Hana has a problem. Her whole life has gone to the dogs…err…wolves. Her husband is/was a wolf. Her daughter is a wolf. Her son is a wolf. It makes it very hard to keep an apartment when every time the kids start fighting, the neighbors think you have an illegal dog in the house. And of course, when your kids get into a fight at school, they claw someone rather rather than punching them or maybe spreading some kind of nasty rumor. It makes for a very difficult household, all the more so when you have to leave the only life you’ve ever known in the city and move out to the country to learn how to be a farmer because it’s cheaper, the neighbors think you have pets, and the authorities think you’re a child abuser because your kids don’t have their shots.
Then there’s the kids themselves. Yuki, the first-born daughter, starts life as a complete wild child. She’s rambunctious to the point of gnawing on everything in sight, while second-born son Ame is far more sedate and unfortunately needy. It would be hard enough growing up half human/half wolf even with their dad around to show them what it’s like being a wolf, but he leaves their lives very early, leaving poor Hana to grope through both being a single mother under constant vigilance from neighbors and the authorities and trying to figure out how you raise a child that is both wolf and man. And sadly she’s apparently not a Metallica fan, so listening to “Of Wolf and Man” on repeat won’t help a lick.
Wolf Children is not an easy movie to digest. An easy film would be a let down, with the pedigree pairing Mamoru Hosada, the head of the studio behind Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time; and some of the creative staff behind Neon Genesis Evangelion. Nothing about “Wolf Children” is easy, or simple, or plain. Even the animation, not the most sumptuous in history, works perfectly in conjunction with the story being told here. The story is a bit rough. Emotions are very raw at times, painfully so. Every scratch, every physical and mental bruise, every moment joy and sorrow feels authentic and it just grabs you and won’t let go. It may be a cliche to say that you feel the character’s pain, along with everything else, but you really do.
The real triumph of Wolf Children is that every one of the characters feels real, even the jerky neighbor the family runs into when the move to the countryside. There isn’t a false note to be found in any of them. In a world where the reaction to anime is too often, “well, it looked good,” or “Eh, I had fun watching it,” getting a real emotional experience out of a story is a triumph in and of itself, and all the more so when the experience is as sublime as this one. Each character gets a time when they have to make a life altering choice and it’s refreshing to see them taken with such gravity and realness.
The presentation at Otakon was the English language track, and aside from the actress they had playing young Yuki not quite entirely succeeding at sounding like a 6-year old, every voice is spot on and the acting is sublime. Colleen Clinkenbeard in particular is outstanding at Hana. As I mentioned earlier the animation isn’t always 100% out of this world fabulous, but it does an excellent job of capturing the intimate vibe of the film and never distracts from the story. Wolf Children will hopefully tug on your heart strings. The music it makes will be sublime.