Well, it’s a new year, and I am shockingly not hung over. I had actually planned to have more than a few drinks last night, but ended up being too sleepy, and just went to bed completely sober instead.
I find this decision regrettable in hindsight.
Still, I suppose a good nights sleep was a bit overdue. Probably would have gone better for me if the low last night hadn’t dropped to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, and my house being drafty as fuck. While I’m not saying it was cold, as it wasn’t, it was still a bit chilly, and typing proves a bit tricky when you can only kinda feel your fingers.
I can only imagine how this would be going right now if I was chilly and hungover. Probably be a lot more entertaining. Or disturbing. It could have gone either way, really.
Regardless, with my decision to pass on drinking myself to sleep last night, and wrapping in blankets for most of the morning aside, a new year has come, and it already looks to be going even worse than last year. It’s not obvious, but I’m calling it now. 2018 is gonna suck so hard.
A veritable fountain of postivity around here, I know.
There was originally a point I was going to make, but I’ve either forgotten it, or it was a shitty point, so let’s just move on to anime, yeah?
In the past, I’ve featured a couple of anime films, like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, A Silent Voice, and King Of Thorn, but I haven’t really devoted a lot of time to feature length anime, which is kind of odd, since I love movies so darn much. So, for the first month of the (shitty) new year, I thought I’d take a look at some anime films.
Now, a couple of things. First, I’m going to try and avoid covering any Miyazaki movies, because, well, they are Miyazaki movies, and I doubt I could really say much about them that hasn’t already been said. That, and I’d rather do that as a whole separate thing. A month of Miyazaki, or a special monthly post, or something like that. The man deserves that much, even from me.
Second, I actually don’t know a lot of anime movies. Outside Miyazaki, and movies based on successful series, anime films are an area I have very little knowledge. Most anime movies I know about are stuff based on One Piece, Inuyasha, Bleach, Naruto, and so on. Stand alone films, though, I’ve not really had a lot of opportunities to see. So, some of these may be well known, and I’m just unaware of it.
I live in blissful ignorance whenever possible. Makes life more exciting, for reasons.
That said, I am aware that my first feature for the month, Wolf Children, was a big deal. Or, rather, I know people talked about it a bunch. Not sure if that makes a big deal or not, but I’m going to assume it did. What they talked about, I have no idea, since I didn’t really pay much attention.
Paying attention makes living in blissful ignorance hard, ya know?
Wolf Children is a 2012 film from Madhouse, taking a shocking turn away from trying to make everything look like Death Note, and Studio Chizu, which was founded for the express purpose of making this movie by co-writer and director of the film, Mamoru Hosoda, who I will likely call Dormamu at some point, and attempt to bargain with.
Hey, a Dr. Strange joke! Maybe this year is off to a better start than I thought.
New year. Same old weird me. Some things are just too classic to mess with.
The story of Wolf Children centers around a young woman named Hana, who is your average high school… er… collage student.
Huh. A collage student in an anime. Weird.
Anyway, Hana does what most collage students do. She goes to class, and works a part time job, so she can afford to eat something besides instant raman. As she is a particularly lucky collage student, her job is not as a stripper, but since she isn’t in law school, that’s probably why.
One day, she spots a new guy in her class, notes he doesn’t have a textbook, but is paying more attention than the folks who actually do. After class, she catches up with him, and learns he’s not a student, just a guy who enjoys collage lectures. This being somewhat odd, she soon strikes up a relationship with him, because why wouldn’t she?
Okay, okay. It’s actually because he’s really smart, and motivated to improve himself, despite being a furniture mover. He loves to read, as does she, and the two spark a friendship, that quickly develops into more. However, Hana’s new boyfriend is harboring a secret, one he is terrified to tell her, for fear that it will spell the end of the relationship.
Oh, no, wait, sorry, he’s just a werewolf. While that’s a lot less impressive, I guess I can see how it’d be difficult to share that with someone. I mean, it’s not like he’s Batman or anything, but still, kinda rough.
With Hana accepting him for what he is, which by the way, is the last living werewolf in the world as far as he is aware, the two soon find themselves welcoming a daughter, named Yuki. A year later, they have a son, Ame, and this is where the story takes a dark turn, as Hana’s love is killed right after their son is born. I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s freaking nightmarish.
Suddenly a single mother to two werewolf children, Hana frequently finds herself overwhelmed. It isn’t like she can take them to a regular doctor, after all, as the two tend to shift into a wolf/human hybrid form, as well as a full on wolf form, frequently. Any analysis of their blood would likely get them taken away from her, as well, so Hana has to struggle to care for them, without ever allowing them out of her sight.
Eventually, this leads her to the decision to move out of the city, and into the most rural area she can find. Taking up residence in a dilapidated old house, with no neighbors for several miles in any direction, she proceeds to get the fuck over everything, and build a stable life for her children, that will allow them to decide not just who they want to be, but what. Human, wolf, or something in between.
