Review: Wolf Children
by Cody Baier
Wolf Children is an interesting beast, pardon the pun. On one hand, it’s a prime example of how to evoke emotion, and make the audience connect with your characters and your story. One the other, it’s an absurd mess. An entire film built around emotion.
The film tells the story of a single mother raising two werewolf children. And yes, I’m calling them werewolves, that’s what they are. The rules of how werewolves work are a little different here, and seem to be rooted in some Japanese folklore I have no desire to read up on. The film begins with the story of how the human mother and werewolf father met, and immediately we’re hit with the movie’s biggest problem, which becomes a theme throughout the entire thing: whenever logic is required to advance the plot, the movie falls flat. For all its emphasis on making the audience feel something, its plot relies on conveniences and leaps of basic logic that undermine everything it tries to accomplish. In the beginning, the mom character takes an interest in who we’ll call “Wolf Dad” in a way that feels completely unnatural; he dresses differently and doesn’t seem to have a lot of books in class. Because of this, the mother decides she simply has to follow him around campus (while he broods like a bad Shadow the Hedgehog impression, by the way). We’re supposed to accept her arbitrary reasons for being “fascinated” by him, and subsequent awkward stalking, as the spark that sets off a tale of true love. I understand the film only has so much time to tell its story, but there’s so many other ways this relationship could have kicked off that would have felt more believable, and more human. Already we’re taken out of the story because the characters aren’t acting like people. If some girl you didn’t know stopped you in the hallway to ask you random personal questions, then followed you out the door pretty much demanding to be your friend, you’d be rightly weirded out by her. But according to Wolf Children, this is perfectly normal behavior.
And this is the start of so many other lapses in basic storytelling judgment. Whenever the plot needs to move along, the movie seems to make the worst possible call. We see Wolf Dad reveal to the mom that he’s a werewolf. By this point they’ve been dating a while. Okay, fine, then they go home. And have sex. While he’s in wolf form…
Was this scene supposed to be “magical”? Symbolic of her ability to see the real him beyond his monster form or whatever? Because it’s just bestiality. To quote Hazama, the villain of the BlazBlue video game series; “It sounds so romantic when you describe it as love that transcended the boundaries of species, but I mean, when you really think about what that MEANS, it’s kind of… gross.” That’s exactly how this comes across. For all the artsy reasons you can pull out of your posterior as to why this scene was done the way it was, there’s no other way to put it; it’s just gross. And full of horrendous implications. The more you think about it, and the more questions you ask about it, the worse it becomes.
We get a montage of the mom and Wolf Dad having the two titular children and starting a family before getting to the contrived tragedy of the father’s death. Now, there were a million ways they could have chosen to make Wolf Dad die. Many of them would be suitably tragic, profound, heart-wrenching, etc. For whatever reason the plot decides against any of these options. During the happy family montage it’s established that Wolf Dad still has some animal instincts and sometimes goes hunting for food, usually to catch large birds. And that’s how he met his end; he chased a bird and accidentally ran off a ledge and died. That’s right, Wolf Dad’s big, tragic, terribly dramatic death? He went out like Wile E. Coyote. There’s no other way to describe it, he died from a Looney Tunes gag. All the drama and tragedy this moment is supposed to invoke are completely ruined by the comical way in which the writers decided to dispatch Wolf Dad. Upon realizing how he died, I burst into a fit of laughter and had to pause the movie, even going to look up plot summaries because I felt that I had to be misinterpreting what happened. There was no way, of all the ways he could have died, they would have went the Road Runner route. But they did. What makes this even more stupid is he apparently left to go hunting right as he brought groceries home. So he flat-out did not need to go chasing the Road Runner , unless all he bought at the store was bird seed. So while the rest of the movie attempts to deify Wolf Dad as some great and noble man, the reality is he may very well be the stupidest man alive. Were there an anime Darwin Awards, he’d get a posthumous truckload of them.
This is followed by scenes of the mom raising the two werewolf kids, Ame (the younger boy) and Yuki (the older girl). There’s absolutely nothing to these characters at first, and the film attempts to use their cuteness to get you to like them. Ame is quiet, Yuki is a “rascal”. That’s it, that’s all there is to their characters at this point. We also get some blatantly recycled footage which forces me to take points off what would be a very high score for the animation (if we had scores). This part of the movie does showcase the movie’s biggest strength, however; its ability to convey emotion and make itself relatable on a surface level. The scene of the sleep-deprived mom getting lulled to sleep looking at the spinning washing machine may be small, but it goes a long way to making us relate to what’s going on. When the mom nods off at the table and is immediately awakened by her daughter and plays it off like she never dozed off, the movie feels real. These all feel like real, true-to-life moments many of us can relate to. Another good example is a later scene where Yuki has her first day at public school, and in order to help her keep her emotions in check and not shift into werewolf mode, the mom gives her a sing-song chant to remember, and repeat to herself; “I’m gonna be a little girl all the way home”. Many parents have helped their kids remember something important with methods like these, and the way it’s done here feels authentic. It feels like we’re watching a real parent and child. The best praise I can give this movie is that it accurately depicts what a single mother raising two werewolf children must be like.
