You’ll never walk alone in ‘The Boy and Beast’

"The Boy and the Beast" is an animated gem.

“The Boy and the Beast” is an animated gem.

By Serena O’Sullivan/Western Sun executive editor

There are two candidates for emperor of the animal kingdom of Jutengai: one is a fatherly boar named Iozan, who demonstrates elegance, integrity, and fluid fighting prowess.

The other is a Kumatetsu, a youthful, crass, and bombastic bear who flies like a monkey and swings like a battering ram. While both are worthy candidates, public opinion is swayed toward Iozan because he has a horde of apprentices, while the longest an apprentice of Kumatetsu ever lasted was for a morning.

In order to be taken seriously as a contender for emperor, Kumatetsu has to find an apprentice—but that’s no easy feat, considering his fierce personality tends to chase off young fighters. This is not the case with Kyuta, a scrappy human with a hair-trigger temper and a curious mind that leads him to follow Kumatetsu into the animal world of Jutengai. Impressed by Kyuta’s feat of breaking into Jutengai, Kumatetsu enlists the boy as his apprentice, but winds up learning far more than he teaches.

Although Kyuta is a human boy, his master Kumatetsu takes him under his mighty paw and raises him as his own son. During a heartwarming sequence in which Kyuta follows his master around and mimics his every move, a pig-like monk smiles and says, “What parent doesn’t like to see their children follow in their footsteps?”

“The Boy and the Beast” is a tale of strength, both physical and mental. Kyuta wants to become a strong fighter, but physical strength isn’t enough to soothe his troubled soul. He is haunted by his mother’s death and his father’s disappearance; at times it feels like there is a hole in his heart, and the movie cites the human capacity for hatred as a potential trigger for them to turn into monsters.

After Kyuta has spent nine years in Jutengai, he accidentally stumbles into the human world once again, where he falls in love and learns how to read through “Moby Dick,” an allegory for his own tale. “I think the whale is a metaphor for the captain’s own internal strife,” his girlfriend and teacher tells him, foreshadowing Kyuta’s later struggles with feelings of emptiness, anger, and darkness.

By juxtaposing the modern and metallic human world with the traditional and vivid animal world, “The Boy and the Beast” represents Kyuta’s conflict between two halves of himself. The world-blending in this film is unlike any other, and although the film’s exploration of these worlds can seem meandering, they each teach Kyuta different lessons and help him learn more about himself.

While the movie’s two-hour running time can at times feel like it goes at a snail’s pace, the animation team fills the screen with bright, colorful, and illuminated visuals. During the third arc of the movie, a villain with shaky development emerges and terrorizes the human city. Because the movie spends so much time focusing on Kyuta’s time in the human world with his friend, and less time in the animal world, the final showdown feels rushed.

“The Boy and the Beast” is an incredible coming-of-age tale that mixes martial arts with beautiful animation, likeable characters, and interesting themes. It leaves viewers with the message that no matter how bad you feel, you are never alone. Everyone goes through bad times and, with love, acceptance, and empathy, one can emerge from the ashes like a phoenix.

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