- Alt. Name
- Ryuu to Sobakasu no Hime
- Release Date
- July 2021
- Run Time
- 2 hr. 2 min.
- Studio Chizu
Belle is a 2021 Fantasy anime film by a Japanese animation studio that does not create a lot of properties, but when they come out with something, it tends to be a fan favorite. Though not everything is perfect, just because the writer and director are nominated for an Academy award does not mean that all their creations are equally impressive. It’s a team effort, plain and straightforward. However, can Mamoru Hosoda, who has written and directed such films as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Wolf Children, and even The Boy and the Beast, continue to amaze audiences in a world that has changed so much over the years since he came out with his original concept film.
In the digital age, where everyone is connected through technology, we are never as alone as we tend to think we are. Suzu Naito is a seventeen-year-old high school student who lives in a rural town in Japan. When she was younger, she was close with her mother, who had supported her love for singing and writing songs. However, one day Suzu witnesses something tragic happen to her mother that cost her her own life; soon after, she began to alienate herself from her peers and even her loved ones and soon became unable to sing together.
One day Suzu signs into the popular virtual world known as “U” and creates a beautiful avatar with freckles she names “Bell,” the English translation of her own name’s meaning. For years she has only been a shadow of herself. But when she enters “U,” the massively growing virtual world, she escapes into her online persona, a gorgeous and globally-beloved singer. One day, her concert is interrupted by a monstrous creature chased by vigilantes. As their hunt escalates, Suzu embarks on an emotional and epic quest to uncover the identity of this mysterious “beast” and to discover her true self in a world where anyone can be anything.
The story is a loose adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which the audience will quickly understand after watching the film’s first quarter. If titles mean anything to give a picture of what is to come from the film, the English title means nothing. However, when one takes the literal translation, it opens up a slightly bigger picture, The Dragon and The Freckled Princess. The viewer will realize that it has equal parts Beauty and the Beast and a story about finding one’s true self, which is a nice added touch within this already classic tale.
One of the more significant positives viewers can agree on is that a seasoned writer’s story is well written and created. Having a well-written and polished tale is not only detrimental to any anime, but it gives the entire property a slight push towards sticking with its audience. The amount of worldbuilding within the opening parts of the film was beautifully crafted and seemed almost unreal for an anime film. Alongside that was the character development within the main characters and the recurring characters. The subtleness of the development within this film’s plotline will amaze its viewers and make them enjoy this film even more than they expected.
While there are many positives within this story, there are unfortunately many significant problems within the plot that viewers need to know if they decide to watch this film. For instance, the story does repetitive in each section of the film, mainly with the main characters. The character development felt like it was rushing in some areas, and when it couldn’t find any more traction, it just hit a wall and stayed there for a while. Though the story continues pretty well each time, switching from the virtual world to the real world tends to slow down the story half the time. Outside of the usual problems within any given story, there was only one other problem that viewers might not enjoy.
The main problem that some viewers might not enjoy an area of the film is that when the film was building up to its highest point, the story lacked that extra needed oomph it needed to have to push it over the edge. This is easy to spot due to the sudden choice of Belle singing and adding that extra music level to the story to make it go over the edge. However, without the added music, the story is somewhat lacking. Even though Belle did do this perfectly, it felt that the story didn’t have as much impact without the music behind it. It is a little disappointing when a movie needs to rely on a particular aspect of a character or remarkable effect. The best example would be being at a wedding and getting a piece of the wedding cake that the bride and groom paid a lot of money for, but then after a few bites, they realize that this was a store-bought cake that was layered. It’s still cake and good, but not as one was expecting.
What can anyone say about the art style of Belle without stating the obvious? The beautiful color tones of the virtual world were terrific and as spectacular as one would expect for anything that came out of Studio Chizu’s anime womb. From the first time the viewer is witnessing the world, they are submerged with bright and cheerful colors that bring their wildest dreams to life. The unique character designs are rememberable within the virtual world, but they are typical and generic for a Studio Chizu property when the characters are out into the real world. The film did get a little help from veteran Disney animator and character designer Jin Kim who was the first Korean animator to work for Disney.
The only negative that will be stated about the artwork within the film is that the viewer can get overwhelmed with all the vivid colors within the virtual world. However, this is a minor comment that does not affect the value of the beautifully crafted and styled artwork.
Though the most significant positive that this film should receive, and rightfully so, is the animation production side of the film. The music behind Belle was beautifully crafted and perfect in every way possible, which is not that shocking at all. Both the musical side and the lyrics were crafted exceptionally well, and the voice actors on both the Japanese and English versions were perfect in every way. Since both soundtracks are available on Spotify, it wouldn’t be shocking to see either the theme song or one of the soundtrack songs on viewers’ top-ranking pieces for the year. This could be one of the best soundtracks and original scores to an anime production of the twenty-first century and quite certainly the best from Studio Chizu.
Suzu Naito, who goes by Belle within the “U” world, is the film’s titular character. Though she is somewhat shy in the real world, when she is Belle, she is the complete opposite. She is a caring young woman who helps others in need even if it puts herself in danger. On the outside of Suzu, she is a fearful person who is afraid to get out of her comfort zone due to unlimited amounts of “what ifs,” which puts her in so much distress that it makes her vomit at times. However, Belle is the inner beauty that lies within herself when she has no fears and can express herself when she is behind the mask we all have and use online.
Dragon is the “Beast” within the film and is just as interesting as Belle, if the viewer pays attention to the little details within the character. He is the stereotypical beast one can think of within the Beauty and the Beast storyline. However, without giving anything away, his actual identity is the one that puts this character on a brand-new level for any adaptation. He can easily be seen as a dark and dangerous character, but deep down, he is what we all are on the outside when we don’t have friends or people to rely on.
There are so many characters that impacted this film and the emotions the viewers will potentially experience, even the characters that are barely in the movie. The only advice any viewer needs to know before watching this film is not to sleep on any of these characters, no matter how small, cause each one will have a massive impact on the story. Having the ability to encompass the best of the characters in a short amount of time is remarkable and needs to be applauded.
When anyone goes into a Studio Chizu film, whether new or old, the first time or they’ve seen it a million times, it’s always an emotional experience. Belle is no different from anything that Mamoru Hosoda has created. The writing is excellent, and the animation and production and even the characters are as perfect as possible without breaking any of the scales. If one is wondering to watch this film or skip it, please watch it and enjoy the emotional ride that the viewer will experience and witness throughout the film. This is one of the best films that has come out since Spirited Away, and don’t underestimate the power of Hosoda when he gets an idea to create something magical.
Cody Senpai is the creator of BakaNow, an anime review website that specializes in spoiler-free reviews for everyone. He is an avid anime watcher who has traveled to Japan numerous times to not only experience the culture and history but also to build friendships with people through a common interest. He is an avid animation fanatic from birth and even went on to major in communication to help share the importance of the stories we love to watch and listen to. Cody lives in Denver, Colorado and loves to do anything adventurous.