“Isn’t that a wolf?”
I think your enjoyment of Wolf Children Ame and Yuki will be different based on how you view anime fandom. On one hand, the movie breaks zero ground. There’s no flashy CGI or animation techniques, there’s no plot twists, and the plot is predictable. You know exactly what is going to happen next. On the other hand, a movie like Ame and Yuki isn’t really about the plot but instead about emotions and the characters and how they get there. (I mean, after all, do we watch Totoro for plot?) The movie conveys its message simply, and it does it well. It is a movie about triumph and family and perseverance, and there’s always a bittersweet taste lingering in your mouth irregardless of where the movie is at. It is almost like if Ghibli movies are about the kids growing up and discovering their world (really anything from Kiki to Totoro to Arrietty), then Ame and Yuki is about what is like to be the parent of said kids growing up.
A lot of reviews I’ve seen from other people do point out the Ghibli-esque, and I don’t blame them. Mamoru Hosoda has proven with Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars that he is capable of making a high quality animated movie that puts emotions forefront while having a message in the background. But with this movie, I felt it’s a different viewpoint than Ghibli. The star of this movie, despite the movie named “Ame and Yuki” is the mom, Hana. She is quite possibly one of the greatest anime heroines ever. She is strong, independent, resourceful, smart, and puts the welfare of her kids above her own. We can quibble over some of her life choices (like, oh, furry sex), but come on. She is a vast, vast improvement over the standard anime heroine. That being said, the movie is about her journey through the life of her kids, and what she needs to do to keep the kids growing and happy. It’s that viewpoint difference that separates this movie from Ghibli. Ghibli would have made Ame and Yuki about Ame and Yuki.
But I can definitely see where people see comparisons. The snow running scene? The nostalgia for a simpler and more natural life? The subtle yet effective animation? The whole theme of growing up and overcoming the challenges that go with it? The magical nature injected by the fact that Ame and Yuki are half-wolf/half-human? The scene where Hana goes to look for Ame in the rainstorm? The grumpy old man who has a secret heart of gold?
The animation is quite good, but it’s not up to Ghibli or Kyoto standards. There’s significantly fewer eye candy moments than Summer Wars as well, but that’s not exactly a bad thing. The animation fits the story well, and I don’t get a nagging sense that corners are cut like I do when I watch, oh, Vividred or Maoyuu.
The grade school montage that shows Ame and Yuki progressing through the early grades? Genius. So well done. And I liked all the small touches, like the signage and how Ame always looks like a male harem lead waiting to break out. Must be the fact he has a rear window seat and has a funky hairdo.
There were a few things I didn’t care for too much, mainly the movie length. This movie could easily be about 10-15 minutes shorter. Like I didn’t think we needed to deal with Souhei’s mom getting married, or we needed to see Hana look for Ame for ten solid and not-so-interesting minutes. I may have thrown in a bit more time with the father just to make it seem even more devastating when he passes. There’s only one happy family scene (not even a montage!!!) before he gets tossed into a Hefty bag.
I didn’t think it was necessary to make the kids half furries for the movie, but I can understand why Hosoda would want the half-wolf element. A theme of the movie is finding where one belongs, and the
zerg/protoss wolf/human hybrid nature of Ame and Yuki is the noisy jackhammer of this theme. It’s there constantly. They can’t go out easily because of their wolf side. They are destructive and not housetrained because of their wolf side. They like to attack animals because of their wolf side. Yet, they desire friendship, schooling, and Pokemon cards because of their human side. But the theme goes deeper than just Ame and Yuki. Their dad was at a constant struggle to find his balance (which, sadly, he never really finds) between his human and wolf side. Hana struggles to find a place where she and her kids would be accepted (and, guess what? In a very Ghibli-esque nature, nature accepts them while the big bad city rejects them). The theme goes a bit deeper with how all the characters are presented as people who are where they are, like the helpful old men or Ame’s sensei or Yuki’s not-boyfriend.
When I say the story is bittersweet, it’s bittersweet all throughout. It’s almost like drinking good green tea. It’s bitter yet satisfying, and you sip slowly, but somehow the tea keeps you warm and happy. That’s Ame and Yuki. Even though we know fundamental bad things will happen, the joy is seeing Hana overcome all the hardships and make a happy life for herself and her kids. The ending got to me a bit, and it made me think of something I don’t normally think of. I left home when I was seventeen to go to college, and I haven’t been home for any period longer than three weeks since then. I went to college, grad school, and got my own place many time zones away from my parents. Thinking about how my parents took care of me (and all the things they went through without me knowing), and how bittersweet it must be for them when I left for college, well, that’s what I thought about long after this movie ended. When I think about it that way, the ending to the movie no longer seems bittersweet. The tea isn’t bitter anymore, just warm. Hana is happy that both of her kids managed to find where they belong and, most importantly, are happy.