Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wolf Children Review

Since this is the first time I can officially talk about anime, and anime films no less, I might as well just be up front and say that I don't watch many anime films. It's for a lot of reasons, but it's a combination of various factors that lead me to only seeing a few anime films. Localization, culture, and overall quality dictate what anime movies I can actually watch, and only about a handful of movies are released in the West for the general audience. This year alone I remember seeing DVD's for Garden of Words, Colorful, and From Up On Poppy Hill, and for all intents and purposes, they may be the only notable releases this year. Enter Wolf Children.

For the uninitiated, Wolf Children is the latest film by a legendary anime director, Momoru Hosoda. Unless you follow anime passionately, most people have no clue who he is. The only that thing our generation would actually know him for is directing an episode in Digimon and also providing the middle sequence for The Digimon Movie. The part where there is a computer virus that multiplies at a consistent basis that no one can destroy and Tai and Matt need to team up to beat it. Other than that, his works include The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, both of which are critically acclaimed titles.

So how does Wolf Children stand in comparison to two classic anime films? It's hard to say really. It all depends what you go into this film expecting. This movie can be a lot of different genres. It can be a romantic love story, a slice of life of watching two kids, Ame and Yuki, grow up, a drama with how the children, have to grow up hiding their special abilities, or even an ethical drama about identity and place in the world. This movie can  convey a lot of different moods, and that in no way detracts from making this a good movie. It's just that every half hour or so, the tone of the movie can completely shift, and there are times when you pine for the previous moments. I personally loved seeing Ame and Yuki grow up, but I was less interested seeing how they adapt to their powers. And what are their powers you may ask?

They can turn into wolves!

Obvious cuteness aside, the best part of the entire movie is watching their mother, Hana, care for them as little kids. Watching them grow up from infants and toddlers to starting school is so enjoyable and shows off so many emotions. It's cute because we're watching baby wolves, it's scary when one of them gets sick and she doesn't know how to care for them, it's dramatic when child services show up to examine them, with Hana afraid that they'll discover what they can do. Pretty much everything that's great about this movie can be summed up in a solid half hour, and that'd be fine.

Unfortunately, it's not a short film though, and that's where the problems lie. If I could make a rough comparison, this movie is structured like a Disney Direct to DVD movie. It's three separate sequences that are tied together through characters, but each of them has their own plot that doesn't intercede with the previous plot. In other words, three episodes of a TV show that was never made stitched together to create a "movie".

Wolf Children is very similar to that structure. There are three general parts of the the film, the love between Hana and her husband, watching Ame and Yuki grow up, and watching them as preteens deal with their powers. Each part has its own tone, and out of all of the parts, the longest and my least favorite is seeing them as preteens. In what was originally just a story of a mother trying to raise her two children, by the third act characters are added that that detract focus from them. Instead they serve as obstacles or love interests, and they take focus away from what made the middle part of the movie so good; watching a family grow up.

It's moments like these that make the movie great
I may be alone in this mindset, but I think that if the movie was just kept to a short film and was solely about the middle part of the film, or if the movie did focus on them being preteens, yet did so in a way that kept the focus on the main three and made them more dynamic than dealing with outside problems, this film would have been fantastic. I've been neglecting the first act of the movie, and with good reason. That part is fine on its own and tells its own story that is enjoyable and sweet, if not a bit tragic. If the second act is my favorite part, then you can chalk up the beginning as my second favorite.

To get away from the plot, the animation is sublime. Momoru Hosoda is know for his style being a bit more free form than other animes, with characters having a sense of fluidity to them. That style is still retained, but now there's the added benefit of dedicating several parts of the film to watching Ame and Yuki explore vast amounts of nature. From a beautiful scene on top of a snow mountain to Ame exploring a forest, whenever sequences are dedicated to just watching Ame and Yuki run around as wolves, it's definitely going to be a crowd pleaser.

I could talk about the songs and how pleasant they sound, but that's really all that I can say besides going back to the plot. I know that I may have come off as overtly critical of the plot, but that's because when this movie is good, it's really damned good. It's just that it's only good when it's simplistic and insular. If the focus was on the three main characters with the occasional side character popping up, I would have loved this movie. But like the children, it can never be that simple. Things eventually have to become more complicated, exactly like how children grow up and discover themselves. It's just a shame that when the children are trying to discover if they're wolves that can become humans, or humans that can become wolves, the plot slows down and loses interest.

Even though it's a static image, it looks great
I wish that I could have loved this movie. I went into this movie expecting it to be a great movie like Hosoda's previous works. But I walked away with just the movie being... good. That's it.It's a good movie. It does some parts very well, but on the whole it's just a good movie. Did my lofty expectations get in the way of my critique? Not really, since I knew that there were points that I would like, but I just expected the entire movie to be as good as the middle part. I would still recommend it and implore everyone to watch the movie and draw your own conclusions. Each person will walk away with a different perspective of the movie, and my perspective is that this movie gets 4 loving family members out of 5.

Next time, something much more light hearted!

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