It’s always nice to have an anime movie to watch. Typically I watch all of the big Shonen type movies but then you’ve got the emotional types like this one which are still fun too. They may not compete visually or in an action sense with the others but you can see how they are used to beat the classics like how this one beats Beauty and the Beast by improving upon the core story.
The story starts by introducing us to Suzu who used to like singing and having a good time but then she was traumatized when her mother died after trying to save a kid who was drowning. It didn’t help that people criticized her mother for doing this and playing hero (Which came across as a little forced tbh since the kid was saved in the end) so Suzu fell further into despair. She pretty much cut off ties to everyone and even has a hard time talking to her father or her childhood friend Shinobu. One day she discovers an app that lets you into a virtual world. It’s the Metaverse if that app/concept was actually a lot more interesting.
Now she has an alter ego named Belle and can sing to her heart’s content there. Suzu uses this as a complete escape from the real world and wouldn’t mind staying there forever. Still, even this area has its share of issues. There is a mysterious user named the Beast who goes around causing a lot of mayhem and interrupting Suzu’s contest. She senses that there is more to him than the chaos but at the same time she doesn’t know what to do about it. What can she do? Meanwhile the “Justice League” type police officers want to put the Beast down for good. If Suzu isn’t quick on deciding what to do, she could lose everything.
The idea of retreating into a virtual world is certainly a classic one and always an interesting idea. Who wouldn’t want to be trapped in a world like Sword Art Online right? The idea of a fresh take on life has spawned tons of stories and if you ask people IRL, there are many who would love the chance to do this and others who of course would not want to. For me personally, it sounds pretty awesome but if it’s an action game, not something like the world in Belle because it’s still just like real life.
For Suzu it works because she can actually sing here and she’s really good at it too. That alone makes the world worth it and of course flying and stuff is fun too. The visuals in the world are interesting and the CG’s not bad. It reminds you of the old days of the computer so it’s a bit of a nostalgic boost. The animation for the human scenes is good too but a little below average next to what you’d see nowadays. It’s what I call the mainstream anime movie effect where it’s aimed more at a general audience so the colors aren’t as bright and splashy.
Turn on the TV to almost any modern anime right now and it’s going to look a lot better which is a bit ironic since this is a movie. Still, you don’t need to compare this to the rest and on its own the animation is still good. There isn’t a lot of action here anyway but the combos with the Beast in the cyberworld are fun. I wouldn’t mind if the fights got extended just a bit.
At its core this is more of an emotional story though and it succeeds at that. I would say it’s suitably sad without trying too hard or overstaying its welcome. Towards the end of the story we even get a bit of a dark twist. You’ll probably have figured out what’s going on during an early scene when the Beast’s wounds are glowing but if not, the film makes sure not to make it too obvious. I didn’t even realize the symbols on the Beast’s back were wounds until they said it. Either way it’s pretty intense when it happens and works for the story but I’m glad it doesn’t go any further than the quick scene or two. This is the right amount of getting you to understand the stakes without just making the whole thing really edgy.
I’m thinking it was a stylistic choice to not make it obvious as even one guy who drew artwork of injuries still looked like flowers to me. It’s a good choice from an animation level I’d say since it lets the movie be more creative. The soundtrack isn’t too memorable for the most part but the lyrical songs are fun. There’s always a lot of fun special effects during the songs as well and in particular I liked the large venue that was set up for the main song. That place was absolutely massive and is definitely the kind of place you want to be when giving a performance.
As for Suzu as a main character, I wouldn’t say that she was great. Of course you can see what character arc the movie is going for but she’s just a little too timid the whole time. Suzu doesn’t really act upon her feelings and when she does towards the end, it’s not always with a great plan. The climax could have had her take an extra 2 seconds to bring someone along and that would have been a really good idea. Of course it’s also bad on the other characters for not just jumping in.
This is the kind of story where Suzu would certainly be a lot better in a sequel, but I doubt we’ll be getting one. Her best friend Hiroka was really good though. She would sometimes badmouth other characters without meeting them which is a bit petty but at least she always had Suzu’s back. She was around to support her at all times and also did a lot of the legwork in setting up the alter ego. Something tells me Suzu would have been found out right away without someone like Hiroka to cover her tracks. I appreciate that Suzu wasn’t totally on her own here. I mean she had the drama club members as well but you want someone your own age to talk too. So in this way Suzu wasn’t completely alone.
