Kyuta (voiced by Aoi Miyazaki) is a miserable little boy since his parents divorced, his mother passed away and he was sent to live with relatives he had no love for. Already feeling abandoned, he only exacerbates that mood by running away from them and setting out on the streets of Tokyo to try and survive on his own, but predictably to all but himself this does not work out very well and he is soon feeling even sorrier for himself than he was before. However, he strongly detests his family so will never return to them, he avers, and as he sits in an alley he notices a small furry animal creeping around; he adopts it as a pet and names it Chico. But there is more in alleys than small furry animals...
Yes, there's an entire other world it seems, as Kyuta discovers when he lets his hatred consume him and triggers a change that enables him to see into the parallel universe where animals have evolved into humanoid forms, and have created a society based on an ancient and mystical way of life. That involves a lot of fighting tournaments, perhaps not too surprising when you are aware the creator of The Boy and the Beast was Mamoru Hosoda, who had cut his animating teeth on Digimon episodes and the spin-off movie. He had risen to greater heights of respect after that, however, and before this effort was on a run of three huge successes that had won fans across the globe.
With this, on the other hand, it would seem he dropped the ball, as while it was densely packed with themes on loyalty, family, self-respect, even the importance of education, it was too much of a mishmash to really relax with, changing its mind about what it wanted to be every five minutes or so, though in effect the plot was divided into three main acts. You wanted to say, slow down, Mr Director, there will be plenty of time to tell all these stories in other movies, how about concentrating on one narrative rather than trying to stuff all this into a frankly patience-testing running time that the viewer felt they had to be taking notes on while experiencing the movie?
The first act, once Kyuta has escaped into the animal realm, had him learning to fight from a bear man called Kumatetsu (Kôji Yakusho), who has been training for a tournament that will see the winner triumphant as a Godlike entity. He has tried and failed before at this, but teaching the boy seems to do him the power of good and he and his hangers-on begin to act as a family for Kyuta that he never had before, or if he did he lost it through unfortunate circumstance, and this section has wise comments to make on how the powerless, like little boys, entertain fantasies of great strength and skill that they aim to make reality once they have passed this phase in their lives. All very well, and enough for an entire movie, but Hosoda was not content with that, as his ambition got the better of him.
So Kyuta had to grow up, to teenage years at least, and after falling out with Kumatetsu he blunders back into the real world once again, and it is here the film goes off the rails and never quite recovered as we are given a lecture in the importance of brain power over the physical variety when our hero yearns to go to college and learn all those things he missed out on when he was with the animals. Fair enough, but now we also were offered a romance with a bullied girl, a meeting with his loser father, and the entry into the final act when he must battle a supporting character who all of a sudden has transformed into an evil force inspired by Moby Dick of all things. As the proceedings dragged on to the two hour mark, you would have to be a seasoned watcher of anime to be getting much out of The Boy and the Beast, because there came a point when appreciating the visuals just wasn't going to cut it and you were starting to feel very tired of the whole cornucopia of angst and power games. Music by Masakatsu Takagi.