Movie review: 'The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki'
The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki (trailer 1 - 2) is a 2012 anime film directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Unlike his 2009 Summer Wars, this movie is very slow, introspective, and somewhat tragic. It might appeal to a small subset of furries, but its furry elements are underplayed and it may not have enough animal content to hook us as viewers.
Talking about this movie without spoiling it impossible because the story has no complexity. Basically, a single mom moves to the country and struggles to raise two werewolf kids; one embraces their wolf heritage, the other rejects it, and the family moves apart. That's it. (See Wikipedia for a more complete summary.)
Now although the term "werewolf" isn't used in this film, it's the closest analogue I've got, so I'm using it. Hana is a young woman attending college, where she becomes attracted to an extremely tall, lanky guy in one of her classes. As they fall in love, he reveals that he's a werewolf who can assume the shape of both a wolf-man and a full wolf. From the subtitles, the only back-story we get is:
Transforming on full-moon nights and attacking people was just a legend. ... My father was a descendant of the Japanese wolves, that went extinct about 100 years ago. The last being that inherited a blood mix of humans and wolves. His parents told him, when he was still very young, the history of their family's destruction. They told him that the truth should not be revealed, and died after. He was then left in the care of relatives that knew nothing about it, faced many troubles and grew up into an adult. He got a driver's license and moved to the city to look for a job.
Hana and the werewolf move in together and have two kids. Yuki (a girl) and a year later, Ame (a boy). Shortly afterwards, the werewolf accidentally dies while out hunting, and Hana decides to move into a rural area to allow her kids to grow up in safety. They've both inherited their father's shape-changing ability, but due to being toddlers, they have no impulse control, so it's difficult to hide their nature in the city.
Furry transformation fans will be disappointed. There's a single slow TF scene when the werewolf first reveals his secret to Hana, and it's restricted to a head-shot. For the rest of the film, all the other changes occur in the blink of an eye, off-camera or are momentarily obscured by bushes, snow, billowing curtains, etc. And in the tradition of many anime films, it's the backgrounds that receive the most artistic attention, along with long, slow still shots, to save on animation time.
The main foreground characters are rendered with much simpler lines and colors, and while this makes them easier to animate, it makes the furry designs rather boring. The kids spend most of their time in human form too, so getting to see them as wolves is fairly rare. Even the artistic backgrounds fall short – several look like the studio relied on photographs and live video footage, and tried to hide it using image filters.
The film is narrated by Yuki, who is essentially telling Hana's life story to the viewer. So it's more a tale about a single mom trying to survive. The wolfishness of her two kids is simply an extra source of potential stress; the differences between human and animal nature are not explored in any significant way. It's a gimmick, having to hide their supernatural forms from their neighbors.
Instead what we mostly get is a contrast in human personality types. Yuki is an energetic, extroverted spitfire with an appetite. Ame is introverted and timid, and even after he finally gains self-confidence, he gets increasingly moody and emo. Yuki wants to be socially accepted in grade school, so she tries to act more traditionally "girly" and hide her wolf heritage completely. Ame, on the other hand, doesn't enjoy school, and spends more and more time in the woods, eventually abandoning his family completely to become a local animal guardian, almost breaking his mother's heart in the process. He's the most "furry" character in the film, and sadly the most annoyingly unsympathetic. Wolf fans may enjoy how he embraces his inner self, but I personally felt the way he left his family behind was cold, very cold.
The film's ending tries to be vaguely upbeat in a Japanese way: everyone's comfortable with their life choices, but with gaping future plot holes. Yuki leaves home to go to middle school (but what will happen if she ever has kids?), Hana is apparently managing to survive in the country (but how did she explain how one of her children went missing?), and she enjoys occasionally hearing Ame's howling in the distance (where he will die alone, because there are no more wolves). So yeah, I'm over-thinking it, but this wasn't exactly a happy film for me.
Positives from this film? Yes! The scenes of the kids letting their wolf selves out are simply adorable, acting like crazy puppies. Seriously, if some furry fan would take the time to cut the film down to just those scenes (and there are a lot them, because huge chunks of the movie are montage sequences), I guarantee it would make you smile. The current problem is having to sit through the rest of the film to see them, what with all the long introspective bits and Ame's moodiness. Another very powerful sequence, at least for people with wolf/therian leanings, is from about 1:18 to 1:22, in which Ame is led through the forest and across the mountain by his animal guardian teacher, a fox.
Generally speaking, I think this anime film might resonate with a small percentage of people in our fandom, but overall I think the pacing is a bit slow and the furry content isn't explored anywhere near enough to be worth a second viewing.