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Anime Reviews: Wolf Children Ame and Yuki
It's not perfect by any means, but Wolf Children's vibrant visuals and heartwarming, almost fairytale-like story are more than enough to warrant recommendation.
Title: Wolf Children Ame and Yuki a.k.a. Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki a.k.a. Wolf Children
Production: Studio Chizu / Studio Madhouse
Film Length: 117 minutes
Air Dates: 6/25/2012
Age Rating: 13+ (partial nudity, some suggestive content)
Summary: 19-year-old university student Hana spends her days studying and working part-time at a laundromat, but one day in class, she notices a handsome but scruffy young man she doesn't recognize sitting in. Immediately intrigued, she pursues the man and eventually they form a relationship. One night, the man changes shape, revealing himself to be a werewolf--the last of his kind--but this doesn't deter Hana, who resolves to keep his secret safe. As time passes (hint hint), Hana gives birth to a wolf-girl she names Yuki, and not long after, a wolf-boy named Ame. Though they are just children, Ame and Yuki will soon be forced to make a choice: Will they grow and learn as human beings, or will they embrace the wild and live as wolves?
The Good: Beautiful animation; engrossing soundtrack and atmosphere; the first two-thirds of the film are flawless
The Bad: Climax feels disjointed and confused; unneeded narration; wolf designs just don't work
The Ugly: Kinky wolf sex
I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that The Girl Who Leapt Through Time will forever be Mamoru Hosoda's best film. What a way to begin the review, right? Let me explain--Wolf Children is a perfectly fine movie. I'd say it's even better than Summer Wars, which had its flaws, but was still a damn good movie. Wolf Children is good, occasionally brilliant, but...it's just not enough to topple The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. But that doesn't mean you should dismiss Wolf Children! Urrgghhh...I'm getting nowhere here. Let's just focus on this movie. Because it's worth focusing on.
As with all of Hosoda's other films, Wolf Children is a visual marvel. As usual, he keeps the characters simple (though, this time, the designs were provided by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, whose previous works include Nadia and Evangelion), and lavishes detail onto the environments and backgrounds. Also as usual, the quality of the animation is top-notch, whether it's the lifelike movements of its characters or the meticulous motion of grass, trees, rain, and whatever else is in the shot. There are moments in this film where simple character motions evoked more emotion from me than other films manage in their entire runtimes--that's a sign of both a great film and an even greater director.
Special mention also needs to be given to the film's music and ambiance. Unlike most other great soundtracks, Wolf Children's score doesn't steal the show; rather, it perfectly complements each scene, whether via a sweeping and triumphant orchestral swell, or nothing but the harrowing sound of rain pounding the pavement. Tragedy strikes us early in the film, and never before had I wished so much for the score to be intrusive, because all we hear is the sound of rain and nothing distracts us from the horrible truth of what's onscreen. It's been quite a while since a film has left me slack-jawed in horror and sadness, but there it was. And we were only 20 minutes in. And it was partially made possible by judicious use of both soundtrack and ambiance.
Aside from that, it's difficult for me to elaborate on the rest of the film's good points, because, as you can see above, it basically boils down to "everything but the climax." The story really won me over, particularly in its portrayal of the trials of raising a wolf-human hybrid child--a funnier example occurs early on when an infant Yuki gets sick, and Hana panics trying to determine whether she should be taken to a pediatrician or a veterinarian (okay, it wouldn't be funny if you were the parent, but come on, that's funny stuff!).
The characters themselves are immensely likable as well, particularly Hana, who is a willful young woman whose determination is almost superhuman, but I never once found her unbelievable; after all, a devoted mother will do almost anything to ensure her children's survival and safety, and boy, does she ever. I also really liked the side characters, particularly the farmers and wives who form friendships with the family--few of them are ever given names, but they liven up each scene they're in. Especially Nirasaki. I love that guy.
But what really makes the film shine is the fact that it plays with your emotions in all the right ways. I am not ashamed whatsoever to say my eyes were misty on several occasions, whether the occasion was achingly tragic or blissfully uplifting. And during the latter, I was likely wearing a stupid-looking smile. The film also heavily explores the theme of choosing one's own path, which is particularly relevant to the children, who eventually have to choose between living as a human and living as a wolf. Emotions run high, as you would expect. And it is glorious.
You know what's not glorious, however? The climax of the film. Considering the unorthodox content of the film, I had no idea what to expect when it got to this point, so I was pretty game for anything Hosoda wanted to throw at me. And he threw the wrong one. I was expecting the clashing nature of the children's life decisions to be the foundation of the climax, and I was expecting something much more grand and profound to be done with that, but nope! It's there, certainly, but not in the manner I was hoping for. Now, obviously, I can't go into detail because that's heinous spoiler territory, so all I can say is that the film's climax left me feeling cold, and it'll probably make you feel the same way, too.
Another thing that bugged me about the film is its decision to have Yuki be the narrator. I mean, this is clearly and obviously Hana's story, and we see just about everything from Hana's perspective, so it doesn't really make an awful lot of sense. And even then, does this story really even need a narrator? Things like the passage of time and changes in the characters are apparent enough, so a narrator just feels unneeded. She doesn't tell us anything we wouldn't have already known or figured out, so in the end, I feel the film would have been stronger without it.
Finally, I just can't get behind the wolf designs. Other animals in the film (such as birds, foxes, and other wolves) are drawn mostly realistically, so when they juxtapose those other animals with the extremely cartoony designs of the human-wolves, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. No sir, I did not like it.
In the end, despite all my griping and complaining, I can't not recommend Wolf Children. When it works, it's a monumental labor of love that stands tall and proud, but when it doesn't work, it's frustrating and drains the joy from my soul. All I can say at this point is see it for yourself. Maybe the things that bug the crap out of me won't be a problem for you at all, and maybe I'm just being greedy and should just learn to appreciate a good film for being a good film. But dammit, if Children Who Chase Lost Voices can attain near-perfection, then so could have Wolf Children! I won't stand for anything less! But you should still watch it! Because it's good! No, I don't care that I'm sending mixed signals!
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. Though its climax could have been handled much better, Wolf Children is, otherwise, a rewarding and heartwarming film that proves that a film doesn't need to be orthodox in order to be great.