This anime film completely exceeded my expectations! Here I was, thinking it would be a fun, futuristic(ish) metaverse vibe retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Which it kind of was, but then it went way beyond that.
Belle is the most popular influencer/singer in the digital world of U (aka the metaverse of the film). As a hit newcomer, of course she has everyone wondering who she is in the real world. Enter Suzu, a completely ordinary high-schooler on the shy, clumsy side of life. Suzu learned singing from her deceased mother, and as much as she loves it, Suzu finds she can only sing in the digital world using her avatar identity, Belle. Whenever Suzu tries to sing in real life, post traumatic symptoms set in to block Suzu’s voice.
Suzu feels like she’s all alone, but she actually has a great best friend named Hiro, a tech-savvy genius physicist who helps with all of Belle’s music productions and digital effects in the U. Basically, Belle would not have been that popular without Hiro’s skill. The two girls are the only ones who know of Belle’s true identity.
Since it is a teen drama, there is high school drama in Suzu and Hiro’s lives which they have to deal with, in addition to a threat in the U named the Beast. The Beast causes problems where ever he goes, but Belle takes a liking to him. When Beast gets into deep trouble with the Justices in the U, Belle thinks she is the only one that can help him. But how can she help him if she doesn’t even know who he really is?
Thus Suzu and Hiro begin their search for Beast’s identity in the real world, and what they find out will change Suzu’s life.
My gods, the plot twist of who the Beast was really got to me. It was completely unexpected, suspenseful, and emotionally gut wrenching. Writer and director Mamoru Hosoda did an excellent job superimposing the digital and physical realities of our times to show how both are real, both interactions on digital and physical platforms can really change people’s circumstances and lives. The side characters: Suzu’s dad, the community choir older ladies, and Suzu’s high school friends Shinobu, Ruka, and Kamishin, are also precious, especially as the film eventually reveals their relationships to each other.
The ending deeply moved me, and yes, I did cry in several climactic moments. As a plus, the animation and soundtrack (Belle’s songs) are beautiful. I highly recommend this anime film!
PS: the premise of this film reminds me of If I Stay, a novel by Sherry.