I also liked Kamishin, the sports guy who is really serious about competing. His romance scenes can be a little cringe but as a character he always means well. He works well as the subtle comic relief here and a little break from the main plot. Ruka was also good and didn’t fall into the trap of being the mean popular girl. Instead she is someone who excels but doesn’t have to play dirty or take the low road. I appreciated that since it would have just been too cliché if she was a villain for some reason. As a supporting character she was good.
Then we have Shinobu who was the best from the main characters. He did his best to protect Suzu from behind the scenes and wanted to even be more open about it but she was always running away. While the other characters hesitate on how to advise Suzu, he just comes out with the right answer right away. Ultimately there wasn’t a whole lot he could do at many points of the film with how he was shut out from the context but he never gave up. His detective skills were also on point as he figured some things out right away with no real help.
Ultimately I would say that the romance in this film is definitely more on the weak side though. Focusing more on Suzu’s quest to regain her confidence would be the better play because there just isn’t a whole lot of time for romance. It’s there for some quick moments but doesn’t really enhance the film in any way. At least for me I would have cut it out here and kept the characters as just friends.
Now for the Beast, he was an interesting character and had a very memorable first appearance. His stats are definitely very impressive and when you look at his scenes within the context of the cyber world, it’s easy to see why he was always running off and shaking away Belle’s embraces. Starting a romance in an online game when you aren’t sure who the other person is can be a bit risky and she was a bit clingy from the start. You don’t have many scenes of them just standing around and talking.
In general, I think that’s one thing the film could have used some more of. Belle and Beast actually talking in the cyber world. They barely ever have time to interact beyond quick moments here and there. I think a quick talk could have done well to help set up the scenes in the climax and add some more context that both characters could use. Like memorable lines that would help piece things together later on. Either way the Beast is very solid though and he has very valid reasons for acting the way that he does.
He is one of the better characters here. The so called heroes of the cyberworld look pretty bad though. They’re super unreasonable the whole time and jump to threats right away. I understand going after the Beast because he does act like a villain at times but getting innocent civilians involved like Belle too? That’s where they cross the line and as the film goes on they really just seem to be in it for the clout instead of justice.
At least they gave us good action scenes which is always appreciated. They aren’t long but they’re fun to look at. The film’s humor scenes don’t tend to land as they get dragged out a little too much. I would say a weakness the film has is partially to do with pacing where some scenes go on too long. It tends to have a lingering effect where every moment is just a few beats too long. Sometimes a lot of beats like with Kamishin running out of the train station and being dragged back in by Suzu multiple times. Well, the film definitely goes for a lot of different vibes and so maybe they weren’t sure how long to linger on each moment. One plot I probably would have gotten rid of though was the friction between Suzu and her father. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me based on the origin story. If anything I would think that would cause Suzu and him to get even closer. At the very least, I don’t see how it would make her be unable to even have a conversation with him and avoid everyone. It just felt rather random and didn’t help Suzu’s character any.
As a final note, I definitely liked the mystery angle that was going on for a while. Basically Suzu and Hiroka were trying to figure out who the Beast’s secret identity was. So we get to meet various characters who have some connection to him and you have to decide who the Beast is. I wouldn’t say it would be very easy to guess at all but I do think the film gives enough material where you could have a go at it. I can’t say that I guessed myself though or at least even got the general area of which character it was. At least one of the suspects actually turned out to be a pretty solid guy. I can’t really say the same for the other suspects though.
Overall, Belle is a pretty good movie. There are some things that don’t work so well like the romance, some neighbors talking bad about Suzu’s mom sacrificing her life to save a child, and the general climax doesn’t make any rational sense. The film could have ended very badly if things went as it realistically would. The positives outweigh the negatives though with a generally solid script, good plot, and some fun songs. You can see how the whole thing can be improved without a doubt but it’s ultimately still a movie with a good amount of replay value that you could check out again. I’d recommend giving it a watch.