Review: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Funimation February!)

After my chance to watch The Boy and the Beast in a theater near the end of last year, I’ve since had more chances to enjoy more of Mamoru Hosoda’s works. That includes this, Wolf Children and Summer Wars (both of which, I’ll talk about at some point!). I’ve been wanting to watch this film ever since I’ve heard of it, and I’m so glad I finally had the chance.

An Introduction

Makoto Konna lives a pretty alright life. She sleeps in past her alarm, but wakes up and rushes out the door to make it to school just in time. She gets through the school day with (usually) little incident, and then spends the afternoon playing baseball with her best friends, Chiaki and Kousuke.

While biking to a nearby museum to meet up with a relative there, she realizes the brakes on her bike stop working. … Unfortunately, she realizes this while speeding downhill towards a railroad crossing where a train is about to pass by. Unable to stop herself, she (and her bike) flips over the boom gate and into the path of the train.

Any person would expect themselves to die in such a situation… but after Makoto opens her eyes, she finds herself sitting on that hill, next to her bike. She sees the train pass through the crossing uneventfully.

She just leapt back in time a few minutes.

After talking with this relative, she decides to test this ability, and begins to use it to prevent unfortunate things happening in her life. But when has messing with time travel ever not lead to complications?

The Plot and Characters

I am pleasantly surprised by the film’s treatment of Makoto. She wears baggy, boyish clothing, plays baseball with two boys and gets along great with them, and overall, lacks much femininity. If there was a character like this in any TV anime nowadays, I’m fairly certain they could not do this without once calling attention to it. This movie doesn’t though; it treats Makoto, her lifestyle, and her friendships as perfectly normal. I think this is really awesome.

This doesn’t mean Makoto is perfect, though; any good character is flawed, and Makoto’s flaw is the fact that she tends to run from her problems. And now that she has the time leaping ability, this “running” ends up her going back in time to make sure this problem never begins in the first place. While watching this, I was a bit annoyed by her doing this, but this may be because it’s a standard sight nowadays to see anime characters running from their problems. Taking a step back and thinking objectively, though, I can’t exactly fault her for this. It’s not like I haven’t run from my own problems in high school.

However, a good film will usually show a character learning to get over (or accept) their flaws. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does ultimately show Makoto becoming a bit more confident, but I feel that gets a bit sidetracked in a romance subplot and explaining the time-leaping ability in the latter portion of the film. The romance subplot isn’t bad, and it’s not shoe-horned in, but I could get nit-picky about a few things if I wanted to. But I won’t.

Speaking of the time-leaping ability explanation: as far as time travel explanations go, it’s a pretty alright one. On the surface, it makes a decent amount of sense, and it leaves enough things ambiguous that the film doesn’t get bogged down in its explanations and open itself to more holes in its logic. That being said, there is one notable hole that bothered me, but it revolves around the climax of the film, so I won’t spoil things.

Makoto is the only character here who really gets any development, although one could maybe make an argument for Chiaki. You won’t be getting deep, intense views into the minds of these characters, but I’m not that miffed about that. Chiaki and Kousuke, overall, are kept at their surface level appearances, with a few scenes each expanding on who they are. However, this film does a really good job of portraying these characters as best friends; their interactions really come off as such.

Getting back into a more general look at the film, it’s an entertaining ride. There is a sharp turn between the light, super comedic first half of the film, and the more serious second half, but you know that something had to give at some point anyway. This film does pretty good at managing its pacing too; it really slows down at a number of stages to help you take in the scenes and the world around these characters, and it speeds up a number of times too to help move the plot along and keep the audience from getting bored.

Honestly, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time will hook itself into your emotions. It won’t be the saddest or most dramatic story you’ve ever seen, but has some really great funny moments and gets you attached to Makoto just in time for when the roller coaster takes the dive down into problems town.

The Atmosphere

Although I complained about it in The Boy and the Beast, I liked the decision to not use shading on the characters in this film. The simpler character designs and lack of shading work well with the not-as-realistic (but still beautiful) backgrounds here.

Makoto is expressive and quirky, and really comes across as an individual person through her actions alone. How she was animated is gloriously done throughout the entire film. Not that the other characters aren’t either; I honestly don’t really have anything I can complain about with the animation and art (excepting a single scene that was just a tad less quality than the rest of the movie).

