Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
The world has changed. Where once people socialized face to face, computers have replaced human interaction, and even food has become a highly processed mimicry of itself. Haduki Makino is a child that has been raised in this environment her whole life, a girl who does not question the way of the world and who feels uneasy in the few occasions in which she is expected to deal with people her own age, like at school. But the forthright and good-intentioned actions of classmate (and computer genius) Mio Tsuzuki slowly begin to draw Haduki out of her shell. Unfortunately, Haduki’s emergence into her small social circle of like-minded friends – comprised of Mio, taciturn Ayumi Kono, bubbly Yuko Yabe, and fierce Myao Rei – happens at a time when a serial murderer is on the loose, and Haduki and her band of misfit friends find themselves very much in danger.
To be honest, with recent national events in mind, this movie was actually difficult to watch, especially as it begins to explore, question, and even justify acts of brutality committed against and by its school-aged cast. Had I known that this would be the case, I would have pushed back covering this movie for some time. But that’s the danger with blindly watching a movie on Hulu, I suppose.
On to the movie itself: the plot is a surprisingly complex mixture of pseudo-utopian science-fiction and coming-of-age school story, one which begins with a girl learning to open up and communicate with her friends and ends with that same girl witnessing a half a dozen murders while uncovering the dark history of her society. The movie – at just over an hour and a half long – handles this transition well and without the feeling of schizophrenia one might expect. Despite its premise of staring into the darkness inside man – the wolves hiding behind the faces of people, so to speak – the violence is not terribly overbearing. It hits hard when it rears its head, but the movie is not one long blood-fest, nor are the fights dragged out to pad runtime.
This is not to suggest that the pacing of the story was perfect; far from it. In fact, too much time is given to the growing relationships between the cast and not enough paid to explaining or even introducing the great evil that they’re supposed to be fighting. We’re expected to root against the villain because he reveals himself only on computer and television screens, always with an eerie red glow, and always with cliché “malevolent” eyes. Beyond that, all we’re given is a post-final-battle explanation of why they should have been fighting him in the first place. Furthermore, the big revelation about quiet Kono comes too suddenly. There are a few hints littered in the beginning and middle of the movie, but such a set piece backstory needed more time to play out and sink in. As it is, this oh-so-important plot point feels a bit more like happenstance than it should.
(I will say that, despite the complaints I may have about the pacing and the timing of certain reveals, this was not a movie during which I felt I knew what was coming next. On multiple occasions, I was certain I had everything figured out, only to have it revealed to me that I’d been holding on to a red herring. And, later, that the evidence that had overturned my red herring had in fact been a red herring itself. Note, however, that I do not consider myself a connoisseur of mysteries, and that my being able to guess the ending of something is usually a sign of bad writing indeed, dense as I can be.)
Ultimately, I’m glad to know as much as I do about the characters, and were Loups=Garou a show rather than a movie, I would have nothing about which to complain. But with such a truncated running time, more lip-service should have been paid to the struggle and not just the players.
Speaking of the cast, I was absolutely impressed by the character designs in this movie. They’re modern, sleek, and attractive without being another generic moe-blob creation, and each design fits its character perfectly. Take Mio up there, for example. You can tell at a glance that she’s a happy little troublemaker, one who leaps without looking and laughs when dealing with the consequences. Kono’s cold eyes and Haduki’s perfect nondescript-ness also come to mind as examples of fantastic character design. Sure, this movie isn’t as instantly beautiful as something like Mardock Scramble, but it sneaks up on you with its little details. There were a few clunky moments of CG-incorporated animation, but for the most part, everything fits into the bigger visual picture without much fuss and nothing is egregious enough to kick the viewer out of the story.
In the end, I recommend that you watch Loups=Garou if you have the stomach for it, if only to catch the flashes of philosophical discussion that crop up on the nature of violence and whether or not it can ever be justified. Or watch it for its cast of likable characters, ones who, despite having one- or two-note personalities nonetheless feel more alive than so many of their contemporaries. Would I call Loups=Garou a masterpiece? Would I say my life is fuller having seen it? No, but it was an entertaining watch with flashes of brilliance, and it left me feeling unsettled as the credits rolled, and sometimes that’s all for which one can ask.