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Alright Internet, you ready for the biggest bombshell of your entire life?
Are you sure?
I don’t think you are.
OK, I guess I’ll go ahead and spill it.
I don’t like anime.
WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT!!!!!
Let me rephrase that.
I have nothing against anime nor the people who watch it. In fact, I’ll go on record that a lot of anime is absolutely amazing. It’s just, I could never really get into it. Whenever I try to watch anime, I always feel like there is something I’m missing. It’s kind of like the feeling I’m not in on a joke, and it really inhibits my enjoyment. Even Miyazaki films that are critically acclaimed and beloved worldwide just confuse the heck out of me.
I don’t know what I’m looking at!
Perhaps it’s just the ignorant idiotic burger eating American in me, and feel free to call me an idiot in the comment section. I am, however, a huge fan of Western Animation. Many hardcore anime fans (I don’t want to label an entire fandom, I’m talking about douche-bag extremists here) label western animation as nothing more than kid’s stuff, which I’m going to have to argue against. Yes, American animation is over-saturated with less then stellar content, but that shouldn’t take away from the really good stuff either; series that break the mold of expectations and cover a wide variety of genres.
…all of the above.
However, one thing I really respect about Anime is the fact that Japan doesn’t fall victim to the Animation Ghetto. Here in America, animation is usually thought of as kid’s entertainment and can’t be enjoyed by adults. Even though their is an older audience to all of the shows mentioned above, their is still a sort of stigma of adults watching cartoons. Even though the above series are really good and can be enjoyed by people of all ages, the fact that they’re animated turn people away before they even give them a chance. Japan, on the other hand, takes full advantage of the animation medium and uses it more to create worlds that would be impossible to depict in live action. As an art form I think Japan has perfected traditional animation, and I sorely wish America had their attitude on the medium.
Despite all of this, however, I still just can’t get into anime.
Maybe it just doesn’t have enough dinosaurs.
OMG I would be all over that!
Thankfully, this movie rectifies that situation.
One thing Japan also does…
…is the way it directs it’s kids movies. In American film, movies that are made specifically for kids have the moral guardians breathing down their necks keeping them from directly referencing or dealing with harder subjects, even if the film warrants these themes. Japan seems to have no such problem, leading to much more complex themes in kids movies. However, this freedom of creative expression can lead to some sudden and unexpected leaps of tone, which can be quite jarring to Western viewers.
Look how cute this is! Probably going to be a lighthearted children’s film.
This is the same lamb on the poster. He has grown up into a monster and ends up dying alone because of his lust for vengeance.
The film I’m looking at today, however, doesn’t shift in tone as greatly as some other films in the media have, but it still deals with stuff animation for kids in America wouldn’t touch with a ten foot poll. And for that reason and many more I absolutely love this movie.
The movie begins with a mother Maiasaura finding a lost egg in the river and bringing it back to her nest. Now before I go any further, I should point out that the dinosaurs in this movie are very stylized, to the point that they sometimes don’t even look like dinosaurs anymore. The Maiasaurs, for example, almost look like dinosaur/human hybrids. They have body proportions similar to a human, and when they move on two legs they walk upright like a human. Do I have a problem with this? No, since I can totally see they were going for a certain artistic style. But for that reason, I won’t really go into scientific accuracy much on this movie.
The dinosaur designs themselves are very simple and minimalist, but the animation is incredibly good. It’s really colorful and fluid, and a lot of the backgrounds are amazingly detailed. Japan has created some of the best animation I have ever seen, and it really pains me that America doesn’t take this craft seriously anymore.
Anyway, the mother Maiasaura protects her eggs from the elements, including a dangerous storm and a flock of hungry Troodon.
The Troodon eat and smash a lot of the eggs, and the mother is left with only two, one of which is the egg she found in the river. That night, she prays to Egg Mountain, a volcano that suspiciously looks like an egg (um, OK) and asks for it to protect her offspring. This becomes horrifically ironic when later events of the film come to play.
