The Other Side of Animation 227: Josee, The Tiger, and The Fish Review.

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)


Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me by Funimation. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Funimation.

Funimation was always an odd one when it came to foreign animated film distribution. Even when they were the original distributors of Mamoru Hosoda and some of Makoto Shinkai’s films, they were never doing enough to get in the nominee circles, unlike GKids and Shout! Factory. They could have some of the most financially successful and acclaimed films and still not get nominated. Films like Your Name and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train are successful as all get out, but they are still just successful among that scene in the film industry. It’s a shame because after getting acclaim from Your Name, their focus went more toward distributing anime series. They brought over the occasional film, but they either weren’t big hits or were based on a hit franchise. GKids took the crown of “Got an animated film from Japan? We will probably distribute it”. Maybe it’s because they were bought by Sony, but they recently have started picking up films again, and films that aren’t even attached to any major franchises! These include the hour-long Stranger By The Shore, and today’s review, Josee, The Tiger, and the Fish


Directed by Kotaro Kamura, based on the short story by Seiko Tanabe, written by Sayaka Kuwamira and produced by Bones Inc, this animated film was released back in October 2020 in Japan and then competed in June 2021 at the Annecy Film Festival, which got beat out by Flee. Luckily, during the Annecy Film Festival, Funimation picked up the rights and gave it an, unfortunately, limited release, but I’m sure at some point you will all be able to watch it. So, was it worth waiting a year for this film? I mean, you can read the review to find out. 

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Our story revolves around a young man in college named Tsuneo Suzukawa, dubbed by Howard Wang. He is a college student who works part-time jobs to get enough money to try and study overseas in Mexico. One evening, he ends up saving the life of a young woman named Kumiko Yamamura aka Josee, dubbed by Suzie Yeung, who was pushed in her wheelchair down a hill, and Tsuneo ends up catching her. While making his way back to Josee and her grandmother’s place, he decides to take the grandmother’s offer to be Josee’s caretaker. It doesn’t start well with Josee being tedious to work with, but will Tsuneo find out that there is more to his life with taking care of and bonding with Josee? Will Josee find a new spark and love for life? 

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When you look at the film and this premise, you dread that it’s going to be one of those films. You know the ones, right? These are the romance films that deal with an able-bodied lead who falls for someone who is either handicapped or has some deadly illness that milks the misery and sadness of the situation. It turns what should be a dramatic story into one that ends up coming off unintentionally hilarious or more mean-spirited with how melodramatic the overall story develops. It’s either that or the person with the handicap or sickness is there to help elevate the bland, boring, able-bodied protagonist in order to find his spark in life. These films tend to come out either during award season or come out during dryer times of the film year. Sometimes you get one that changes the formula around, but most of the time, they are very paint-by-number experiences. What does this film do differently then? Well, it has a good story, likable characters, emotional and realistic themes, and beautiful animation. Unlike many films in this genre, the real strength of the story does lie in its two main characters. You understand why Josee is so aggressive and snappy at strangers due to how the world around her has treated her, which shines a light on how some people treat others who have disabilities. You also understand Tsuneo’s drive and forgetting everything around him when you get into that one-track mindset. Instead of one character lifting the other, both of our leads help each other out. This is such a great element to the story, because otherwise, by a lesser writer or director, Josee would be the prop that helps support Tsuneo get to his dreams, while Josee either accepts her place in life or in some cases of those terrible films, dies. Josee herself is a realized character who loves art, and you understand her attitude toward everyone when she’s been cooped up in her grandmother’s house. Weird how you make a more compelling story when you have a romance where both characters have agency. It talks a lot about reaching for your dreams and how you can help one another to get to them. The story can be a bit melodramatic at points, as it’s expected from anime, but it never quite took me out of the experience like a lot of romance animated features. While some of the dialogue can be a bit much, with some lines reinforcing a somewhat toxic mindset, much of the dialogue flowed well, and the film could be very funny. 

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What helps elevate the beauty and emotional core of the film is the animation by Bones Inc. For those that are not aware, Bones Inc is the studio behind the acclaimed My Hero Academia series, SK8: The Infinity, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Soul Eater, Space Dandy, Mob Psycho 100, Carole & Tuesday, and the recently released Godzilla: Singular Point and The Case Study of Vanitas. They also have done work on films like Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and Sword of the Stranger. This is a gorgeous movie with drop-dead gorgeous coloring, movements, and a pretty fantastic combination of CGI and 2D elements that don’t stand out. The animators are even able to let the characters have cartoony reactions to certain lines and story beats, which is great since it shows that they are willing to break the character designs to help the characters emote a bit more for jokes, and reactions. They even let the story become fantastical with an incredible sequence where Josee becomes a mermaid with her mermaid half formed from her dress. and it’s such a creative touch that gives the film a lot of charm. The voice cast is also pretty good with an English dub that includes Howard Wang, Suzie Yeung, Dani Chambers, and Zeno Robinson to name a few of the talent behind the characters. They do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life, and I enjoyed their performances. The music is beautiful, atmospheric, and fantastical with a soundtrack composed by Evan Call, who composed the music for the incredible Violet Evergarden series. It reminds me of a lot of Kensuke Ushio’s work from A Silent Voice

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As much as I love and want to rave and cheer about this whole movie, I do have some very minor complaints. As I said previously, it can be a touch melodramatic, and that’s true within the film’s third act where a love triangle angle is thrown in when it wasn’t a thing throughout the entire movie. It felt like it was put there to ignite the third act resolution, and while I get that, it would have been more powerful, at least to me, if Josee made the decision herself and not because another character who was secondary to the plot decided to light the fire under her feet. I know it’s anime, and anime is known for big dramatic speeches and interactions, but they tend to be too much at points. Josee, while believable and likable as a character, does begin a bit rough around the edges. It takes awhile for her to come out of her shell, but the first few minutes are too much at points. 

