The Boy and the Beast, vol. 1 – Mamoru Hosoda

3 out of 5

I’m a bit cloudy on the genesis of the manga adaptation of Mamoru Hosoda’s anime, The Boy and His Beast. My traditional understanding of a movie adaptation would involve another writer working off of the film’s script, but Hosoda is credited on the tankobon’s cover with ‘original story by,’ with no other writer listed. There’s a note in the back from ‘Yu,’ who as ‘tasked with the manga adaptation of Wolf Children – another Hosoda film – and the note congratulates Beast artist Renji Asama on their completed task. So… is this actually a one man project from Asama?

It shouldn’t affect things greatly, except that I’d note that I had no idea this was an adaptation until trying to find out some more info it. Which is a good thing. And it posits an interesting scenario in which an artist is the one adapting an animated property: looking at cells from the film, it would seem that Asama mimicked some things exactly, and yet, I had no sense of this not being an original work: there was no stiffness that suggested aiming for poses; none of the meandering and timing issues that come from trying to hit key dialogue or plot points. Rather, it reads exactly like what it is: a hyperactive fantasy tale about a boy and, uh, a talking beast, setting things up for their meeting and undoubtedly friendship-to-be, encouraging us to flip pages up through its “I wonder what happens next?” conclusion.

Ren, who’s essentially run away from home after his father’s death, wanders the streets of Shibuya, dreaming of the life that was. Renji captures this patiently and with a proper amount of pantomime, painting Ren as a strong child, but a child all the same, angry at the world but maybe not exactly sure why. A gruff looking stranger – Kumatetsu – passes him, and pretty much commands him to follow; Ren is reluctant to do so but ends up doing it any way, into winding back alleys that open up into an anthropomorphic realm wherein Kumatetsu has been tasked with finding a disciple in order to better secure his role as leader of the realm. Ren – now nicknamed Kyuta by Kumatetsu – isn’t keen on being this disciple, and feels even further outcast than usual when he discovers some prejudice against humans amidst the beasts of the realm. But when he realizes that he might have a bond with Kumatetsu – who’s somewhat similarly outcast as a ne’erdowell against the other candidate for leader in the town, Iōzen, the duo are bound to teach each other some life lessons about respecting others, and self worth, and whatnot.

We’re pretty far away from that, though.

The first half of the collection is all one chapter, and it’s very involving. It’s all the quiet scenes of Ren’s ruminations and discoveries, then the odd couple comedy of being a misfit kid in Kumatetsu’s care. The back half of the book stalls, though, getting stuck in a cycle of bickering and a long, drawn out scuffle between Kumatetsu and Iōzen that feels like it occurs too early for us to put much weight behind it, although it’s the seed for what will surely bring Kumatetsu and Kyuta closer together. Asama tends to over-use sound effects – manga obviously has a plethora of effects, but Asama litters the pages with then, quite distractingly – but his lively, animated style help to smoothe that over. Despite the story not being too deep or evolving very much beyond the initial setup, the art helps keep the energy high, and the pages turning. It doesn’t exactly end on a cilffhanger, but our two leads have been given a lot of life such that you do want to continue on to see how their relationship goes from here…