The next day, the eggs hatch and the mother is surprised that one of them isn’t a Maiasaur, but a T. rex. The male leader of the herd sees the baby predator, and without hesitation tries to kill it. The mother tries to protect the baby, but the leader says bluntly that when this creature grows up, it will kill their kind. One thing that separates this movie from any American film that deals with similar subjects is that it tackles the predator/prey issue head on. It’s not just glanced over or mentioned once or twice, it’s the focal point of the entire film, and it’s not afraid to show the more grizzly truths of this type of story that no Disney film would ever touch. You’ll see this more as I go on.
Later, we see the Maiasaur herd migrating while the mother stays to take care of her young (it’s greatly implied that she had been exiled from the group for raising a predator). Her two sons are now a bit older, with the T. rex named Heart and his brother named Light. They play and fight like any other sibling duo would. Light especially picks on his brother’s eating habits. Heart has sustained himself on berries alone, and can’t bring himself to eat leaves and nuts. Heart also tends to chase little creatures, and finds himself sucking on the tail of a lizard. Despite these odd habits, neither Heart nor his brother completely realize that Heart is actually a carnivore. Still, Heart begins having strange dreams and starts to realize that he is somehow different, he just can’t place how at the moment.
The next day Heart and Light go out into the forest to look for food. I would like to take this time to note the really interesting contrasting art style this movie has. While the characters themselves are drawn with simple geometric shapes and cartoony proportions, the rest of the world is incredibly detailed. The forest itself is lush and vibrant, and the other creatures are drawn much more realistically. The birds, the insects, the mammals, they all look more natural than the cartoonish main characters. You don’t really see this kind of style in Western Animation. In America the entire world in an animated work usually has a pretty consistent look and any change in that style would usually be pretty jarring. However, in this movie the contrasting styles seem to work incredibly well. I’m not sure if this is an animation trope unique to this movie or common in a lot of anime but whatever the case is I really like it in this picture.
Anyway, as the two brothers wander around the forest Heart get’s distracted by a mammal and starts chasing it. Light follows, and the two then accidentally fall down a ravine and into a misty swamp. There they hear an ominous voice, singing about a ‘Big Jaw’ (what they call Tyrannosaurs in this world, yes they do resort to Land Before Time dinosaur names in this movie) and how it steals away crying children. It turns out that the voice actually belongs to a….
…something (I couldn’t find a picture of it online, but it looks like some sort of reptilian sloth, perhaps a stylized therizinosaur? At times I can’t tell if this movie is supposed to take place in a cartoon version of the Mesozoic or in it’s own unique fantasy setting) singing her baby a lullaby (and if you think a song about a predator eating crying babies is too morbid a subject for a lullaby, I invite you to analyze the lyrics of ‘Rock a bye Baby’). The mother sloth thing is scared by Heart’s presence, and Light discovers that Heart matches the description of the ‘Big Jaw’ from the song. How does Heart react?
Looks like Light…..broke his Heart.
Sorry to subject you to that terrible, terrible joke.
Heart begins to realize he’s different, but his mother tries to comfort him. You can tell that she is lying to herself when she is doing so, and realizes that Heart will grow up to be very different and she can’t always be there for him but can’t bring it upon herself to let him go. It’s really heartbreaking.
After a short but beautifully animated food chain sequence (a small insect surrounded by mold spores in amazing detail get’s eaten by a spider, which then get’s captured by a frog, which then get’s eaten by a mammal, which is then carried off by a bird), Heart goes off on his own to figure out what it is that he actually eats. He stumbles into a clearing, and sees a pack of other Big Jaws trying to take down a Triceratops (called a ‘three horn’, as per usual).
The battle is surprisingly brutal, especially for the tone of the film. The T. rex’s and the Triceratops both fight very aggressively, and the Triceratops even manages to kill one of the pack members (while losing a horn in the process). The battle ends with a huge T. Rex named Baku, the leader of all the Big Jaws, taking down the poor creature in one bite.