Now, first of all, what makes this movie an amazing story, is Hana. While much of the focus is on the kids as they grow up, and discover who and what they want to be, Hana is the real powerhouse behind the story. Even the voice over narration is Yuki telling the story, of her mother, who was just balls out the strongest person ever.
With cash shot, Hana tackles the idea of growing their own food, which goes poorly, over and over again, until her tenacity finally inspires the local farmers to pitch in and give her some pointers. In accepting their help, Hana builds a strong network of support, that is never so close by that they might stumble upon her kids secret, but is there when she needs them.
She teaches herself how to fix the old house up, tackles everything with a smile, and refuses to give up, even when she is so battered down by life, that nobody, even her kids, would blame her for throwing in the towel. She never complains, keeps putting one foot in front of the other, and really, deserves to have a statue made in her image to be handed out to mother’s who go so far above and beyond, that they become damn nigh on to saints, in their efforts to be a good parent.
In this, Hana becomes an inspiring figure. Despite how tragic her life, and how full of hardship, she keeps her focus where it belongs. Her kids. They didn’t ask to be born, much less special, or to be left in the care of someone who had no idea what they were doing. She recognizes this, accepts her responsibility, and is the least selfish person imaginable. Personally, I find that incredibly inspiring.
Mostly because we are all capable of it. We just chose not to be, and I am no different. I can be as much a selfish dick as anyone, and while I try not to be, I frequently fail. Hana reminds me that it really is just a matter of recognizing your priorities, and staying focused on what matters most. Not to you, but to those you love.
That’s an amazing thing, and as a character, Hana is amazing, even when, in the closing of the film, she desperately wants to give in to her selfishness. She wavers only this once, but ultimately, realizes that everything in her life has prepared her for this moment, and pushes it aside, to give her son, Ame, what he needs.
Her support in the way he needs to live his life.
The other big draws are, of course, Yuki and Ame. As children, Yuki is very much a firecracker. A boisterous tomboy, who frequently shifts between girl and wolf with nary a heed paid to who sees it, she is a massive handful for Hana. Curious, Yuki frequently goes running into things head on, blind to the very real danger that surrounds her at every turn.
Which is what makes her story arc so fascinating. As she matures, and begins attending school, she is hit with just how different she really is. While most girls her age are into pretty things, Yuki likes snakes, frogs, and the skulls of dead animals, that she probably caught and ate as a wolf. Which she does, a lot.
Eventually, she realizes that she is never going to fit in, and makes the choice to change herself, in order to be more like the people around her. She represses her wolf, and decides to live as a human. This sometimes leads to problems, especially when she is stressed, and at least once, leads to her nearly being outed, after she hurts a classmate during a moment of extreme stress.
Her choice to live as a human, however, causes even greater difficulty at home, with her brother, Ame, who has taken a radically different course in life.
While he was very shy as child, and frequently given to fits of crying, or just plain freaking out, as he matures, Ame feels a strong call to his wolf side. Over time, and after one particularly near death moment, Ame begins to avoid school, and spend more and more time as a wolf. Drawn ever deeper to his instincts, he and Yuki begin to clash, their paths diverging.
Yuki grows ever more comfortable with her normal, human life, while Ame feels ever more comfortable with his wild, instinct driven nature. After an actual, physical fight between the two, they grow distant with each other, and rarely speak, making things even harder on Hana.
The climax o f the movie brings all of these stories to their natural conclusion, as Hana tries to hold her family together, Yuki tries to make peace with her own inner wolf, and Ame seeks to find some sense of balance in his own mind. It is a beautiful conclusion, that allows all the characters to remain true to their themselves, their choices, their struggles, and best of all, their goals for themselves.
Now, it would be easy to say this movie is an analogy for any number of things, from being gay, what with Yuki choosing to stay “hidden and repressed” while Ame “comes out”, but really, I think what the movie was saying is that everyone has something about themselves that they feel makes them odd, and that there is no wrong way to choose to live with that.
Let’s face it. We’re all unique individuals. Nobody is really ‘like’ anyone else, not in any way that isn’t staggeringly superficial. We all have things about ourselves we aren’t sure how to deal with, and keep part of ourselves hidden from the world, family, and friends. Things we either are ashamed of, or just aren’t certain how to deal with. Be it sexuality, gender identity, or any number of other things, which are impossible to list.
Allow me to speak from personal experience, for a moment. I’m a deeply creative individual. As a child, I was wildly imaginative, creating entire stories and worlds in my own mind. My family, well, they weren’t anything like that. They didn’t get it, and thought I was messed up in some way or the other. I was shy, emotional, quiet, and all the other things artistic kids tend to be, in a family that was none of those things. There was always a push for me to settle down, stop daydreaming, and fit in.
I rejected that, and made the choice to be who I am. In that way, Wolf Children is still about me thematically, as it is talking about discovering who you are, who you want to be, and making the choice to embrace that. It wouldn’t have been wrong for me to give in, and choose to be different, any more than it was wrong for me to embrace my artistic side. There is no wrong choice, so long as you make it with the desire to be who you want to be.