This world is bright and colorful. The greens of the leaves and grass stand out with the blues of the sky and the browns of the rocks and dirt. Even at its more serious and saddening moments, color (or at least bright whites) is everywhere in this film.

Moving to another topic without transition… I feel that we never get a good look at Chiaki’s or Kousuke’s faces. I know this isn’t true, I specifically remember scenes where they are in the foreground. However, I still feel this way – a lot of the first portion of the film had Chiaki and Kousuke in the middle ground or background, and not the foreground. Thus, these characters got established without me really getting a good idea of their faces. It felt awkward and distant, and I think it really kept me from connecting more with Chiaki and Kousuke in the film. … I don’t know if I’m rambling in a nonsensical direction, but that’s how it felt to me.

Another thing that really annoyed me with the presentation is the super tech-y looking, mechanical parts moving dimension or whatever that Makoto travels through when she does her time leaps. It felt so sci-fi-y out of place in a film that (beyond the time travel) isn’t really technology focused. I wish the time leaps more looked like the scene when she acquired the ability, with the sketched drawings that flowed from one thing to another. That was cool looking.

The audio of the film is pretty good. I watched the film in Japanese, so I didn’t get to experience how the English dub was, but I’d bet the dub probably isn’t that bad. Makoto’s voice is perfect for her character; it matches everything about her – Riisa Nike, who voiced Makoto, is a live-action TV drama actor, so her good performance is probably not surprising, but she still deserves mad props. In fact, she even was the main lead again in a 2010 live-action re-adaptation of the original novel this movie was based upon. Takuya Ishida as Chiaki and Yuki Sekido as Makoto’s sister Miyuki are also memorable performances to me.

The background music was very piano-heavy, and I don’t really have much to complain about it. Although I may have enjoyed something with more instruments, this is still pretty good, and it’s fitting. I can’t remember specific examples, to my own discontent, but there were good tracks used in this film.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is an anime movie that you hear about a lot, but may or may not have had the chance to watch it. With Funimation now holding the license, though, now’s as good a time as any to get your hands on it and enjoy the experience.

This film does a great job with Makoto as a character, and her story is a fun and interesting one too; you’ll get laughs out of the film, but like all time travel stories, there’s more serious turns too. It’s not the most dramatic or saddest of stories, but it’s still a pretty good one. If you’re looking for something to entertain you in the span of 90 minutes, this is a choice I’d easily recommend. Frankly, I think this is something any anime fan should see at one point or another.

… Geez, I went through this entire review without a single time-related pun? Well, I guess I should leap back in time and fix that particular issue…

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Put This On Immediately
+++ film’s treatment of Makoto, great visuals, good handling of the pacing (slow scenes are really effective)
— Mechanical-gear filled dimension that appeared during time leaps, Chiaki and Kousuke felt awkwardly distant due to not seeing their faces, logic hole during the climax

Review: The Boy and the Beast

With Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki at a nice retiring age (although he may still be at it!), the anime world is keen to see which up-and-coming director will take his place as the creator of legendary anime films… perhaps a bit too keen. In particular, two directors seem to be the most favored: Makoto Shinkai, and Mamoru Hosoda. Both have created some popular films (I’ve reviewed one of my most favorite Shinkai works already), and they’re still going at it.

Shinkai’s latest work, “your name.”, is doing outstandingly well in Japan (although that may be an understatement). Funimation has submitted it to the Oscars here in the US to be considered. Funimation, as well, has the rights to Hosoda’s latest work here, “The Boy and the Beast”. This film also did pretty well in Japan; when it came out, it knocked Disney’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” out of the top spot, and was the second-highest grossing 2015 film in Japan.

I was lucky to be able to watch this film on the big screen at a convention in November, 2016, which is also the first anime film I’ve seen in a theater. It was a really cool experience, honestly, and I’m excited to talk about it!

