A recent anime film called Belle is truly underrated. Not only are the songs and animation mesmerizing and beautiful, but the story and hearts behind each character will reel you in and never let go. The title character, Suzu Naito, and Belle (her alter-ego, invite the audience on a fascinating journey of self-discovery.
The story also touches on subjects that many sweep under the rug, such as domestic abuse, social anxiety, and grief.
Belle‘s story and style will each appeal to anime fans. Set in 2025, the anime style is a successful new hybrid of 2D and 3D animation. The colors were bright and appealing, and the characters each had a unique and memorable look.
The film was released to theaters in 2021 after premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. In Japanese, its title is Ryu to Sobakasu no Hime, which translates to “The Dragon and the Freckled Princess.” In English, it was released under the simplistic title of “Belle,” no doubt as an allusion to its concept.
Read on to discover more!
The New U-niverse
Belle follows a depressed high school student named Suzu Naito (voiced by Kaho Nakamura). She lost her mother when she was very young, and she deals with social anxiety. Suzu Naito loves nothing more than to make music and sing, but all that vanished when her muse died.
When a new virtual social media platform known as U is released, players are transported to the magical reality where they take the form of a special avatar. A computer chooses these avatars for each person by scanning their brain and body.
Essentially, these avatars are meant to be a metaphoric take on your actual self. However, it is crucial to remember that once the computer has generated your avatar, you cannot change it.
Suzu decides to try this new platform out, hoping to gain some friends and keep her mind off her misfortunes. Her avatar becomes a beautiful woman with pink hair and the voice of an angel. She also receives the name “Belle.”
Suzu is confused at first as to why an avatar for her would be so beautiful, but her true self is nothing less.
Upon entering the gigantic online platform, inspiration flows. She sings with a voice that she’d forgotten. “I can sing again?” Suzu calls out, busting out a heartfelt song in front of every user.
This is something she could never attempt in the real world. The last time she tried, she threw up, her stomach aching with anxiety.
Belle’s gorgeous vocals bring on an insane amount of attention. The Belle character/avatar becomes famous overnight. People wonder who this fantastic voice is behind the avatar. They search for information, looking at celebrities and ordinary people.
Of course, this would make anyone excited… and terrified! The world anticipates Belle’s next move. The fact that she is such a beautiful avatar also enchants people and brings them in. However, is the person in the real world just as beautiful as Belle, inside and out?
Suzu Naito seeks the managerial skills of her best and only friend, Hiroka Betsuyaka (Lilas Ikuta). Hiro takes on the role of managing Belle’s concerts, outfits, and songs. They make a great team for a couple of high school girls. Though Suzu struggles with insecurity, she takes pride in the fact that people enjoy her content.
She can easily hide behind the gorgeous mask that is “Belle” and be herself at the same time.
Nothing has made her feel this alive since her mother’s death. Of course, what comes with fame also comes hate comments, and people who try to tear you down simply for fun (or to make themselves feel better). Luckily Suzu has caring friends to remind her of who she is.
Suzu Naito’s Beast
Suzu Naito’s fame is not the only magical thing that changes her entire world. One night while performing online, a giant beast avatar crashes her concert. It attacks the locals of the game. This player is known to instigate fights online, and the moderators try desperately to drive him away.
Belle finds herself incredibly curious about this player. She even travels far and wide to find his castle of a base.
The castle is guarded by several AI creatures, which give love to Belle and help her try to save the Beast (Takeru Satoh). When she gets up close to the mysterious person, Suzu Naito notices that his back is riddled with large bruises.
The Beast does not trust people easily. He wants Belle to leave the second she arrives. The castle is his sanctuary away from U’s “police.”
However, through singing and persistence, Belle, or Suzu Naito, gains the trust of this angry player. However, he refuses to give her his true identity. In spite of this, something about his mysteriousness keeps Belle coming back every day. She disappears from her fans and spends her time alleviating the loneliness afflicting the Beast.
Suzu Naito: Beauty And The Beast
While Belle is based in a more futuristic Japan, Studio Chizu manages to add to the infamous story of Beauty And The Beast. In the original fairy tale, Belle is with the Beast in his tower. At first, he wants nothing to do with her, but her beautiful voice and persistence draw him closer. They end up spending every single day together.
Instead of the magical living items, like those present in Disney’s 1991 version of the story, little NPC creatures guard the Beast’s castle. Though the NPC characters do not exist outside of U, they want the best for the two characters.
However, the original fairytale and this version differ in a key way: Belle and the Beast do not fall in love. They become something even rarer: best friends.
Cinema has never been keen on ending a movie with two people just becoming friends in the end. After all the work they put into the relationship, why wouldn’t they become lovers? Well, not everyone marries the first person they see.
Furthermore, friendship is a powerful kind of love on its own, capable of instigating the same discovery of inner beauty as romance.
Multitudes of anime have romance stories, and Belle isn’t actually an exception. Though Belle and the Beast don’t get together in this film, Suzu Naito falls in love with a boy she goes to school with. However, refreshingly, the romance itself isn’t the main focus. Instead, this film focuses more on friendship.
