Mamoru Hosoda is somewhat of a household name in most anime fans’ homes, but in case you’re not quite sure who he is, he’s the man behind Summer Wars, his ‘reemergence’ film that launched him back in to the anime stratosphere. Sure, it may be seen as a retread or remake of his earlier Digimon film in the late 90’s, but there’s no denying either films were truly phenomenal in their storytelling and animation. In 2012, he returned to the theater once again with his newest creation, Wolf Children. In this relatively grounded piece surrounding a wolfman, a young college student, and their new lives, Hosoda weaves a family’s journey in a nice 120 minutes, but the film’s pacing and general atmosphere may be a bit off-putting for some. If you’re expecting the same fantastical nature and ideas his previous films delivered, lower your expectations, as this isn’t as quite over-the-top as his earlier works were.
This film essentially contains two plots: Hana’s beginnings as a college student, and her transition to motherhood and the raising her wolf children. Narrated by her daughter, Yuki, Hana’s story starts off typical enough. She’s a student, works part-time, and is getting by well enough. She meets a guy she’s instantly smitten for, they hit it off, and soon enough find themselves in a relationship. The guy soon reveals himself as wolfman, and well, you’ve heard all of this before, so it’s nothing new. Really though, the first half is simply a setup, explaining the world and Hana’s situation(s) after meeting Wolfman. That’s really his name, by the way. The latter half of the film is focused on Hana, Yuki, and Ame’s move to a more rural area, where they try to keep their lives a secret and live as normal of a life as possible. Hana is a likable character and she has a way of making you always smile and emphasize with her, despite the scenario she and her family are in. She’s truly a good person, filled with a lot of goodwill and love for her children. She wants to do whatever she can to provide for them, and her sacrifices show throughout. Despite the film’s title being Wolf Children, it could have easily been titled ‘Hana’ and I would have liked it even more.
Yuki and Ame are the main focus of the second half of Wolf Children and their individual stories are just as interesting as Hana’s, if not more so, depending on your views. Yuki is a loud-mouthed, rebellious little tyke at first, but she grows slowly into a relatively mature young lady by the film’s end. Ame is certainly the weakest of the family due to being the baby, but also because he’s presented as the smallest, most uncertain-as-to-what-he’ll-do character. Both children are, as the name of the film suggests, wolf children, and they must maintain their human forms as much as they can, even in the rural environment that they move to. Soon enough, the neighbors help the family and new friendships are started, so their struggle gets a bit harder as time goes on. There’s a bit more growth as the climax nears, and I won’t spoil it, for it’s a nice segment to see on your own, but it can also be a bit predictable.
That’s my main gripe towards Wolf Children. It’s about as safe as you can imagine a film can be. That’s not bad, I assure you, Wolf Children is still a highly enjoyable film and worth watching if you’re a Hosoda fan, but it’s just too safe and hard to recommend for a second viewing. Every now and again, it’s nice to sit down and watch a grounded film, but I need to be in the mood for it a lot of the time. Wolf Children will always be one of those films for me. I recommend it and would never turn away someone who’s interested, but I would advise that you need to perhaps understand that it’s a very subdued, often oddly paced feature. The first half moves briskly and is a really enjoyable stride, but once the family relocates, the pacing takes a slower, jagged pace. It’s somewhat jarring, but not off-putting. If you can put aside those small complaints, you can still enjoy Wolf Children. There’s actually very little to not like about it!
In the production department, Madhouse did a wonderful job bringing Hosoda’s ideas to art, and a lot of the locales and frames are truly splendid. Thanks to the subdued nature, the scenes are some of the best looking out there. On top of that, the soundtrack is perfect. Relative newcomer Takagi Masakatsu did a wondrous job fitting his compositions to every scene so as not to overshadow, but compliment them. I eagerly await to see what he can do in future compositions for whatever he may work on down the line. As for the voice acting, I watched the English dubbing to get a better understanding and I have no complaints. It’s so great that dubbing has reached a level where it’s treated with the utmost respect and not just shat out for a quick turnaround like so many series in the early 90’s. I’m certain the Japanese side is as competent, but I personally can’t comment.
Wolf Children is the weakest of Hosoda’s last three films, but in the grand scheme of things, is that really a deterrent? The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars are way more astonishing, but Wolf Children has the heart and charm that those films also had, but in a more passive atmosphere. Mamoru Hosoda still stands as a strong director and writer, and will remain on that level for years to come. I trust that whatever he’s working on for his next creation will contain his same passion and creativity we have come to expect and love from him.