Baku, at first, seems to be a pretty respectable and level headed leader. He let’s the rest of the pack eat the kill, and this is where Heart discovers what his kind eats. The pack members tear into the Triceratops, ripping out chunks of flesh (granted there’s no blood and the flesh looks more like clumps of bubblegum than anything, but still!). A scene like this may feel out of place to an American audience member, used to the way Western Animation tends to tip toe around these kind of images. But like I said, this movie tackles the predator/prey problem that a lot of these movies so poorly handle head on, and that means showing the predators kill other creatures. Nobody would dare do this in America. Even if they were to show a predator character hunting, the prey items being hunted would most likely not be anthropomorphisized and instead act like normal animals (even if all the other animals in the movie talk and show emotion). But there is a problem with that kind of portrayal. Let’s look at The Lion King for example. The main characters are lions, which are obviously predators. But we never see them eat. They talk about their diet and every once and a while we see hunting, but you would never see them actually eating a zebra or wildebeest. While you can argue that killing wouldn’t really enhance the plot in any way for The Lion King, my point still stands that if this movie was made in America with the same plotline, I guarantee you there wouldn’t be any dinosaurs ripping into each other’s flesh.
Heart is mortified by what the other Big Jaws are doing, and tries to run away. One of the pack members, named Gonza, approaches Heart and remarks that he smells like a plant eater. Baku then intervenes, and surprisingly shows a lot of concern for Heart. He asks if he’s hungry, if he’s lost and where his parents are. Heart says he has a mother, and Baku politely tells him to return to her. My first impression of Baku was very mixed, I must say. He’s certainly imposing, and looks like the kind of guy that commands a lot of respect, but he doesn’t raise his voice or show any real aggressive tendencies (you know, besides killing a Triceratops with one bite).
Heart tries to run back home, still traumatized by what he just saw. After meeting up again with his Light, he realizes that Gonza had followed him. Gonza puts two and two together and realizes that Heart and Light consider each other family. He taunts them for a bit, saying that Heart is a meat eater and his role is to kill others like Light. Heart doesn’t take this sitting down, and after being pushed to his limit, Heart retaliates and bites off Gonza’s tail.
Now, while watching this I thought for a second that perhaps they were going to pull the ‘dinosaur tails grow back just like lizard tails’ trope that I hate so much. There was a bit of foreshadowing for that, especially with Heart chewing on the lizard tail earlier in the movie.
But it becomes abundantly clear later in the film that no, dinosaur tails don’t grow back. Heart literally tore off another creature’s appendage.
And then swallows it.
Heart then comes to a horrible conclusion.
Yeah, I hear yah.
After this, Heart runs away from home. After a time cut, we see Heart as a grown adult, and actually comfortable in his role as a predator. He even sings that Big Jaw lullaby from earlier as his own personal theme song while hunting a herd of sauropods. Speaking of which, he has grown into a VERY good hunter.
Yes, because that is how tyrannosaurs hunt.
While trying to fight Heart off, the sauropods begin collapsing from exhaustion (at first I thought this was a reference to the idea that sauropods couldn’t hold their heads up for too long or else they may loose blood circulation to the brain, but I’m not really sure) and is able to feed off of one of them. However, he is one Gonza’s pack’s territory, and is ran off by Gonza himself (still tailless).
Sometime later, Heart finds and egg that hatches into a baby Ankylosaurus. Heart prepares to eat it, calling it Umasou (the Japanese word for ‘delicious’). However, the little ankylosaur latches on to Heart and thinks he’s his dad, and that his dad named him Umasou. Now, let’s talk about Umasou for a little bit.
Oh Japan, must you make everything adorable?
Umasou is one of the cutest, sweetest, most endearing child characters I’ve ever seen. But one of the great things about it is that he never gets annoying to me. Child characters often tend to overstay their welcome, and Umasou does do several things in the movie that are meant to be annoying, but it never goes to far. He remains likable and believable as an actual kid. I think a lot of it has to do with the voice actor, who sounds very genuine and is actually a very good actor.
Umasou instantly latches on to Heart, and of course this puts Heart in a very awkward situation. He didn’t set out to be a dad, heck he came here for an easy meal, but he can’t bring himself to abandon this kid. So he brings him back to his home.