An Introduction

After his mother’s death, nine-year-old Ren lashed out at his mother’s extended family, not wanting to adjust to a new life in a new town. Angry at the world, he ran out and began to fend for himself on the streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. There, he crossed paths with a tall, bear-like man under a hood, who half-jokingly offered to take him under his wing. Still angry, but now curious, he discreetly followed the man through a confusing series of alleyways to… somewhere else: the city of Jūtengai, in the world of beasts. A world of anthropomorphic, walking, talking animal-y beasts.

Here, in this city, a major problem has taken the public attention. The current lord of the beasts has decided it’s time for himself to reincarnate and become a god. So it comes down to Jūtengai’s best warriors to determine who among them will be the next lord of the beasts. There are two big contenders: the people’s-favorite Iōzen, who’s kind, thoughtful, and wise… and Kumatetsu, who’s just as strong and powerful as Iōzen, but he’s not much of a people person… uhh… people beast… beasts beast?

Kumatetsu just happens to be the guy Ren follows into the beast world, and after a random spat between Iōzen and Kumatetsu breaks out (over whether he should’ve even talked to Ren or not), Ren gets inspired, and decides to become Kumatetsu’s apprentice!

The Plot and Characters

A lot of the first half of the film is focused on young Ren (renamed to Kyūta) and Kumatetsu, as the two of them start out this whole apprenticeship thing. Kyūta being Kumatetsu’s apprentice is as new a thing to the teacher as it is to the student. There’s a lot of highly entertaining bickering and misunderstanding, and it was a good way to show their different personalities and establish these characters. It really sets the tone of the relationship between these main characters for the rest of the film.

After a training montage where Kyūta grows older by 8 years, the mood of the film begins to change. One of the countless arguments between Kyūta and Kumatetsu leads to Kyūta storming out of the small house they lived in, and stumbling back into the human world. It’s here that he begins to reconnect with his human self, meets an important side character named Kaede who is determined to teach him how to read, and also, makes me bring up the first questions of logic in this film.

Firstly, how does he even make his way back to the beast world after this? He only traveled between worlds by accident or coincidence before. Assuming he didn’t enter the human world at all before this point (and why would he?), he shouldn’t have any idea of how to get back to the beast world on his own. But yet, he does, and begins traveling between the two regularly, to focus both on being an apprentice to Kumatetsu and a student of modern human teachings.

Secondly: as he jumps between the human and beast worlds after this first encounter with Kaede, I sense him beginning to long for becoming more “human” and leaving Kumatetsu and the beast world behind. He spent most of his teenage years, a rather formative period for a human, in the beast world; if something would cause him to really leave that world behind, I don’t really get shown what it is. I can speculate and infer, sure, but it still just doesn’t sit entirely right with me.

Truthfully, these are more nitpicks, but they sat in the back of my mind as I was continuing with the film, with additional nitpicks being added on as the film reached its climax (for example, a lot of the spoilerific decisions Ichirōhiko made, and also: why didn’t the fact that “events in the human world affect the beast world here” come up before the climax?). Despite these tiny holes that I seemed to find, the story was still compelling, and they won’t cause me to dislike the film.

The supporting characters in this film often become developed enough to feel fleshed out, but yet not truly deep. Tatara is Kumatetsu’s laid-back, path-of-least-resistance friend. Hyakushūbō is a more neutral, calm, and collected monk that sticks around to help Kyūta. They many times act as voices of reasons, plot devices, or catalysts, and also serve the comic relief role as well, making them a really enjoyable and worthy side cast. The two other characters worth mentioning are Iōzen’s two sons: Ichirōhiko and Jirōmaru. Both start off hating Kyūta, but come into their own and play their own roles as the movie zooms towards its climax.

All in all, the movie is about Kyūta / Ren, and him simply learning how to take charge, be responsible, and, overall, be mature. The movie succeeds in this with dramatic flair, and a final battle that had a deserved amount of buildup. I really had a lot of fun with this movie, and it makes for a good addition to the collection of coming-of-age stories. That being said, it doesn’t exactly do much to make it stand out as the coming-of-age movie to see, but that shouldn’t discredit its value.

The pacing starts pretty slow towards the beginning – as we’re being introduced to Ren, the beast world, and training starts between him and Kumatetsu – but gradually gets faster and faster, with more and more important/serious bits packed in, as the movie continues. At the climax, it feels hectic and super-dramatic; you’re now going 100 miles-per-hour on this ride and you’re waiting with baited breath for what happens next. Overall, this pacing really serves the characters well.

