Sick of his relatives, a young boy named Ren runs away to the streets of Shibuya. Following a couple of rough-looking strangers, Ren ends up in Jutengai, a world filled with beasts. Stuck in this strange world, Ren is taken in by Kumatetsu, a rough bear who is one of the two candidates to become the next grandmaster of Jutengai. Kumatetsu’s rival, Iozen, has two sons and is renowned for his dignity, while Kumatetsu is known to be rough and unrefined. Having sympathy for Ren, Kumatetsu takes him in and gives him a new name - Kyuta - and offers to take him on as his disciple.
If you’re a fan of Wolf Children or Disney coming of age stories, The Boy and the Beast will be right up your alley. It goes without saying that other fans of Hosoda’s work should check this out.
The Boy and the Beast doesn’t do anything particularly innovative with it’s story - and that’s perfectly alright. The initial set-up is fairly straightforward, following Kyuta as he runs away from his family before he enters into the world of Jutengai and falls in with Kumatetsu. The story is breezy and enjoyable, not yet wholly engaging with the weightier themes typical of Hosoda’s past works but laying the foundation for what is clearly yet to come. I enjoyed the focus this volume displayed in setting up the story, as it managed to establish the world of Jutengai effectively without distracting from Kyuta and Kumatetsu’s own stories.
Kyuta’s story in this volume didn’t give him a whole lot of depth at this early stage, but I enjoyed how well his emotions are portrayed as he struggles with figuring out just what he wants to do after seizing control of his life. Meanwhile, Kumatetsu is pegged as the second-banana in the race for grandmaster, with his scruffy personality doing him no favours winning over his compatriots or in convincing Kyuta to become his disciple. Their interactions are a lot of fun thanks to their continual banter, and it’s easy to see how this will be the foundation of something wonderfully moving as the story proceeds. There’s nothing really new to see here, but we get a pleasing telling of how Kyuta and Kumatetsu finally end up together that already has a nice moment of emotional payoff which ends this volume on a satisfying high-note.
While the story isn’t quite in full-bloom in this volume, the real star of the show is the world of Jutengai. Those who enjoyed the zany computer world of Oz from Summer Wars will be pleased to find another intensely detailed world here as Jutengai takes centre-stage. While I got the sense that we haven’t quite seen this world yet in all of the splendour suggested by early scenes which tease at this, I was impressed with the creativity imbued just in the character designs of all of these beasts. We get a strong sense of Kyuta’s wonder as he crosses into this mystical world, and I also enjoyed how this conveyed the distance between him and the rest of a world he’s quickly told he doesn’t belong in. Now that the beginning of the story is done, I can’t wait to see a broader look at the world of Jutengai after this well-realized introduction.
Outside of the creativity shown in establishing the world of Jutengai, Renji Asai’s art is fantastic in giving this volume a warm story-book like feel. Although both Kyuta and the rest of the support cast are all well-drawn, my favourite part was how skillfully Asai managed to characterize Kumatetsu through his design and expressions. I was amazed at the range of emotions portrayed non-verbally through Kumatetsu’s face, and displaying none of the stiffness that one might expect from drawing someone who is essentially a large bear. He feels dangerous when he is meant to, but the lines soften appropriately in quieter moments in a way that really accentuated his personality swings. We see a whole spectrum of emotions through this, and I was endeared to the emotional beats this story displays very quickly because of this. Action scenes are similarly enjoyable, conveying the motion and force that you would expect from two massive beasts fighting. Overall, the art is wonderful and complements the warm aesthetic that Hosoda is going for with this story.
The Boy and the Beast Vol. 1 is a wholly enjoyable start to this series that doesn’t do anything really new but effectively plants the seeds for what should be a wonderful journey. I loved how well-realized the world of Jutengai was, with Asai’s art cleanly capturing an appropriate sense of wonder that was complemented well by the creativity imbued in the character designs. If anything, this series evoked the same sort of feeling from me that I might get watching an old Disney movie with a uniquely Japanese twist, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
The Boy and the Beast Vol. 1 was translated by ZephyrRZ and published by Yen Press on February 23rd, 2016. Based off the original film by Mamoru Hosoda and drawn by Renji Asai, the series is currently ongoing in Kadokawa Shoten’s Shonen Ace magazine with 2 volumes currently released in Japan. The original film will be released in North American theatres on March 4th.
Yen Press is also releasing a light novel adaption:
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