary. The romance, a couple side characters and all the Moby Dick allusions could have been comfortably toned down.

Though The Boy and the Beast has too much going on, the direction is so good that it doesn't really matter all that much and the depth certainly lends itself to multiple viewings and interpretations. The Boy and the Beast remains another magical Hosada film.

theO Score: 8.5/10

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