The Atmosphere

One thing I really enjoy about anime movies is the fact that it allows animation studios to create really high-quality art and animation. This movie does not fail to deliver here, and there are some scenes in this film that were shot in a particular way that I really enjoyed, such as when Kyūta fought the bullies bothering Kaede on the night they met. All in all, the animation in this movie was pretty amazing, including even with extra characters.

That being said, I felt a tad underwhelmed with the quality of the art here. It’s not that the art is bad, it’s certainly of a very good quality, but I would’ve hoped for something with even more detail than what we got. I get particularly drawn to realistic-looking backgrounds in anime, which is what draws me to a lot of Kyoto Animation works. So, KyoAni’s background work in its movies set an extremely high bar for me that not many other productions really reach, and certainly not as consistently. As well, all the characters in this film had some to no shading throughout the entire film. I suspect it’s an artistic decision, but it’s one that I personally don’t really like all too much. It felt like it stood out weirdly to the well-shaded, painted backgrounds.

This being said, a decent amount of the 3-D CGI background pieces actually looked really good in this movie. There is a montage in the first part of the film where Kumatetsu, Kyūta, Tatara, and Hyakushūbō all travel to meet the various lords of the beast world, and the backgrounds used for each scene with each lord looked truly magnificent to me. That also being said, a giant CGI animal is used for the climax of the film, which was fine enough to do what needs to be done, but it does look weird at certain points, and increasingly so the more it was on screen.

The character designs in this movie are pretty great too, honestly. I really love Kumatetsu’s design, actually, and he probably has the most exaggerated expressions throughout the entire film. Overall, how he was animated and drawn really fit him well, and really made him an enjoyable character. The other character designs are, again, great. I also have a particular like for Ichirōhiko and Jirōmaru’s designs, which continued to be good even as the two of them aged alongside Kyūta.

The sound design in this film was also pretty good. As you’d expect, the background music seemed orchestral, with strings being used quite frequently throughout the film, although brass and woodwinds also play their part. A particular song that featured the sound of tap-dancing was used in a fight between Kumtetsu and Iōzen early into the movie and it was really cool. The music is given its time to really strut its stuff in the film, especially during the 3-D animated exposition scene at the beginning of the film and the montages used throughout the movie. Sound effect usage was also quite on point. When Kyūta made his first return to the human world, the sounds of the city really helped drive home the differences between the two worlds.

When I watched the movie, it was shown with the English dub (probably not surprisingly). Funimation usually does okay to really good with its dubs though, and in my experience, North American companies usually put extra effort into the dub for an anime movie. So, it really comes as no surprise that I rather enjoyed the dub for this movie.

John Swasey does an awesome job as Kumatetsu, and I also have to give major props to Luci Christian as young Kyūta and Ian Sinclair as Tatara. The English dub seems to mirror the Japanese voices pretty closely as well, from what I can tell with the few clips I could find after a quick Google search. I feel you’ll have a really comparable experience no matter what language you watch it in, and it could even be relatively easy to switch between Japanese or English without one or the other sounding weird.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

The Boy and the Beast is a movie about Kyūta, about growing up, and about learning. It’s different, and entertaining, due to both the characters in this film and the travel between the two worlds of humans and beasts. Although, despite that, this film doesn’t become an outstanding example of a coming-of-age story, it still is a really enjoyable and dramatic experience, and it will sweep you up in it as the pace quickens and plot thickens.

This film is a two-hour experience. Although this certainly isn’t the longest anime film I’ve seen (thank you, Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (although I love you to bits)), it’s still a tiny bit on the long side. That doesn’t detract me from saying it’s more than worth the watch if you’re able to do so. This is definitely a story about characters though, and although there is certainly a decent amount of action, it’s more about seeing our main character grow and develop over anything else.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ great relationship between Kumatetsu and Kyūta, everything about Kumatetsu is done perfectly, really good animation overall
— a few plot holes continue to sit in my mind, some to no shading on all characters, 3-D CGI animal in climax looks odd at times