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Secret Santa Review: Wolf Children

Mamoru Hosoda makes family movies. That is, he not only makes movies that are suitable for a broad range of ages and backgrounds, but his movies are about families in deep and insightful ways. The families can be biological (Summer Wars, Wolf Children) or the virtual ones of friendship (Our War Game, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), but Hosoda is most interested in exploring the interconnected bonds between people and how they help individual characters become more than they would be by themselves.

The first quarter of Wolf Children depicts the mother, Hana, and the nameless werewolf father falling in love and marrying, and it is one of the most heartwarming and unpretentious courtships in recent anime, comparable to the first scenes of Pixar’s Up. This is, of course, how new families begin, and the film makes clear about how this is just like any other marriage but also different, given the father’s background. In homogeneous Japan, this mixed race marriage–for lack of a better term–is perhaps even more unique, and by hammering home its ordinariness, it helps the audience empathize with them and paves the way for later conflicts in the story.

For the bulk of the film, however, Hosoda examines what is perhaps the most direct, elemental act of family: parenting. And make no mistake, this film is about the mother much more than it is about her son Ame and daughter Yuki, the half-offspring of an actual, literal werewolf and who have a divided heritage. This detail is simultaneously crucial and inessential to the film’s central themes. The way that Ame and Yuki follow diametrically different paths is a direct result of the different ways they respond to their wolf natures, but it is also an easily relatable analogy for how any children in the same family can follow profoundly different life paths. There is also the specter of racial prejudice hanging over all of their lives, beginning with the death of their werewolf father. The family must figure out just how much to show or hide their lineage, confronting stereotypes about wolves that threatens their self-image, living in fear that their mixed heritage will be discovered and lead to ostracization. It is an unusually sensitive film for an anime in that regard, and perhaps it could only be told in this semi-allegorical, magical realist mode to make it resonate with audiences.

Caught inbetween is the protagonist, Hana, whose efforts to raise her children after their father’s death are nothing short of heroic. Wolf Children may be the perfect Mother’s Day film. Hana refurbishes an entire abandoned country house, struggles to learn how to grow vegetables in the field while suffering the suspicions of the local community, goes out in dangerous conditions to look for her lost son. These are actually the routine kinds of sacrifices that parents make every day, but they are presented in the film with such grace and nobility, it serves as a reminder to appreciate one’s parents.

To Hosoda’s credit, however, the story does not end there. To some extent, the story arc of Wolf Children covers the entire cycle of parenthood in accelerated time: from dating to marriage to conception to birth to growing up and, finally, to the children leaving home. Ame, who wishes to embrace his wolf nature fully, leaves first, as a costly act of independence that is both painful and necessary to anyone who has grown up (or who has watched their grown children leave the nest). Yuki, by contrast, chooses to focus on her human nature and thus moves to a boarding school to be closer to her peers. Part of the story fo a family is that the child’s relationship to his or her parents changes over time in just this way: no longer dependent, but hopefully still filled with love and respect. Wolf Children recognizes both the pathos and the necessity of this process. It is how the film can be shot through with melancholy and yet still feel so affirming and warm-hearted by the end.

In my view, Mamoru Hosoda comes much closer to the inheritor of the Ghibli mantle than Makoto Shinkai or, of all people, Hideaki Anno. Hosoda, like Hayao Miyazaki, writes about children and families with unusual perceptiveness, though his imagination is more grounded than the whimsical Miyazaki–it is closer to Isao Takahata’s sensibility and mood. Like Ghibli’s general output, his films have broad appeal that go beyond the otaku audience, and the background art and animation quality are never less than outstanding. Wolf Children represents a further maturation of his exploration of family ties and how they shape people in meaningful ways, and a sincere celebration of parenthood in its trials and joys.


This review was part of the Reverse Thieves’ annual Secret Santa project, in which an anime is recommended for review anonymously until Christmas. The other choices were Tatami Galaxy and xxxHolic, and I chose this one by virtue of its being the shortest. :) The last time I participated in the Secret Santa, I reviewed the first season of A Certain Scientific Railgun.

Professor Layton Screening at NYCC

For Professor Layton fans in the United States, they are quite well aware that the second DS game, Professor Layton and the Last Spector released on October 17. The release of its movie on DVD Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva by Viz is going to be on a later date at November 8.