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Still, even with those criticisms, I loved Josee, The Tiger, and the Fish. It’s in my top five favorite animated films of 2021 so far, and it shows how strong of a year 2021 has become when studios are willing to release movies for people to watch. I mean, I know the pandemic was a thing, but still. Sadly, by the time this review comes up, it will have already gone through its limited release, but if you can find a way to watch it and support the official release of the film, do so! Now then, next time I’ll talk about the new Netflix animated feature from Japan, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Essential 

The Other Side of Animation 214: The Legend of Hei Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

While I have been praising the Chinese animation scene, let’s not forget that the country has had a very fruitful and bountiful scene for decades. It’s not like any of this is new. I know it feels new because of the recent smash hits like Nezha and White Snake, but their history of animation has been around for decades. They have even put out films from back in the day that matched Disney in animation quality. Heck, some of their work even succeeded it with how ambitious their use of watercolor was. Unfortunately, like with most animation history, there were times where the art and products became more propagandistic, and when Disney had their second wind in the 90s, something changed for the worst in Chinese animation. They found themselves crushed between powerhouses like Disney and the increasing popularity of animation from Japan. This led to a lot of lower-quality products and films that were trying to ape off of Disney and other companies. Luckily, with 2015’s The Monkey King: Hero is Back, the animation industry in China decided to bite back against the competition, and it has been putting out films with challenging art styles and distinct stories. This is where The Legend of Hei comes into play.

Directed by Mtjj, this 2D animated film is a prequel to the events that take place before the famous web series. It was shown off at Annecy 2020 Online in the Contrechamp section but lost. Luckily, it got pretty great reviews and was a financial hit in China. Another piece of good news is that the film itself while being at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, will be getting a US release thanks to Shout! Factory in May. So, does this film keep adding to the winning streak Chinese animation has been having? Well, let’s find out! 

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The story follows Hei, a small cat-like spirit that gets forced out of his forest home due to humans. After struggling to find a decent living situation, Hei is picked up by a group of spirits led by an individual named Stormend. After relaxing in his new home, Stormend and his gang are attacked by an individual known as Infinity. After the crew escapes, Hei is left behind with Infinity. Hei then makes a deal between him and Infinity to get off the island and find out where Hei belongs and what exactly is up with Stormend and his crew. 

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I think the coolest aspect about this being yet another film with the morality of humans vs nature commentary is how morally grey this film approaches those themes. I think the stigma of “people hate stories about saving the environment” is that people don’t hate these types of stories, but rather the problem comes down to how black and white they end up being. Yes, humans suck and big corporations are indeed killing our environments, but it always leads to an extremely boring story, which will make the always admirable message of “please for the love of everything, save our forests and oceans and stop killing the wildlife” fall flat due to how predictable the story is. With Hei, the story falls more in the middle. It’s not taking a side because both the humans and spirits with their actions are put under the microscope. It even has an overall hopeful message about the human’s relationship with nature with a few moments of cynical comments. It feels more realistic and will give you vibes with how Princess Mononoke handled its commentary of humans vs nature. Not every story needs to be morally grey or just one-sided, but it makes for a more interesting story when both sides are examined in detail. It all depends on how you execute the story that people won’t mind another story in this range. Luckily, there are strong character dynamics that also carry the themes and commentary. A lot of the film is spent with quiet montages between Hei and Infinity, and they are the two that carry the story. I love that we are seeing stories from China that are full of these strong character-building moments because you will even feel for Stormend and his plight. 

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The animation is gorgeous. This is some of the most fluid 2D animation I have seen from China. The designs are identifiable, they move with a good flow, and that leads to some extremely followable action sequences. I know it’s nothing new to see Chinese animated films have stellar action sequences, but boy howdy are these some of the most intense fights, and it does a great job of making you feel how heavy the strikes are. The music is also very beautiful with some tunes almost coming off like they were composed by Joe Hisaishi. If anyone is curious, there will be a sub and dub version available in May, but I saw the dub version at the New York International Children’s Film Festival. I adored the dub, and while I know there is some debate about how the dub changes the names of the characters, I am not here to talk about that. What I want to do is shout out the cast that includes Aleks Le, Howard Wang, Kaiji Tang, Caleb Yen, and Suzie Yeung. 

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I think my one real problem with this film is how many characters it introduces. I think they show off a few too many and while I get this is a prequel to the web series, they feel like they were placed there more for the fans, and unless you have seen the series, they are going to feel like a flavoring to spice up the world around the viewer. It still doesn’t make it any less awkward when they introduce a ton of new characters, but take it like the side characters you meet in films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. They don’t do much, but they make the world feel more complete. Still, they could have dialed it back at points. 

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Whether you are aware of the web series or if this is your first time jumping into the universe from which this film is set, The Legend of Hei is a fantastic thrill ride. It’s easily one of the best animated films of the year so far, and one of the best animated features that have come out of China. Like I said earlier, Shout! Factory is going to be releasing this film in May on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital, and if you are up for something a bit different, then you should check it out! Well, I need to take a break from festival films, and next time, I will be talking about another Netflix series. I can’t tell you which one, but you will have to find out in the future. 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!




Rating: Go See It!