HomeAnimeANIME NYC 2021 | "BELLE" Review

ANIME NYC 2021 | "BELLE" Review

ANIME NYC 2021 | "BELLE" Review

For years, Mamoru Hosoda has been seen as the king of animation. His work on films like Summer Wars, Wolf Children, and Mirai have not only resulted in some beautiful storytelling, but also the most real human emotion brought to the big screen both in and out of the hand-drawn realm. With his latest film BELLE, Hosoda tells all of his competition that there is no way that he’s abdicating his throne anytime soon. Needless to say, that 14-minute standing ovation at Cannes 2021 should’ve been longer!

BELLE follows a student named Suzu (Kaho Nakamura), who suffers from anxiety ever since her mother died. No longer able to sing like she used to, Suzu finds comfort online in the virtual world U. There, she takes on the avatar known as Belle, and becomes an instant sensation thanks to her tech-savvy friend Hiroka (Lilas Ikuta). However, during a performance, a beastly avatar known as The Dragon (Takeru Satoh) crashes the show, leaving Belle to wonder who the mysterious fighter is.


With all of U in search of The Dragon, Belle discovers their hideaway in a rundown castle. There Belle finds a plethora of avatars protecting The Dragon. It becomes clear that The Dragon is dealing with something in the real world, as their body and clothing becomes covered in scars. Suzu and Hiroka take it upon themselves to find out who The Dragon is, and see what kind of real-life trouble they might be having.

There are many underlying themes that are at play in BELLE, beginning with the struggles of anxiety. Suzu is presented as a shy and nervous girl, with her crying and throwing up every time she tries to sing in-person. It’s when she’s in the virtual world where she finds her true voice, as well as the support of billions of viewers. This newfound love gives Suzu the confidence to slowly come out of her shell in real life, to the point where she’s now able to help other people in her class in the best way possible.


These moments with her classmates bring out the biggest laughs in BELLE, as it captures the nervousness of students in love in the funniest — and realest — ways. No scene will make anyone roll around harder than watching Suzu referee between the blossoming lovebirds Ruka (Tina Tamashiro) and Kamishin (Shota Sometani). How Suzu helps the kayaker find the words to express to Ruka is the most awkward, relatable, and well-scripted moment of the whole movie. It captures embarrassing love confessions with both a cartoonish sensibility and a humanistic spirit, in ways that’ll make viewers chuckle and squirm in their seats.

But BELLE isn’t at its strongest when it’s funny; it’s when it presents the viewers its heart. From Belle comforting The Dragon with her voice and the flashbacks with Suzu and her mother (Sumi Shimamoto) to the race against time to find the location of The Dragon’s user, the film delivers every heartache and comforting warmth with pure gentleness. There’s a beauty to these characters found within their personalities, as they deal with one hard-hitting situation after another. It could be finding the strength to sing in public, or a simple text conversation between Suzu and her father (Koji Yakusho); all of it is showcased with more feeling and emotion than anything the likes of Pixar or Studio Ghibli have ever been able to do.


This is, of course, Hosoda’s specialty, and he gets that emotion and feeling from his voice actors. Nakamura demonstrates the struggles of marching through life with anxiety as Suzu, perfectly bringing that feeling of lacking confidence to the mic. As her oldest friend Shinobu, Ryo Narita demonstrates the importance of trying to get friends to confess when things are going tough. Stealing the spotlight is Ikuta’s Hiroka, who plays the overconfident geek with the right amount of fun and gusto!

But it’s Studio Chizu’s visuals that makes BELLE the true visual spectacle of the year. With aid from Cartoon Saloon (The Secret of Kells, Wolfwalkers) and Disney’s Jin Kim (Frozen), the world of U is brought to life with far greater detail and beauty than when Hosoda brought OZ to life in Summer Wars. The wonders of imagination are brought to their limits with the avatar designs and gorgeous scenery. In the real world, that beauty continues with the countryside scenery and blue skies that showcases why nothing on a computer screen can compete with the purity of true nature.


The moment where all of these moments collide beautifully is during a performance Suzu puts on in the third act. Suzu’s singing, the animation, and the overall feeling of togetherness showcased in U demonstrates what happens when the Internet is used for the greater good. It’s a moment that will leave goosebumps all over your body for hours after watching, as it encapsulates a level of emotion that can’t be conveyed with mere words. And as the final note from the song rings through the film, one can easily imagine Hosoda extending his arm, and letting his microphone drop with a mighty thud!

BELLE is a triumph! Its story, characters, music, and animation is unlike anything that’s been brought to the big screen. A masterpiece on every single level, BELLE now sets the standard on what one can accomplish in cinema both on a visual and emotional level. This may very well be the greatest piece of animation ever brought to life, a compliment that still undersells the kind of experience viewers will get when they witness the magic BELLE brings to the screen!


BELLE arrives in US theaters January 14th.

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The J-POP king of America, Evan has been bringing the hottest sounds of the Land of the Rising Sun to the English-speaking public since his college radio days. He's also an expert in the gaming, anime, & manga realms, never afraid to get critical when the times call for it. Born & bred in Boston, he achieved his biggest dream yet by making the big move to Tokyo, Japan in Summer 2023! For personal inquiries, contact Evan at evan@b3crew.com. For press/band inquiries, write to us at thebastards@bostonbastardbrigade.com. (Drawing by AFLM of Wicked Anime)