In the midst of the end-of-summer busyness that has crept up on me as it always does, I found myself wanting to check out something from my anime to-be-watched list—but I knew it had to be something relatively short and digestible. Trying to pack in the last bit of summer goofing off takes time, after all! And so, in searching through VRV to find an anime film that looked good, I came across Wolf Children. I’d heard of this movie a while back, and knew I definitely wanted to see it at some point, but it had fallen off my radar since then—I’m very glad I ran into it again and got the chance to watch this lovely, melancholy film.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
The story of Wolf Children begins when Hana, a young university student, meets a quiet, handsome young man during a philosophy lecture. Something about him intrigues her, and she can’t get him out of her mind. She finds little ways to keep seeing him, getting to know him despite his secretive manner. Eventually, Hana’s persistence pays off, and the two start dating. The young man and Hana become so close that the man is willing to trust her with his biggest secret—he reveals that he is a werewolf and shows her his true form. He is the last of his kind, raised to hide his secret at all costs to protect himself; Hana is the first person he’s ever told. But Hana isn’t afraid, and the young man’s revelation brings the two closer than ever.
The werewolf moves in with Hana soon after, and the two build a life together. It isn’t long before Hana finds out she’s pregnant, and she gives birth to their daughter, Yuki. Their son Ame is born a little over a year later, and at first it seems as though the family will be happy in the little world they’ve created. But then, tragedy strikes—the werewolf is killed in a mysterious and tragic accident, and Hana is left to raise their half-human, half-wolf children alone.
At first, things are mostly okay, and Hana is able to keep her children’s secret. But then social services starts poking around, threatening to investigate her and her children’s situation. Hana realizes that there’s no way she’ll be able to safely raise Yuki and Ame—not to mention make ends meet—in the big city. So she buys a huge but very run-down old house in the mountainous countryside, fixes it up, and moves Yuki and Ame there, where they can run free, away from prying eyes. The new setting suits Hana and her children much better, and though it isn’t easy, they carve out a life for themselves in the little mountain community. But when one child starts trying to fit in with the human world, and the other starts following the call of the natural one, will Hana be able to keep her little family together after all?
The word that keeps coming to mind when I think about how to describe this movie is peaceful. Though some very difficult and tragic things happen to Hana and her family throughout the story, the sense of peace that pervades the film is never truly disrupted, and it makes for a contemplative and satisfying viewing experience. It makes the heart of the story really shine, and lets the messages the story is trying to get across come through clearly without ever making them feel on-the-nose.
The fantastic score goes a long way toward creating this sense of peace, as does the beautiful animation style. Every time I see animation of this caliber, I’m so grateful for it—it’s the kind of gorgeous, painstakingly created artwork that used to be standard before 3D animation came around, and while I love computerized 3D animation and the amazing things that are possible because of it, I think we miss something by seeing this type of stunningly rendered 2D animation fall mostly by the wayside. Anime is one of the last holdouts for it, and I’m glad it can still be found there. The soft color scheme, simply but elegantly drawn characters, and beautifully detailed world of Wolf Children were a treat for the eye, and brought the story to life for me.
The story itself, while bearing many similarities to ones I’ve seen before, was told in a heartfelt, honest way that made what could have been an emotionally manipulative plot into something truly meaningful. Though at times it was hard to watch Hana’s struggles and the great lengths she went to in order to keep her children safe and happy, it was inspiring, too. Hana didn’t do everything perfectly, and she and her children didn’t always understand one another, but watching them learn from and with each other felt so vivid and true to life, and there were so many moments that had me hoping I’ll be that determined and compassionate as a mother.
Seeing the family’s interactions with their neighbors from the village made an impression on me, too—at first, Hana thinks that she must do everything alone and unaided in order to keep her children safe from those that might harm them if they knew the truth, but it’s only when she starts to take the risk of letting her new neighbors help her that she and her children are able to thrive. Similarly, at the end of the film, Hana comes to the realization that it is time for her to step back and let her children be who they are, even if it might mean letting them go. Only when she starts to trust her children and stops striving to be everything for them can they truly come into their own. This seemed to me to be a vivid and accurate picture of what is both one of the greatest joys and greatest difficulties that comes with being a parent, and seeing it rendered in this way let me see it from a different angle than I ever have before.
I have to admit, I find it hard to critique this film. It felt like it came to me at just the right time, and not only did it strike a chord with me, it was just plain lovely to watch. If I had to point out one flaw, though, it’s that the plot does meander a bit, and is somewhat slow moving in a couple of places. The story seems to inhabit a limbo space between plot-driven stories and slice-of-life tales, and at times it’s unclear if it knows which one it wants to be. I did get the sense that this was done on purpose, but for some viewers, this effect could prove frustrating or just plain boring. However, if the viewer lets the story unfold itself in its own way, they’ll be rewarded with a sweet, sad tale that uses fantastical, almost fanciful elements to tell some deep truths about family, love, loss, and the connections between them.
Wolf Children will hook you in with its beautiful aesthetic and will keep you there with its approachable story that has a lot of great things to say. It’s one that I would say all ages can appreciate, though kids and adults will likely have very different takeaways from it. Whoever you are, though, this story is sure to keep you thinking about it for a long while after you’ve watched it.