That night, Heart has a nightmare of him as a kid looking for his mother. He walks around a black voice with the voice of his mother calling out to him. He can’t find where the voice is coming from, but then realizes that it was coming from inside him, for he has eaten his family-wait, WHAT?!!
Heart awakens from this horrifying dream with reasonable dread. He then sees Umasou next to him, and begins to contemplate eating while he’s asleep. As Heart begins to lick him, this happens.
Heart the appoints himself as Umasou’s caretaker, saying to himself that it will be better to eat him when he gets bigger (like that is going to happen). In the mean time, he still has to hunt. And because he doesn’t want Umasou to see him killing other animals, he must leave him behind. However, Umasou is just a tad bit, clingy.
Yep, we’ve all been there.
While Heart is out hunting, Umasou is attacked by a…..
What is that supposed to be?
Is that a demon? Did that thing crawl out of the depths of hell and come to terrorize cartoon dinosaurs?
Oh, according to the creators, that thing is supposed to be a Chilantaisaurus.
Hmm, don’t see much of a resemblance.
Then again, this isn’t that kind of movie.
Anyway, the demon dinosaur thing tries to eat Umasou, but Heart comes back just in time and kicks the creature halfway across the world. Heart is frustrated that Umasou is so ignorant of the dangers around him, which doesn’t help when he Umasou runs off on his own again. Heart goes on a rampage trying to find Umasou, who was simply out picking berries.
Umasou returns, and Heart is at first furious at him, but then realizes that he brought back the same berries he used to eat as a kid and all he wanted was to eat with his father. They reconcile and Umasou mentions he met an old tyrannosaur while hunting for berries. They meet the old dinosaur, who is no longer able to move and can’t chew tough food. He puts together that Heart is taking care of Umasou, and warns him to make sure that Baku, the leader Big Jaw from before doesn’t see this. He then tells a story of how Baku became ruler of the plains fighting off a pack of ‘gluttonous long necks from the south’.
I can assure you that isn’t me.
The conversation boils down to the fact that Baku commands respect, and that it’s going to be difficult for a meat eater like Heart to raise a plant eater like Umasou.
After listening to the old man’s advice, Heart thinks it’s time Umasou learns how to protect himself, so he begins training Umasou in the art of dinosaur kung fu!
We get this great training montage that would make Rocky blush, and it’s all set to the beat of a corny Japanese pop song called ‘Jump Kick, Tail Smash’ (I take it Japanese pop songs with English randomly put in is a common thing?). As silly as the song is, it actually is pretty good, and Umasou ends up learning a lot (which makes sense, Ankylosaurus was probably a dinosaur you wouldn’t want to mess with).
Umasou: The Teenage Years.
The whole sequence also shows just how close Heart and Umasou are getting. However, Heart still worries about the inherit dangers of raising him, worrying what would happen if Umasou would ever find out about Heart’s true nature. We hear Heart’s internal monologue after he put’s Umasou to bed, as he contemplates the fact that he isn’t really Umasou’s father, right before he brutally kills a Protoceratops for food.
The next day (I think, the movie doesn’t really make the time frame all that clear) Heart tells Umasou that he is strong enough to defend himself now, and that he has to live on his own for now on. What is Umasou’s response?
Oh no, oh no don’t do this to me movie.
Umasou begs to stay, and Heart makes a ‘deal’ that if he can beat him in a race, than they can stay together. Umasou begins running with all his might, as you see Heart catching up to him by simply plodding along, without a hint of effort. This scares Umasou, who tries with all his power to keep ahead, and it is simply one of the most heart wrenching scenes I have ever witnessed.
Umasou continues running, without looking behind. Heart then takes this opportunity to run the opposite direction, putting as much distance between each other as possible. Umasou keeps on going forward until he runs into Gonza and his pack, who begin to toy with Umasou and try to kill him. Heart hears Umasou’s cries for help, and returns to fight off Gonza and his pack. But he doesn’t just fight them off, he kicks their butt’s with dinosaur ninja skills!
