A person falling in love with an attractive werewolf or vampire is a familiar theme in shapeshifter stories. What’s less familiar is for this story to extend beyond the relationship, and detail the hardships of raising “half breed” children in a prejudiced society.
On the surface, such a premise may seem absurd, but Wolf Children works thanks to the decision of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda to take a fantasy story and package it as a coming-of-age drama. There’s a lot of wonderful humor here, but the characters and their experiences are taken with the utmost seriousness.
Hana is the quintessential altruistic mother who’s always acting for the benefit of her lover and children. When she has time to herself, she spends it idly and alone. There’s a niceness and a sadness to this. It’s nice how helping others seems to be her biggest motivator. However, it’s also sad since she does so little for herself. Perhaps providing for her family is enough?
Hana’s children, Yuki and Ame, are opposites of each other. Yuki, the girl, is rambunctious and loud, and Ame, the boy, is introverted and quiet. Over the course of their upbringing, Yuki is encouraged to be more girly, and Ame is encouraged to be more confident. Since Yuki is the more fun character, more screen time is spent on her, and, consequently, Ame isn’t as thoroughly developed. When Ame makes a personal choice later in the film, it feels abrupt and overdramatic.
Visually, Wolf Children is clean. Characters are drawn with thin outlines, and animated with generous inbetweening. The designs are neither cartoony nor realistic; they’re a mix of the two, leaning slightly more toward realistic. Background characters are in 3D with cel shading, and the background art is detailed without calling too much attention. The score is comprised mostly of gentle melodies played with piano and strings.
Wolf Children seems to aspire to the greatness of a classic Studio Ghibli film. While it doesn’t quite reach this level, it comes extremely close. There are some aspects of Wolf Children that could be nitpicked, and some aspects that could even be considered troublesome, but the general experience remained a powerful one that I felt long after the ending credits rolled. This is an anime that I won’t soon forget.