Want to know what Beauty and the Beast (the 1991 Disney film, that is) would’ve been like as an anime? But if it was crossed over with Ready Player One? Well, then take a gander at Mamoru Hosoda‘s latest anime masterpiece: Belle. Coming soon to a theater near you.

"Belle" theatrical poster.
When Beauty and the Beast meets Ready Player One.

Belle is the 6th and latest original anime film by acclaimed director Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Wolf Children, Mirai), who also wrote for the film. Nozomu Takahashi, Yuichiro Saito, Toshimi Tanio, and Genki Kawamura acted as producers; while Taisei Iwasaki, Ludvig Forssell, Yuta Bandoh, and Miho Sakai handled the music. Studio Chizu (co-founded by Mamoru Hosoda and Yuichiro Saito) is the animation studio behind this anime film. Finally, GKIDS licensed this anime film for North American release.

Belle features the voices of Kaho Nakamura as main character Suzu/Belle, Takeru Satoh as the Beast, Kōji Hashimoto as Suzu’s father, Lilas Ikuta (of YOASOBI) as Suzu’s BFF “Hiro-chan“, Ryo Narita as Suzu’s childhood friend “Shinobu-kun“, Shōta Sometani as Shinobu’s weird loner friend “Kamishin”, and Tina Tamashiro as the school’s popular girl “Ruka-chan“. The English dub features Kylie McNeill, Paul Castro Jr., Ben Lepley, Jessica DiCicco, Manny Jacinto, Brandon Engman, and Hunter Schafer in the same roles respectively.

Belle will get a nationwide theatrical release on January 14, 2022. However, select IMAX theaters will show it on January 12, 2022, as part of a preview screening. You can check out which theaters near you are showing this film on Belle‘s official website. Note that both the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub will be available, so you have plenty of options there.

Belle: Plot Teaser

AKA: listening to Kaho Nakamura’s amazing voice steal your heart away for 2 hours.

Normally, this is where I give you a detailed summary of the plot of Belle over the course of several paragraphs. However, this is the spoiler-free version of this review. Thus, you’ll have to be content with the official synopsis from GKIDS. Read on below:

“From the celebrated Academy Award®-nominated director Mamoru Hosoda and Studio Chizu, creators of MiraiWolf ChildrenSummer Wars, and more, comes a fantastical, heartfelt story of growing up in the age of social media.

Suzu is a shy, everyday high school student living in a rural village. For years, she has only been a shadow of herself. But when she enters “U”, a massive virtual world, she escapes into her online persona as Belle, a gorgeous and globally-beloved singer. One day, her concert is interrupted by a monstrous creature chased by vigilantes. As their hunt escalates, Suzu embarks on an emotional and epic quest to uncover the identity of this mysterious “beast” and to discover her true self in a world where you can be anyone.”

But Kylie McNeille’s singing is just as incredible.

Belle: The Good (Spoiler-Free)

"Belle" still scene showing a whole bunch of "I miss you, Belle" signs.
This is what happens when you get really popular.

Belle is basically an anime version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast animated film. There are quite a few beautiful songs in the anime film of very high production quality and catchiness, complemented by Kaho Nakamura’s (and Kylie McNeill’s) fantastic singing voice. It’s like watching one of those Disney classic animated films, but well, as an anime. Even Belle’s design harkens back to the classical Disney princess look, which makes sense since Studio Chizu enlisted the help of veteran Disney animator and character designer Jin Kim and Michael Camacho when designing her character. Looking at it from a certain point of view, it practically is a Disney film.

The other great thing about Belle is in the titular main character. Suzu herself is a lovable main character, and you tend to end up sympathizing with her very quickly due to her dark and troubled past. She’s not just a Woobie character either. Over the course of the anime film, Suzu grows from this shy and meek little girl to a confident young woman willing to risk her life for those she loves. There’s just something very, very satisfying about seeing that kind of a character, and it’s a big part of why Suzu makes the film great.

The animation quality is very high to boot, and Belle really likes to experiment with that animation. The scenes of real-life are all in the traditional hand-drawn animation style common to anime. However, the moment Suzu steps into U, the animation completely changes to CGI. It’s not bad CGI either. It’s actually done very well and used very well to boot. The CGI complements the digital nature of this alternate internet. Animation studios: pay attention to this film. This is how you make good use of CGI.

Belle: The Bad (Spoiler-Free)

"Belle" still scene featuring the Beast speaking with Belle.
Just like the Disney version, the Beast isn’t nearly as bad as he looks.

Again, no spoilers, but I feel like the ending of Belle isn’t quite perfect. It’s impossible to talk about the ending itself without spoiling things, but while I feel that the ending is good, it just isn’t perfect yet. I feel like there should’ve been an epilogue scene to show what happened to everyone after the film. Alas though, we don’t get that. You’ll just have to be content with what we got.

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