These days, Studio BONES is perhaps best known for their work on My Hero Academia or Bungo Stray Dogs, as well as their older hits like Fullmetal Alchemist. Despite how beloved they are, it’s not often we see any original films come out of BONES since their focus is usually on their franchises. Today I’m here to take a look at Josee, the Tiger and the Fish which is the first non-franchise film to come out of the studio since the Towa no Quon series in 2011.
The story follows university student Tsuneo, who is majoring in biology and dreams of studying abroad somewhere. One day he saves a girl whose wheelchair has gone out of control, rolling down a slope. This meeting goes on to change his life in ways no one could have expected.
The girl is known as Kumiko, although she introduces herself to Tsuneo as Josee (named after a character in a book she loves). Josee lives with her grandmother and is wheelchair-bound as she’s unable to walk. Although Josee doesn’t get on with Tsuneo at first, her grandmother asks the boy if he wouldn’t mind working for her to help with Josee to which our protagonist readily agrees – after all, studying abroad is sure to be expensive.
Josee is usually housebound and after the accident that caused her to crash into Tsuneo, her grandmother refuses to take her on any more evening walks. However, Josee dreams of seeing the ocean and if no one is willing to take her, perhaps she’ll just need to find her way there on her own!
Tsuneo catches her on an escape to see the ocean and goes along with her wishes, which ultimately leads to the two going on other trips together when Josee’s grandmother is taking her afternoon nap. These bring them closer together as friends, as well as serving to teach Josee all about the world she’s been unable to experience before now.
What I like about this film is that both Tsuneo and Josee have strong personalities that bounce off one another well. At the start of the film, they really don’t get along and they bicker like cat and dog, but that ends up serving as a strong foundation for their relationship going forward. There are also plenty of supporting cast around the two as well, although the development they receive varies and in some cases isn’t quite enough to leave the viewer satisfied.
For my part, I wasn’t too bothered by the side characters being a little underdeveloped, since I was highly invested in Tsuneo and Josee’s story. Their lives change so much from meeting one another and it’s great fun watching that develop over the hour-and-a-half runtime. Despite the fact the characters are already adults, this story definitely has many of the hallmarks of a coming-of-age story. Especially when we see where the two are at the end of the story, compared to the beginning.
The film is always entertaining, emotional and engrossing. We laugh and cry alongside these characters, no matter how developed or not they may be. That’s the mark of great storytelling, the kind we often see from this studio. Tsuneo and Josee are both characters that are easy for us to get invested in and root for. They simply have undeniable charm.
The fact Josee is disabled also adds a unique angle to the whole story. We don’t normally see anime portray characters who are wheelchair-bound or disabled in some other way portrayed particularly well, but Josee does a good job of dodging most of the issues we’d normally see. It never feels as though Josee has no one but Tsuneo to rely on; she’s not dependant on him and chases her dreams. Yes, he might have been the catalyst for her starting to come out of her shell and seeing the world, but in the grand scheme of things she’s fine without him and I appreciate that. What might put some viewers off is the fact that Josee and Tsuneo quickly fall in love with one another and maybe the story would have been better off without that, but I think this was handled well and I found myself cheering for them.
As previously mentioned, Josee, The Tiger and the Fish has been handled by Studio BONES. The story is adapted from a short story by Seiko Tanabe, but as far as I can tell, quite a lot has been changed for this adaptation. As you’d expect from a BONES production, the film is colourful and full of life. The action takes place over the space of 8-10 months roughly and in that time we see the seasons change drastically, which gives the animators a chance to shine with some beautiful scenery. The comedy will also be very familiar to fans of the studio, with the witty comebacks and the teasing that the cast engage in. All that’s missing is the team’s trademark chibi versions of the characters, but I think it makes sense to have held off on that for this story.
The music has been handled by Evan Call (Violet Evergarden, Appare-Ranman!) and although the soundtrack didn’t play with my emotions as much as the Violet Evergarden one did, the compositions are still fantastic. Call makes use of a full orchestra’s worth of sound and always enhances the on-screen emotions. What we’re left with is a soundtrack that works well within the context of the film, but also provides a great listen on its own afterwards.
Where voice actors are concerned, I watched the film with its Japanese audio and both of the leads fit their roles well. Tsuneo is played by Taishi Nakagawa and Josee is played by Kaya Kiyohara. Neither of the actors appears to have done anime before, instead their roles have been largely in live-action dramas and films. That said, they both play the characters well with a wide range of emotions, which is especially true in the case of Josee. (There is also an English dub on offer for certain screenings, but having not sampled this, I can’t confirm whether it’s a good dub or not.)
Overall Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is a fun and emotional journey for us and Tsuneo and Josee herself. Not only is it great to see Studio BONES putting out a film, but it’s especially rewarding when the result is so good. If you’re looking for a new coming-of-age story, then look no further and please give this one your time.
Details of the cinemas showing Josee, the Tiger and the Fish from August 11th can be found here.