The Boy and the Beast

By Mamoru Hosoda. Released in Japan as “Bakemono no Ko” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On.

this was one of those titles that I picked up but knew absolutely nothing about except the bare minimum. This is a rarity for me, as regular readers know. I was aware it was from the author of Summer Wars and Wolf Children, so expecting a heartwarming coming of age story was pretty much it, and that’s what I got. The main thrust of this new work is fairly predictable, and it’s also quite short, so you can zoom through it. That said, there are individual moments in the work that quite surprised me, and the characters are fun and easy to like, even the Beast in the title, who is the focus of the one bad word in the whole child-friendly novel (he’s called a prick, because, well, he is).

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Our hero is a young boy who gets the benefit of both a dead mother AND a disappeared father, who escapes his snooty mother’s attempts to take him into their family and heads for the streets. There, he accidentally runs into two men with faces like beasts, and (evading police looking for runaways), ends up in a completely different world, one where beast people are the norm and being a human is strange and untrustworthy. Turns out that one of the guys he followed is in competition to be the village “grandmaster”, with the slight problem that he’s an angry hothead with no social skills. Since our hero is an angry hothead with no fighting skills, the two are made for each other. An apprenticeship begins.

It is fairly impressive that Kumatetsu, the Beast of the title, is as much of a jerk for as long as he is in this book. There are flashes of goodwill, but the way he was raised and self-trained makes him simply bad with people, including Kyuta, his own disciple. The long journey where you’d expect them to bond and become close is instead an exercise in Kyuta learning from the other masters while Kumatetsu stands around bored. He’s a difficult man to like. That said, once Kyuta returns to Shibuya on a regular basis, his anger gradually reveals itself to be the desperate loneliness we knew was there all along, and his actions towards the end of the book develop well from his character.

Speaking of Shibuya, there are several odd narrative choices in this work, some of which are clearly there to make sure we can get through this in 190 pages or so. Eight years pass by in a few paragraphs, and suddenly Kyuta is one of the best fighters there is. I’d wished for a bit more there, perhaps a montage of various scenes through the years. The Shibuya stuff also surprised me – I was not expecting to return to our world until the end of the book, frankly. Kaede is nice and a good match with Kyuta (or is it Ren)?, and I loved her stubborn refusal to let him fight alone. Indeed, the entire climax of the book takes place in the middle of the city, as the two of them battle a giant magical Moby-Dick, something which must look amazing in the movie that this also is (it came out in Japan in July).

Some sources call this an illustrated novel, be warned. The one illustration is on the cover. But it doesn’t matter, as this is a decent story, well-told. It’s a good comfort book to read on rainy days, or get for your tween kids.

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