Now, like I said, there’s plenty of room to argue what the theme of the film is about. That’s my interpretation, however, and if your here, reading this, then you must want to know it.
Or you wandered here by accident, and have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s possible.
Baby werewolves. We’re talking about baby werewolves as a philosophical exploration of self identification. Geeze.
As a work of animation, the film is just gorgeous. It’s clear Miyazaki was a major influence to Hosoda, as the films pacing is reminiscent of many of Miyazaki’s films, and the sweeping, gorgeous backgrounds are as well. Influenced by is not the same as copying, however, and Hosoda distinguishes his work nicely by having a more grounded feel to it. It takes place in the real world, and it feels like it does, even with it’s fantastical elements, which all comes down to the quality of the animation.
It’s a triumph for Madhosue, as well, as they channel more My Love Story, and less Supernatural: The Anime, helping Hosoda create a beautiful, gentle world, populated by realistic people. Everything about the animation here is just spot on, and really brings the entire thing to a higher level that the already amazing story could have managed on it’s own.
It’s also worth noting that Studio Chizu, which as I said was founded literally to make this movie, has managed to stick around, and released another film three years later, titled The Boy and The Beast, which I have heard people talk about, as well. It has another release planned for later this year, so hopefully, they’ll continue to put out beautiful, thoughtful, films that do well.
The movie was, again, co-written and directed by Dormamu… er… Mamoru Hosoda, who was also the director of another favorite anime film of mine, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, as well as one of the many One Piece movies, and Digimon: The Movie, way back in 2000. He also had a lot of notable work as a key animator for various Dragon Ball Z properties, Sailor Moon properties, and worked on Galaxy Express, as well as doing some work for Slam Dunk.
Honestly, I have to say, as a key animator, this guys talent was supremely wasted. Not that he was bad at it, or anything. He wasn’t. However, being a director is certainly his true calling, and Wolf Children is a perfect example of why. Not just as a director, but as the co-writer of the script, Hosoda shows an immense amount of talent for creating strong narrative beats, then following through on them with powerful emotional payoffs. He knows how to not just craft a scene, but how to film it, as well.
Pretty much nobody working in anime these days wasn’t influenced by Miyazaki in some way, and much like Makoto Shinkai, Hosoda carries that attitude forward to a new generation of film makers that promise to keep that same kind of thoughtful, beautiful storytelling and animation happening, as Miyazaki steps back from making movies. For a lover of film, and animation, like myself, that’s reassuring, and exciting.
In a bit of a departure from my usual, I want to talk about the character designer for this film, but only because it’s freaking Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, the character designer for Neon Genesis Evangelion, and one of the founding members of Gainax. Yeah. That guy. He did the character design for this, so yeah. You already know, they are awesome. He was also the character designer on FLCL, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, so there ya go. Dude’s a huge name in the industry, and he really showcases why here, with beautiful character designs that move and breath. As always, his work is just a cut above, and really helped bring this story to vivid life.
The music was composed by Takagi Masakatsu, who, surprisingly, is not actually a composer of scores for either movies, or anime. A musician and film maker, Wolf Children was his first job composing a soundtrack, and damn, does this guy just straight knock it out of the park. I was honestly shocked to learn he had never done a film score before. It’s amazing, beautiful, at times haunting, and really elevates every scene to perfection. Which is why he was brought back to score The Boy and The Beast, I would assume, as well as landed the job of scoring the documentary about Studio Ghibli, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.
Masakatsu has a bright future ahead of him at this rate, as his work knows just when to be soft, when to be strong, when to whisper, and when to shout. The entire soundtrack to this film is beautiful, but that shouldn’t surprise me, as Masakatsu is a film maker as well, and knows just what part music is suppose to play. He showcases his understanding here with elegant brilliance, and I can’t wait to see what else he does.
Overall, Wolf children is a thoughtful exploration of humanity, parenting, adulthood, and the choices we make as we mature. A lot is wrapped up in this seemingly simple story of a single mother raising two werewolf children, but it’s all done with such effortless grace, that it’s no surprise Wolf Children won a crap ton of awards, and is generally considered one of the best anime films ever made.
That’s not me. That’s the box office.
Yes, Wolf Children did insanely well at the theaters, enjoyed a stunningly good dub by Funimation, with personal favorite Colleen Clinkenbeard (Erza Scarlet, Riza Hawkeye) voicing Hana, and then did insanely well in the States, and pretty much, everywhere else, judging by the numbers. It even won awards here in the U.S., which not a lot of anime films manage, so there ya go.
If you haven’t seen Wolf Children, I highly recommend it as a emotional journey based around just every day life, with an insanely upbeat and positive message. It is one of those films that really does prove anime can be art, and still be financially successful, while also being a damn good story, and an experience you aren’t ever going to forget.