I had never heard of Wolf Children. I had never seen it, never watched it, barely heard a single mutter of it until I showed up at Otakon. Then everyone was talking about Wolf Children and the dub premiere; when Saturday night came – most incredibly, for me – there was a full house at the event.
In retrospect, I’m not sure how Wolf Children flew so far over my head. It was released a little over a year ago in Japanese, yet it’s been readily available on the internet for several months before its dub premiere at Otakon. I had only a vague idea of what I’d signed up for: a movie about a woman who falls in love with a wolf man, but is then forced to raise their children alone. I only heard brief snippets of what everyone else knew while I was waiting in line: Colleen Clinkenbeard was rumored to be a voice actress, and that Funimation would soon be releasing it on DVD.
When the movie finally started, I was almost instantly reminded of every Miyazaki film I had ever seen. It was a slice of life with child protagonists and a mix of humor and seriousness. Even the artwork hinted at some Miyazaki influence. Yet, the more I watched, and the more stark these resemblances became, the more I realized that something felt oddly off about Wolf Children.
It is a strangely divisive film. While there are two children in the movie, Wolf Children doesn’t focus entirely on the children like many other films do. Rather, the movie concentrates just as heavily on the mother as it does on them. While Wolf Children possesses the same familiar mix of comedic and dramatic that exists in almost all films today, Wolf Children pushes the limits of how far it can go with both, resulting in an ending that I later discovered is as tragic as it is hopeful. While the artwork is incredibly detailed, that detail extends only as far as the background and not to the characters, who sometimes appear out of place amidst the shine and polish of their backgrounds.
While this “in between-ness” surfaces from nearly every crack of the movie, it makes itself most evident in the storyline. The film seems to try its best to appeal to two very different audiences while never finding perfect footing with either. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Wolf Children does manage to find a somewhat middle ground to stand on, but that haphazardness seems to have been carefully determined and placed to get the exact reaction from its audience that it wanted: a film that resonates, that sticks, and that is precisely what it accomplishes.
How it does that is an entirely different matter altogether. The movie’s decision to linger over Yuki and Ame’s childhood certainly has a part to play, as well as its multitude of scenes that people of all ages can universally appreciate and relate to. The different layers of storyline, ranging from concrete to abstract, gives the film more potential in reaching out to different audiences.
Regardless of who you are or what you are looking for, Wolf Children easily pulls you in, tears you down, and then absolutely drowns you. It is impossible not to sympathize with Hana, the woman who must raise her children alone despite great adversity. It is a struggle to watch her children grow up only to fight within themselves for two very different worlds. It is difficult not to respond in some way to the battles they find themselves in, or to their successes and failures. It is hard not to feel touched, angered, or frustrated at times.
But it wasn’t until long after the ending, when I sat down and thought back on Wolf Children, that I also realized how difficult it is not to appreciate how the movie paves its own way. The film refuses to fall under any one specific category, yet still leaves you both empty and fulfilled all at once, almost as if you’re as stuck in the same in between state the movie is in.
All in all, Wolf Children is an extremely solid film in all aspects, including the English voice acting, the soundtrack, and the art. But what truly makes the film stand out is its storyline and characters, which shine and resonate beyond anything else.