By the way, this entire fight scene is set to that Big Jaw lullaby from earlier, which is either awesome or weird depending on your tastes. Personally, I think it added an unique atmosphere to the entire scene.
This fighting, however, catches the attention of Baku, who then decides to banish Heart from this territory and promises to personally fight him if Heart ever comes back. Heart accepts the punishment, and leaves with Umasou (I should note that Umasou was in Heart’s mouth during the entire fight!).
After Umasou awakens from a bought of unconsciousness, he asks if he get’s to stay because Heart never caught up with him in the race.
Heart happily agrees, and finally fully accepts himself as Umasou’s father in another scene that is absolutely tear inducing.
Heart carries Umasou in his mouth, and the two head off to find a new home. Umasou, now curled up inside Heart’s mouth, remarks that ‘inside Daddy’s tummy is warm’-wait, what?
I’m sorry, is it just me, or does that line come off as a bit fetishy? Between this and that disturbing as hell dream sequence from earlier I’m starting to wonder.
Nah, I’m probably just over-thinking it. At least the scene does give us some genuinely heartwarming imagery.
Some time passes, and we see Heart talking with an Elasmosaurus named Pero Pero (which means ‘lick, lick’ in Japanese, due to the character’s tendency to do just that).
Japan, why must you continue to make everything so dang cute?
Pero Pero is apparently one of Heart’s close friends (or maybe girlfriend, the movie doesn’t really make it all that clear). She kind of just leaves the narrative as quickly as she comes in. Upon some research I have found she is actually a character from the books that inspired this movie, which I guess explains her somewhat shoehorned inclusion. At first, I thought the scene with her kind of stopped the movie’s progression and would have been better off omitted, but upon my second viewing I found myself actually enjoying her character. She’s cute and a bit eccentric, and I just find the audacity of making a plesiosaur this type of character amusing.
Anyway, we see Heart and Pero Pero sharing a large fish, and Pero recounts the time she and Heart first met. They became friends after she saved him from drowning in the ocean, but at first he hid his true personality. It wasn’t until Heart ran into a ‘Big Jaw of the sea’ (a mosasaur, with a Charles Knightian back crest) and killed it when Pero discovered Heart was a serious carnivore. Despite this, Pero still didn’t fear Heart, because she knew what he was on the inside. This leads to Heart wondering what his mother would think of what he has become, fearing that she would be scared of him now. Pero convinces Heart to go see his family again, before Egg Mountain breaks.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Egg Mountain is actually a volcano and is starting to erupt.
Wait, Egg Mountain is basically the dinosaur’s deity, as Heart’s mother was shown praying to it at the beginning of the movie for protection. But now, their god whom they look towards for protection is now out to kill them?
Sigh, I use memes because I can’t think up of good jokes myself, it’s kind of sad really.
Anyway, Heart returns to his own territory, only to run into his old nemesis Gonza. Gonza threatens that the only way for Heart to pass is to kill him, which Heart does in a single swipe. Gonza falls down, but before he completely slips away, he tells Umasou that Heart isn’t his real father. Umasou then reveals that he knew all along, but doesn’t care. As predictable as that reveal may have been, it was still very well done and really reinforces the relationship between Heart and Umasou.
Heart runs through the forest that he once lived in, which has now caught fire from the erupting volcano. He eventually finds his old herd, and even runs into his brother Light all grown up. However, they don’t know where his mother is, and the herd is too scared to move away from their old territory. Frustrated, Heart once again goes off on his own. After a bit of searching, he finally finds her at their old nest in the woods, and they lovingly embrace each other.
Why am I crying? It’s a blue Godzilla hugging a pink humanoid duck bill. WHY IS IT SO SAD!?
Heart discovers that his mother is now taking care of a new litter of Maiasaurs, and that he is now an older brother. At first they seem scared of him, but they later accept him as their own. They then try to make their way out of the forest, only for Heart’s mother to slip down a ravine. Before she can fall, however, Light returns to give a helping hand.
