A Pretentious Anime Review: Bakemono no Ko
"Bakemono no Ko" depicts the relationship and conflicts between an average Japanese boy (Ren) and a mythical beast (Kumatetsu). The two develop a strong bond over the course of the film, showing how Ren goes from an outsider to a part of Kumatetsu's family. This bond eventually leads to the conflict that sparks the film's plot, but somewhere along the line it really starts to get muddled up. Two worlds collide and the ideas from both just don't fit well together. The beast realm is lighthearted, heartwarming, and exciting while the human realm is depressing, gloomy, and boring. Hosoda might've been trying to show a contrast between the two worlds, but it occurs so suddenly that there's little to no time to enjoy it. Additionally, the human world is surrounded by a lot of unrealistic drama, making it even less bearable.
However, Ren and Kumatetsu have very strong chemistry, and even though most of their exchanges amount to banter, these scenes are pretty damn charming. The film spends a large amount of time on how they interact, ironically humanizing them. These exchanges do a good job at making them feel real. Childish, but real. The two characters do help at saving the film from its countless flaws, making the experience more enjoyable than it would've been without them.
Nostalgic Sense of Adventure
"Bakemono no Ko" cleverly synergizes stunning visuals with exciting action to create the feeling of an old school series like Dragon Ball. The sequences that take place in the beast realm are packed with a nostalgic sense of adventure, bringing back memories to childhood shows that focused more on the journey rather than poor attempts at being substantial. It also begins wonderfully, providing a spark of the magic you would expect to get from a Ghibli film. While it was suffering from slight logic flaws, my original problems with it were overpowered by this aforementioned sensation of magic. It genuinely seemed like a keeper of the likes I haven't seen in a while. This a huge part of the reason why I was so drawn in towards the beginning, before things were ruined by the annoying melodrama surrounding an unwanted character.
At some point during the film, Ren stumbles back to the human realm and starts coming to terms with his past, meeting our heroine along the way. This is where things take a turn for the worst, with the introduction of Kaede. I believe Hosoda was trying to ground his film in reality by reconnecting Ren to the real world in order to show how all of the joy of the beast realm can easily be destroyed when it comes into contact with humanity. However, this fails miserably thanks to Kaede, Ren's love interest. Kaede isn't necessarily a bad person, she just dampens the mood so frequently that it could easily be mistaken as comical over-exaggeration. She only exists to provide depressing backstory and create drama for the characters. It's understandable that Mamoru Hosoda wanted drama in the film, but the way it's executed is just awful. Everything that Kaede says and does has little to no basis at all. It feels like whoever wrote her character had a structure in mind yet completely forgot that for the drama to feel real, it has to actually be developed. Practically nothing Kaede says is fleshed out, from her backstory to her actions, and the film tries to excuse Kaede as a stepping stone to develop Ren's character but that doesn't really work, either. We're not going to care about someone just because the protagonist does.
Additionally, there are a string of scenes where Ren goes to visit Kaede. During these, the filter progressively grows dark, the score becomes melancholic, and conversations are filled with endless silence in an attempt at a subtle tonal change. Rather than subtle, however, it is actually very forced. It's immediately obvious as Ren goes to the human realm that things have drastically changed, and that heavy scenes will replace the previous lighthearted ones. This would be no problem if the drama taking place made a shred of sense. Ren conveniently makes his way towards a library, meets Kaede, saves her from a group of baddies, and then we learn her backstory. The issue with this is that Kaede is developed through five minutes of exposition and nothing more. Expecting anyone to care for a character built this way is ridiculous, and it made me hate her rather than pity her or sympathize with her struggle.
The film also never tries to explain why Ren even has an attraction to her, it just seems to be some "love at first sight" nonsense. My theory is that the only reason he likes her is because she's actually the only human girl he's ever met.
Overall, every second of Kaede's screen time is equivalent to the most cruel form of medieval torture imaginable. It feels as if Kaede did nothing but hinder the films actual potential. Without her, I genuinely think Bakemono no Ko could've been great.
Hosoda has always done his soundtracks right, as with every one of his films, I've always found myself thoroughly enjoying their scores. From "Wolf Children" to "Summer Wars" to "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," Hosoda has chosen the perfect composers to create the most heartwarming soundtracks. "Bakemono no Ko" is no exception, as Masakatsu Takagi (the composer for "Bakemono no Ko" and "Wolf Children") provides a beautiful and inspirational OST with a plethora of instruments, including the violin, the flute, the harp, the piano, and many more. Takagi excellently adds to every emotional scene with an uplifting score, and cleverly adds to every thrilling scene with an intense and restless composition. In nearly every way, "Bakemono no Ko's" soundtrack is absolutely breathtaking.
Even with its problems, "Bakemono no Ko" is still a highly entertaining film. It manages to compel with its gorgeous visuals, excellent soundtrack, and thrilling action scenes. This is mostly thanks to me actually caring about the two main characters. Whenever they get in trouble together, it's fun to see how they react to each situation. Until things get serious, which is where the film starts getting a bit sad and you realize that it's going to be over soon.
Additionally, the side characters in the film are pretty decent comedy relief. Hosoda doesn't really try to develop them, which is a good thing as that would've been highly unnecessary and a ginormous waste of time.
"Bakemono no Ko" seemed like a promising film but was held back by Hosoda's obsession with nonsensical romance. What started out as a magical journey took an unwarranted turn into the realm of heavy drama and lackluster character development. This isn't much of a surprise, however, since Hosoda has always had these obsessions. Even if you look at his best films, the romances are madly underdeveloped and borderline ridiculous. I've never understood why characters loved each other in Hosoda films and I never will. Until he can learn how to properly write a romance, he will always fail to reach his true potential. However, the poorly constructed melodrama is most certainly not enough to hold back the positive sides of the film, as "Bakemono no Ko" was still a highly enjoyable film with a gorgeous soundtrack and two lovable main characters.
I give Bakemono no Ko a 6 out of 10
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