Saturday, January 30, 2021

REVIEW: Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki (manga) original story by Mamoru Hosoda, art by Yu, character design by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, translated by Jocelyne Allen

Wolf Children is a fantasy manga adaptation of the original movie directed and co-written by Mamoru Hosoda. I bought my copy brand new.

This review includes some spoilers.


When Hana is in college, she finds herself thinking a lot about a mysterious fellow classmate who eventually reveals to her that he's the last descendant of the Japanese wolves thought to have gone extinct a hundred years ago. He has the ability to transform from a human into a wolf and back again. None of that scares Hana, and the two of them eventually have a couple children, an energetic daughter named Yuki and a quieter and somewhat sickly son named Ame.

Unfortunately, Hana's beloved wolf (whose name is never mentioned) doesn't come home one day, and she discovers that he has died. That leaves her to raise two rowdy wolf children on her own, constantly afraid that someone will discover their secret. It's especially hard in the city, so Hana decides to take a big and risky step and move her little family out into the country, where Ame and Yuki will have the space and freedom to grow up and decide for themselves how they'd like to live their lives.

This is an adaptation of a movie I haven't seen yet, although I believe I have a copy of it somewhere. I'd been debating for ages whether to start with the movie or read the manga first. In the end, I decided that starting with the manga might be best - although I wouldn't be able to judge how good of an adaptation it was, I knew the story was going to be a tearjerker and it'd be easy to take breaks while reading the manga.

Single moms have it rough in general, and Hana, with her two randomly shapeshifting children, had even more problems. She didn't seem to have any sort of support network in the city - her parents had passed away, and I guess she didn't have any close friends either - so there was no one she could go to for help babysitting or figuring out what to do when one of the kids got sick. She couldn't continue with college and couldn't leave the kids alone in order to go to work. I wondered how she was able to financially manage - supposedly the family survived on the "meager savings" the kids' father left them (he'd worked as a mover), which was somehow enough to cover rent and food for a while after the kids' father's death, the purchase of a run-down house in the country (cheap compared to anything in the city, I'm sure, but probably still a lot considering that Hana had zero income), and a move out into the country. 

The money aspect bugged me, but I was mostly able to ignore it. It helped that the move to the countryside added something that had previously been missing, a support network for Hana. She still had to be careful, but for the first time she had adults she could talk to and people looking out for her and the kids. (But you'd think someone would wonder about the changes to her family that occurred by the end of the volume. I wonder how she explained that away?)

I imagine this would have been an even more bittersweet read if I were a parent. Hana did the best she could for her kids, considering that she was only human and didn't know everything they were going through. If they wanted to try new experiences and explore different sides of themselves, she tried to give them the space and opportunity to do what they needed to do, but even she had trouble letting go as some of her kids' choices took them places where she couldn't follow and help them.

The artwork was nice enough and fit the style of the movie, but I did have some trouble with Yuki. When she was little, her hair was lighter colored (depicted with screentone in most of the manga and reddish brown in the few color pages). During her older school scenes, however, her hair was a solid black (also black in the few color pages) - if someone hadn't said her name, I wouldn't have realized she was the same character from earlier. I'm not sure why her design was changed like that. I'm also not personally a fan of the way the wolves/werewolves were drawn. (Speaking of which, it kind of weirded me out that Hana's first time having sex with her wolf guy was when he was in his in-between form.)

All in all, this was very good, and now I know which parts of the movie will probably require tissues. I do wish that the ending hadn't focused so much on the kids, though - we got to see them moving on to their new lives, while Hana was left alone in a huge and empty house, with only her one picture of her beloved wolf for company. A panel or two showing her having a companionable meal with the elderly couple who'd helped her out would have been nice, for example. I wanted to know that Hana's life was continuing too - parents can't just be parents, or what's left for them after their kids have moved on?


This was originally released as three separate volumes in Japan, and this Yen Press edition included several full-color pages at what would have been the beginnings of each of the three volumes, as well as drawings and notes from Yu and Mamoru Hosoda at what would have been the ends of the volumes. The end of the first volume includes character sketches and brief character personality information.

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