As they continue to walk through the forest, Light asks the inevitable question as to whether Heart eats meat or not. Heart replies that he does, because if he doesn’t he will die. And that is one of the reasons I really love this movie, and it can really all be summed up in that one answer. Heart isn’t treated like the bad guy for still eating meat, nor is it treated as something he should be ashamed of. It’s simply a fact of life; if he doesn’t eat meat he is going to die. And the movie isn’t afraid to show him hunt and eat other creatures. In an American movie they probably wouldn’t do that not only because of the violence but also because they might fear such an honest portrayal of this creature’s lifestyle might make the character seem villainous. But characters don’t have to be so black and white. Heart is character with a lot of grey’s in his morality, he’s a carnivore that must kill to survive but has herbivores as friends and family. He’s still a good guy despite his eating habits, and he also has the discernment to choose what he does and doesn’t eat.
Before Heart and his family can leave the range of the volcano, Baku suddenly appears. He has found out that Heart had killed Gonza, and he planned to make good on his promise to fight Heart if he were to ever return to this territory. Heart, wanting to protect his family, confronts Baku in a battle that is too dang awesome for it’s own good.
It’s so ridiculous, yet so awesome!
Heart puts up a valiant effort, but in the end is defeated by Baku. Heart’s mother then runs over to her son’s unconscious body, which surprises Baku. He can’t comprehend why a plant eater would ever care so much for a meat eater. He questions her raising him, asking what she would have done when the day came that he had to eat meat to survive. She responds that she would have let him eat her. Baku still can’t comprehend that logic, but in the end realizes that if it weren’t for the Maiasaurs Heart wouldn’t have survived. Baku decides to let them go, and it is at this moment when both Heart’s mother and the audience realize that Baku isn’t just some random T. rex, but actually Heart’s father.
After some time has passed, Heart says his goodbyes to his family and the Maiasaur herd. His mother suggests that he can still stay with them, but Heart says that it is best he stays with his own kind. Now, I know some people may take this message the wrong way and see it as the film trying to justify racial division and it would have been better if Heart stayed with his family, but I totally see why the film went this route. It’s not like The Land Before Time where there was racism between species that were all herbivores. Heart is a carnivorous T. rex, not a maiasaur with a different skin color. For this particular situation, it makes the most sense for the two to go their separate ways. Still, Heart says that he is grateful that his mother raised him, and he shares one last hug with his family before he and Umasou run off into the distance.
And that was I Am Umasou. So, what do I think of it?
Upon a second viewing, some parts of the film felt a bit clunky and out of place, and some of the characters may not be especially memorable or interesting, but in the end I absolutely adore this film. Heart in my opinion is a great and dynamic character, and Umasou is a great example of a child character being both cute and energetic without being grating or annoying. The dinosaurs may not be especially accurate, but the designs have a unique charm to them, almost like a child’s drawing, and the contrast beautifully with the richly animated and detailed surroundings. But the main reason I love this film is because it tackles the carnivore/herbivore friendship/adopted family plot I’ve seen so many times in children media in a way that is both mature and satisfying, and I can honestly say this film is the best representation of that particular story-line. At first glance this movie may just look like the Japanese Land Before Time, but it really stands out as it’s own work and shows that you can still make really good kids films about dinosaurs without having to rip off previous works. To sum it all up, i highly recommend this movie.
So, does this mean I will begin watching more anime.
Ehh, probably not.
I greatly respect Japanese animation as a beautiful art form, but in the end it it just isn’t really for me. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I hate anime or disrespect it’s fans, in fact the opposite is true. It’s really just a matter of personal tastes. On that note, if you’re into anime please don’t spam the comment section with reason’s why I should watch anime or direct me to your favorite anime show because I most likely won’t respond. I don’t have to like what you like and you don’t have to like what I like, because we all have personal tastes.
Now excuse me, I’m off to binge watch My Little Pony.
Join me next time as I add a new installment to my surprisingly popular fan fiction Isla Sorna: Field Journal, and after that a Trope-osaurus dealing with the ever present battle of T. Rex vs. Triceratops.
See you then.