Belle was directed by Mamoru Hosoda and is based on the French fairy tale and the Disney film of Beauty and the Beast.

English Publisher: GKIDS
Format: Blu-ray/DVD
Release Date: May 17, 2022

The film is set in two locations: the real world and the popular metaverse U. Over the course of the film, we see how the two locations intertwine.

The main character of Belle is a moody teenager named Suzu Naito. Through her mother, she gained a passion as a child for singing and writing songs. However, Suzu lost that passion after her mother passed away while trying to save another child from a flooding river. Suzu has felt resentment toward her mother for “abandoning” her for a stranger’s child, and Suzu panics when she’s expected to sing. She has also become distant from her father.

Suzu is also alienated from most of her classmates, with three exceptions. Shinobu Hisatake is a childhood friend who insists on being Suzu’s protector, and Suzu has developed a crush on him. Her best friend is a genius named Hiroka Betsuyaku. Suzu also gets along with a popular girl named Ruka Watanabe and a sportsman named Shinjiro Chikami.

Hiroka convinces Suzu to sign up for U. Through the metaverse’s AI biometric analysis, she’s given a beautiful avatar with pink hair and freckles. Suzu decides to use “Bell” as her online name, which is the English translation of her actual name. Suzu finds she can sing when she’s Bell in U, and Bell quickly becomes a viral sensation. Hiroka appoints herself as Bell’s manager and producer. In U, users quickly start referring to her as “Belle,” which is “beautiful” in French.

During one of Belle’s concerts, an infamously strong and almost unbeatable user going by “The Dragon” (also known as “The Beast”) crashes the event while being chased by a group of vigilantes calling themselves the Justices. Justin, the leader of the Justices, plans to unveil the true identity of The Dragon by using a specialized program that’s usually reserved for U’s owners.

Suzu becomes fascinated by The Dragon, and she and Hiroka begin following various leads in the real world in an attempt to find out who this user really is. When Suzu goes into U as Bell, she’s determined to find The Dragon’s castle. After she finds it, she begins developing a friendship with him.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the girls at Suzu’s school get jealous after seeing Shinobu grabbing her hand and misunderstanding the situation. Fortunately, she’s able to smooth things over, but this has grabbed Ruka’s attention. Suzu thinks that Ruka is interested in Shinobu, but she decides to put her own feelings aside to help Ruka.

For Suzu, the real world and the world of U collide when she and Hiroka have a breakthrough in finding out who The Dragon is. But they get more than they bargained for when they witness something on the video feed. It’s this event that fuels that climax of the film.

Belle has a well told story that focuses on how people can be another version of themselves online. However, with that said, the film also shows the negative side of this phenomenon, such as the furor over The Dragon and the interest in unveiling his identity. This film also shows how Suzu has a hard time trying to hide the fact that she’s really Bell from most of the people that she’s close and or those who know her in real life. The film also depicts a teenager growing up in the real world dealing with typical teenage issues. By the end of the story, Suzu has grown and evolved as a character.

One of the major aspects of this film is the music. Since Suzu/Bell is a singer, songs were going be an integral aspect of it. The songs for this film were very well done, and I think the music is going to be able to stand the test of time.

Belle is a film that should appeal to viewers who appreciate coming-of-age stories that combine technology with the story beats of a teenager growing up.

When it comes to the Blu-ray in this release, it has 1080p High Definition Widescreen (2.39:1) for the video. The audio includes English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1, and English DVS. The DVD has Anamorphic Widescreen (2.39:1), and includes English Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, and English DVS for the audio.

For the bonus features, some of them appear on both the DVD and the Blu-ray included on this release. But there are bonus features that are only included on the Blu-ray.

Both discs include “A Conversation with Director Mamoru Hosoda.” This feature runs for about half an hour, and it sees Hosoda talking about making the film, some of the issues that arose while making the film, and what inspired him to make the film. Fortunately, this feature doesn’t feel dry and boring, since Hosoda has a way of speaking that keeps you interested in what he has to say.

Both discs also include “The Music of BELLE.” This 15-and-a-half minute feature has interviews with the three composers who worked on the music for the film, and it also shows Hosoda with one of the composers and the Japanese voice actress who sang the songs. I thought this was a well done feature.

“Finding the Voice of BELLE” appears on both discs in this release. This roughly 12 minute feature focuses on Kylie McNeill, the English voice actress for Suzu/Bell. In addition to talking with her, we also see interview footage with Michael Sinterniklaas and Stephanie Sheh, who also worked on the English dub.

Also included on both discs are two scene breakdowns: one for a scene that takes place in a train station and one for a scene that takes place in the ballroom of The Dragon’s castle. For both of these breakdowns, Mamoru Hosoda has the scene on a tablet, and he talks about the details and thoughts that went into the scenes. I enjoyed this bonus feature because it allowed me to get to know what the director was thinking and what influences he had for these scenes.

“Hosoda @ Animation Is Film” is a roughly 18 minute feature of a Q&A session with Mamoru Hosoda after a screening of Belle at the Animation Is Film Festival. For whatever reason, though, there were a couple of times during this feature where a separate interview with Leonard Maltin was cut into the middle of the main Q&A. While Leonard’s questions were interesting, the cutting in of his interview made this feature feel a little jumpy. Honestly, I think it would have been better to do these as two separate features, or if they had to be in the same feature, have them be back-to-back. I enjoyed the Q&As, but I wish the execution of this feature had been a little better.

Both discs include “Hosoda Draws BELLE,” which runs for about nine minutes. We see Hosoda drawing a picture of Bell and giving commentary about the drawing, as well as of the character and the film, as he works on the drawing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy this feature before watching it, but it turned out that it wasn’t a boring watch.

“Trailers” also appears on both discs. This includes seven minutes’ worth of trailers and teasers, both for the English release and the international release. This was a pretty standard presentation for a collection of trailers.

The first Blu-ray exclusive bonus feature is “The Making of BELLE,” which runs for about 50 minutes and is split into several chapters. Each chapter talks about a various aspect of the film, such as the character, the music, etc. To be honest, this kind of felt like a series of online features that were strung together into one segment. I thought this feature was very informative, and it gave me some different ways to look at the film after watching it.

Another Blu-ray exclusive feature is “Design Gallery.” This one is rather extensive, and it includes character designs, the designs for U, backgrounds for the real world parts of the story, and backgrounds for the parts of the story that take place in U.

The final Blu-ray extra is “Kylie McNeill Performs ‘Gales of Song’.” Kylie sits at a piano, which she plays while she sings “Gales of Song,” one of the songs that appears in Belle. I thought this was a nice inclusion for the bonus features. Admittedly, I watched the film with the original Japanese audio, so I never heard Kylie’s performance in the film. However, listening to her performance on this bonus feature, I was blown away by Kylie’s voice. This young lady can sing!

If you’ve seen Belle but haven’t added it to your anime home video library yet, you really should pick up this Blu-ray/DVD combo release from GKIDS. Not only do you get the film, you also get quite a collection of bonus features. It’s obvious that GKIDS went to a lot of effort for this, which helped to make the purchase of this release of Belle worth it.

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