As I stated before, logic is not this film’s strong suit. When it’s time to move the plot along, the characters become alarmingly stupid, and cease to be people. When Yuki decides to reveal her true nature to a friend, for no reason she opens a window next to her (in the middle of a hurricane, mind you). She gives no reason for this, and there seems to be no in-story point to her doing this. We just get this effect of the wind from the open window blowing the curtains around the window, with Yuki switching from human to werewolf every time the curtain blows in front of her and obscures her face. Did she open the window just for this dramatic effect? What was the reason? When Yuki needs to have a moment where she panics and goes werewolf in front of someone, this person chases her down for no good reason other than wondering what Yuki’s problem with him is. A normal human being would just think she’s a jerk and move on with their life, but this kid chases her through the halls, all the way outside, cornering her, all because he wants to know why she doesn’t like him. That’s insane. But the plot needed her to have a moment where she panics, so it was time for this kid to abandon basic common sense and have a little temporary insanity to move the plot along.
The best thing about this movie, besides its ability to play the viewer’s emotions, is the subplot of the mom learning to farm, and growing a relationship with the people in the small farming community she moves to. This growth arc for the mom, and the characters that we’re introduced to, are far more entertaining than the movie’s actual central plot. This bit of the film was the only point where I felt actively interested in what was going on in the movie.
The wolf aspect of the kids is also handled sloppily. First of all, when in their wolf forms the kids are drawn in a rather bizarre way. In order to force them to stay cute, they retain human eyes and often have anime side-mouth while in full wolf form, not to mention keeping their hairstyles intact. If these were anthropomorphic characters that would be one thing, but they’re not. Even when in his half-wolf form, Wolf Dad had wolf-like eyes, not copy-and-past anime doe eyes. Also, a recurring theme of “the kids have to choose to be a wolf or human” makes for the basis of Ame and Yuki’s diverging character arcs, but why? Why do they have to choose? Wolf Dad didn’t choose, he lived among humans, had an apartment, even had a job, and still went out hunting and retained his wolf-like tendencies. So why, then, do the kids have to choose?
But all the film’s problems pale in comparison to its greatest failing; Ame. In the early parts of the film, Ame is just a bland quiet kid. As he grows older, however, I can only describe his character as utterly despicable, made worse by the fact that the movie does not acknowledge him as such. While Yuki grows up to be a well-adjusted person and becomes a more well-rounded character, Ame begins to drift away from human society, preferring to be a wolf in the wilderness (I guess showers, cooked food, entertainment designed to stimulate a sapient mind, and first-world medicine just aren’t his thing. Who needs all that when you can poop in the woods and run a lot?). He spends the last third of the film as a brooding, self-absorbed sociopath. At no point does he show any affection whatsoever for his family; he attempts to force his beliefs on his sister and physically attacks her when she doesn’t want to abandon her warm home to go sleep in the dirt (even visibly going for her throat with his fangs at the end of their fight); when a typhoon is about to hit their little house out in the boonies, while the mother works as hard as she can to board up the house and brace for the storm, Ame sulks, broods, and shoegazes while never lifting a finger to help his mother; he displays nothing but contempt and disdain for everyone but himself and a fox that he calls “sensei” (which we’re supposed to buy is teaching Ame how to be a wolf. I’m not quite sure if Mr. Hosoda is aware that foxes are not, in fact, wolves, and have very different behavioral and feeding patterns than wolves); when his mother leaves in the middle of the typhoon to go looking for him after he shuffles off into the woods like a sad little panda, he leaves her high and dry until she falls down a cliff (seems to be a pattern emerging here) and hurts herself. Rather than returning her home (which he knows is where she came from because she followed him after he left home for the woods), he opts to drop her off in the middle of a random parking lot and tries to slink off before she wakes up. When his mother is visibly upset, rather than showing any affection and trying to comfort her, he just runs off and howls. This kid is a piece of garbage, and he’s one of our main protagonists. The movie wants us to like this kid. It hinges half its conclusion on us being happy for him. Knowing what kind of brain trust he comes from, and the fact that the area he decides to live in is teeming with cliffs, it’s only a matter of time before karma catches up with the little creep…
When Wolf Children first debuted in the States, you couldn’t get away from people telling you how emotional the movie made them. Cries of “feels” could be heard from every corner of the anime fandom. If anything, this served as a warning sign. A big red flag. If a movie’s worth hinges solely around being emotional, and not having anything of substance beyond “the feels”, that’s never a good sign. No talk of memorable characters, or an engaging story, it was all about “the feels”. And now we know why. While the film makes for an interesting discussion piece–comparing its successes in visceral storytelling with its failures in logical storytelling–as an actual movie it’s not worth anyone’s time. The characters range from uninteresting to deplorable, the plot is fueled by logic that’s hokey at best, and the movie too often makes a mockery of itself. I’d recommend it solely to use as a barometer for others, as Wolf Children is an excellent film to find out how easily a person can be emotionally manipulated.
- High quality animation most of the time
- Skillfully conveys feeling and emotion
- Yuki’s character arc is satisfying
- Farming subplot
- Plot throws logic and common sense out the window in order to progress
- Recycled animation
- The drama of the father’s death is undermined by the comical way in which he dies
- Ame is an insufferable little turd and the movie seems unable to grasp this
- Confuses foxes for wolves
- Tries to pass a scene depicting bestiality off as being magical and romantic