Quick disclaimer: Not a film for grieving mothers.
Jokes aside, there has been an enormous amount of positive press surrounding this film since its release in 2012. Many have compared this to works by Hayao Miyazaki, which is already setting the bar fairly high. With these kinds of expectations surrounding the film, how could I, with as rebelliously contrarian as I can be, expect to watch this without any sort of expectations? Simple: I forget the buzz. I forget everything I had previously heard about the film and watch it as if I know nothing about it. For some, this is impossible. For me, it’s rather easy, as once the lights come on and the scenes begin to roll, it’s only the film and I. Reality may as well not exist, for my perception is locked in tune with the beat of the film’s weighty instrument. It’s almost quite literally a “blocking out” method that happens the moment I become invested. Miscellaneous thoughts become irrelevant.
Wolf Children, as its dubbed in English, has everything it could possibly need to be a masterpiece, and to some extent, it is. Not often do I come across a film that simply does everything it needs to do and still flourishes in its own emotional gravity. Some could say that the only reason this film stands out as much as it does is because there’s wolf children, and wolf beings. With all respect to the film, this is somewhat true, as without that added spice, there likely wouldn’t be as much significance added to the final scenes. However, it is because it does not rely so much on the animalistic qualities that make this film so pleasantly relatable.
When one describes this movie, what do they say? They could say it’s about wolf children growing up with their mother after the untimely death of their father. They could also say it’s the determination and spirit of a mother facing the challenges of being a mother—not just to humans, but to wolves. Excuse for a moment the furry phenomenon, how often do anime focus on being a mother? Typically the kids are the stars, but with this perspective comes a fresh angle to focus the movie on, something the likes anime only hints at in various pictures.
Pacing is a wonderful thing if done correctly. Not only does each scene receive as much length as it requires, but the effort put into adding details to symbolize things to come and things to consider should one be in that situation aids in the film’s sense of individuality. While the use of timeskips is a popular method of moving things along, Wolf Children‘s sense of time reflects something more than “moving the plot forward.” Not only does it feel natural in the sense of the setting, it also shows just how quickly kids grow up. Perhaps out of bias, being the oldest of five siblings, it astounds me how one day I look to my siblings and wonder when they became taller than me. It’s a subtle, but sweet detail that’s placed within a blanket of sweet details that the film cherishes like a hidden treasure.
Still, sentimentally sweet can’t do much for those expecting a little more thrill. There is certainly a question as to how Wolf Children can expect to be entertaining to all audiences, especially those looking for something other than sappy fluff. In a way, it’s an acquired taste, though more in line with falling within a certain demographic. It’s slow, simmering, and relatively devoid of nail-biting drama and suspense. While things get somewhat heavy in parts, it never swerves further than a child’s ride at your local theme park. As noted before, it does all it needs to do with the materials it has, never reaching, never taking chances.
Though I may receive some heat for this, I’m not entirely thrilled with the art direction. Not with the natural setting, as each scene vibrantly boasts its spectacular attention to detail, but with character design. Each character has one color palette to their facial features, with not a lot of attention to shadowing or depth, even in places there definitely should be. This allows the characters to stand out from their fantastically detailed backgrounds like sore thumbs. Or, perhaps, like a wolf in human clothing. While animation is typically fluid throughout, there are times, especially early on, that seem a little more static than others. Some of the finer animation comes from when the wolf children are transformed and running around their home.
Characters are also a bit of a mixed bag, though many of the major characters benefit from a strong narrative focus on their development over time. Hana, the lead character and mother to Yuki and Ame, doesn’t have much of a personality other than being a mother, but damn is she a great mother. Her determination, love for her children, and undying will to give them all they need to survive and be happy gives her enough characterization without having any distinguishable personality traits. Ame and Yuki are the characters that have unique personalities, ones which change as their expectations with who they are and what they begin to hold dear develop as they grow. It’s fascinating how Wolf Children plays with the idea of using the ploy of the children being wolves to shape their personality, and how it begins to create conflict as they adapt to the human world. Most importantly, it feels natural, and ultimately rewarding for everyone involved, even if it means making hard decisions.
If only the same could be said about minor characters, who become important at certain points of the film, only to be erased from existence when they’re no longer useful. The aura of hospitality surrounding the ultra-rural neighborhood was something I was quite fond of early on, and was unfortunate to see them let go of so soon to focus on developing Ame and Yuki. No harm could have come from showing a few scenes of concern from other villagers about Hana’s or her kids’ behavior, or having Hana go back to the aid of one of the few villagers that helped her when she first moved to town. A decent trade-off considering the way Ame and Yuki develop, if only it tried to do something more with a previously started air of union amongst town members.
Even with the pacing, the good temperament, and the relatable characters, there’s something tremendously anticlimactic about the ending. With all the build-up leading into it, there’s a sense of abruptness that reeks underneath the ultimate emotional climax. While everything else felt natural, the “What now?” effect becomes more poignant as the credits begin to roll. It leaves a little more to be desired with what took place, especially with the side of Yuki, who had done something that could affect the family’s place within the town. Much like a train slamming into a mountain of jell-o, a rapid pace of energy bounces into an unmovable finality that destroys the drive the film once had.
It takes all this to basically say that it’s a good film. Not the greatest, nor does it match the hype around it, Wolf Children embodies the love of telling a story in a more maternal sense. The perspective is a refreshing change, allowing for a more personal touch to the characters and the long-established maternal instincts taking the lead with unapologetic vigor. If one clamors to see truly powerful female leads, Hana is one that would absolutely receive my vote; not because she does opposite of what her gender is expected to do, but because she does everything her gender is expected to do and more. She lost her partner, she lost her natural disposition moving to a rural setting, but she never lost her hope or her desire to be the best mother she could be. This alone makes Wolf Children worth watching.
Final Score: 7.5/10
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!