Suzu, a teenage girl living in a rural area of Kochi, has been distant from the outside world since her mother passed away many years ago. However, after a friend’s suggestion, she decides to join a large virtual world on the internet under the name Belle. As she navigates this new online world, Suzu discovers her hidden talent for singing and quickly becomes famous worldwide. This catches the attention of a mysterious figure known as the Dragon. Who is this enigmatic and solitary individual, and what will happen when they finally cross paths? (Yen Press)
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Following the release of the feature film with the same name, “Belle” is a retelling of “Beauty and The Beast” set in the near future where virtual reality serves as the backdrop for the love story. Since the book came after the movie, it is difficult to read the novel without considering the anime adaptation. While generally well-received, “Belle” is considered the weakest work from Hosoda and Studio Chizu. Some may find the modernization of “Beauty and The Beast” to be lacking depth, as the virtual world is not fully utilized and the romance may seem forced (a sentiment I share). However, novel adaptations have the potential to add layers to the story and it is important to approach the material with an open mind.
Does “Belle” make a bigger impact in the book compared to the movie? The answer is both yes and no, as it gains and loses ground. One area where “Belle” excels is in providing additional depth to Suzu’s thoughts as she grapples with her complex emotions and growing feelings for the “dragon.” As a result, the most captivating chapters occur outside of the virtual world, where Suzu can confront her fears and discuss her anxieties. For fans of the anime feature, this makes the book a valuable companion that fills in certain gaps from the film.
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However, the book falls short in capturing the captivating visuals that were brought to life in the film. This is not necessarily due to Hosoda’s writing abilities, as his depictions of the virtual world are still beautifully articulated and even poetic at times. However, the vast scale of the alternate reality cannot be fully conveyed in a short 206-page novel. The length of the book also poses an issue, as the romance between Belle and ‘the dragon’ feels rushed and relies heavily on the reader’s acceptance of their relationship based on principles and morals alone. While the book offers insight into Suzu’s thoughts, it fails to add substance to the central romance that is meant to drive the story forward.
The physical version lacks any additional features such as an afterword, introduction, or bonus content. This is a disappointing omission, as even a few extra words could have enhanced the story and its elements. Including a statement from Hosoda on his approach to the adaptation could have given readers a different view of “Belle.” Despite this, the release comes in a nicely presented hardcover, making it a perfect choice for reading while traveling or commuting for a comforting escape from reality.
Fans of the visually-driven storytelling in the anime will appreciate the book as a complementary piece that adds more layers to the beloved story. On the other hand, some may overlook the simplicity of “Belle” if they view it solely as a young adult novel, which could appeal more to a younger audience. However, when considering the book as a whole, it falls short in delivering a compelling romantic plot. Ultimately, it comes across as a poorly done retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” lacking finesse and grace.