At this year’s Comic Com though, 150 attendees got the chance to be present for a “secret” screening of Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, and be a part of a presentation by Nintendo. Why do I call this a “secret” screening, because on the official schedule of New York Comic Con’s events, there was no mention of this surprise screening.

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Since it was a last minute event, it was still popular enough to fill the hallways, and the event staff kept counting to see if they can give the opportunity to more fans to enjoy this film.

Other than the feature film, attendees got the chance to check out a demo of the upcoming DS game, take pictures with Professor Layton cosplayers, and snacked on site-prepared movie theaters goodies arranged at the back of the room.

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A significant theme in the movie.

Professor Layton is a popular DS game that appeals to puzzle or mystery fans. From my experience with the first video game, I actually appreciate its thoughtful story line, filled with puzzles to either stump or satisfy the player. Upon solving these puzzles, the game has a running story plot where players would eventually end the game with unlocking the mystery for the good professor and his trusty sidekick.

Not to give away any detail of the film, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva follows a flashback case that Professor Layton and Luke would find themselves in, dealing with a former student of Professor Layton. The movie reminded me of watching parts of Detective Conan meets Laputa Castle in the Sky with The Phantom of the Opera thrown in.

This movie illustrates a concept of waiting for a popular DS game to eventually make its way into being a featured animated movie. I have some high hopes for Phoenix Wright to eventually get an animated treatment, though the next I heard for it is a live action movie.

Back to Professor Layton though, this is a movie with the target audience as children. However, with the factor that animation movies can also satisfy an older audience, then Level 5 had done a nice job. Also as a follow up to this movie, there is planned to be another animated movie to the Professor Layton series. Before I go off into another tangent for this event/movie review, I happened to have take some images which I have uploaded to Anime Diet’s Flickr account.

12 Days, 12 Moments 2010: Koi Koi!

Yes, I know Summer Wars technically came out in 2009, but since I watched this fine film this year, I’m including my favorite moment from it as part of this series. It’s a moment that brought hot, sappy tears to my eyes.

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Review: Kara no Kyoukai 7 – 空の境界7 - The beauty in normalcy

Screen shot 2009-12-10 at 10.47.41 PM

I sat silently for a while after watching the last installment of Kara no Kyoukai (空の境界: The Garden of Sinners). Sometimes, I gazed at the screen in utter disbelief, other times, I felt shocked and dismayed. But my appreciation grew and I began to wonder about a variety of story elements.

Continue reading Review: Kara no Kyoukai 7 – 空の境界7 - The beauty in normalcy

Review: Kara no Kyoukai 6 – why am I disappointed?

I saw the novel first, and then the movie.

The movie does something that a lot of OVAs and movies do – condensing and simplifying.

WARNING, STRONG SPOILERS AHEAD!

Continue reading Review: Kara no Kyoukai 6 – why am I disappointed?

Dragonball Evolution: Over 9000

A note from the author: This was the 2009 April Fools’ column for Anime Diet.  While many of the facts mentioned in here are true, mixed in with them are many wildly erroneous citations.  The concept was that as a positive review of Dragonball Evolution, it would be naturally viewed with disbelief by the international otaku community. However, this was not the case for many readers.

Anime Diet first brought you news of the Dragonball live-action adaptation months ago. Thanks to the liberal application of sake, reporter moritheil was able to sneak an early look at the film, not due to open in American theaters until April 10.

Dragonball Evolution.

Dragonball Evolution is the story of the young warrior Son Goku, who races against time and the vengeful King Piccolo to collect a set of seven magical orbs that will grant their wielder a power level in excess of nine thousands.  Side-effects of this ultimate power include the ability to induce repetitive dialogue and spontaneous destruction of sensitive scientific equipment – a seemingly random quirk which becomes surprisingly relevant in the movie’s original plot.

The very name of Dragonball Evolution has become a hissing and a byword.  Critics all over the globe and within this very publication have decried the affair as a stain on the careers of James Marsters, who plays Piccolo, and Chow-Yun Fat, who plays the turtle sage sans shell. But contrary to all expectations, the film thrilled this reporter with its nuanced approach to characterization and unexpected hints of social awareness.

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