Suzu Naito’s Love Interest: Shinobu Hisatake
Shinobu (Ryo Narita) is a popular boy among the girls at the school Suzu Naito attends. He is good-looking, kind, and always looks out for his friends.
Suzu has had a crush on Shinobu since she can remember. In fact, Shinobu and Suzu were childhood friends. However, when Suzu lost her mother, she withdrew from everyone in her life. Shinobu looks after her whenever he can, but despite his efforts to stay close to her, she denies him every time. Even so, Shinobu has always loved Suzu.
Shinobu is a very perceptive person, and he soon realizes that Suzu is Belle. One day, he confronts her, but this results in Suzu experiencing extreme panic. The last thing Suzu wants is for her identity to be revealed and that her voice is what made her famous overnight!
In the end, Shinobu helps Suzu realize that she is Belle, and opening herself up to the world helps save her and others.
The “Justices” of the game look like quirky superheroes. They are highly protective avatars that make sure the players play fair and keep everything intact.
However, the Justices are not superheroes. In fact, they are actually the ones that don’t play fair. They desperately try to reveal the identity of the beast to everyone on the internet, without consent.
Belle does everything in her power to lead them away from the castle. What friend would she be if she didn’t protect him? The Justices eventually capture Belle and threaten to reveal her identity in front of everyone in the game.
Suzu Naito has never been sure of herself. Would anyone listen to her if they knew who she really was: a “boring” ordinary high school girl?
Fortunately, Suzu has realized that she is Belle, inside and out. Being real, showing the world that not everything needs to be fake or hidden, can help people. Showing the world that behind someone incredibly famous is just a regular human who faces the same harsh trials of life that everyone else does is not something to fear.
Instead, it is something to celebrate.
The leader of the Justices, however, is not a great guy. Named Justin (Toshiyuki Morikawa), his lust for battle and ultimate power in U is intense and almost evil. Getting these guys out of the way was the first step towards getting to the Beast properly. He needed to be able to lower his defenses around Belle, not build stronger ones.
The Beast’s Identity
Back in the real world, Suzu Naito starts looking for the player who could possibly be the mysterious Beast. Through hefty research, Hiro and Suzu find a child and his older brother who are being abused by their father. The camera on their computer records it all live.
Suzu realizes this older boy is the Beast and offers her help. The boy’s eyes hold the same sadness as the Beast’s.
Suzu immediately starts talking to the boy, hoping to help in any way she can. She cannot bear to watch someone she loves getting beaten up mercilessly. Yet the boy does not believe she is Belle.
There is only one way to convince him. In order to prove her identity, Suzu goes back to U and performs a big concert in the boy’s honor. Belle’s bravery inspires many people, who immediately stand with her and see the error of their judgmental ways.
Nothing could describe the amazing feeling you get when you watch the whole universe singing the same song to save the same solitary person.
The children accept her help and give her their address. Unfortunately, she had to travel far to get there and had limited time. She finds the boy and his little brother and immediately takes them away from their drunk and abusive father.
“I Can Sing Again?”
Suzu Naito regains her confidence and starts to sing again in the real world, and her friend group grows larger than ever. She needed Belle’s help to find her true voice once again. Watching Suzu transform from a dull shell into a gorgeous shining pearl on a necklace was inspiring.
This movie was incredibly moving, and “Suzu Naito” grows immensely throughout the film. She goes from being alone and voiceless to singing her heart out in front of thousands of people. She takes something many would turn away from (such as domestic abuse) and brings attention to it.
In the process, she saves children from a life of bruises and despair.
This film brings love into a world where so much hate roams the streets. While U doesn’t exist, plenty of hate and mob mentality still exist on various social media platforms. We can learn a lot from Suzu. More and more people these days are experiencing social anxiety. Social media can help people afraid to speak find their voice.
Singing was not in the cards after her mother died. Just the mere thought of singing in front of other people put her in a complete shutdown. However, U gave her Belle. In U, Suzu could stay in the shadows of the glorious Belle and show the world something beautiful.
Still, the only way Suzu Naito could reach anyone and change their circumstances was through the truth. She had to do this as herself.
The Truth About Suzu Naito
When rescuing the kids, Suzu allows the moderators to reveal her identity to everyone. She wants the world to see that she is a real person with good intentions, and who needs support.
Some of Belle’s followers may have been disappointed at the sight of the ordinary Suzu Naito. In reality, though, no one is perfect. Still, it can be scary to let people know who you really are, flaws and pain and all.
Suzu was definitely afraid.
Plus, there are no guarantees when you go out on a limb like this. There will always be someone who will not like you for your flaws. However, her loving fans and the difference she is able to make outweigh the negatives. By revealing her identity, Belle is no longer in charge, Suzu Naito is.
No More Sweeping Under The Rug
This film touches on a lot of subjects that many can understand. Coping with a loved one’s death is always difficult. It makes you think about mortality, and how we are never ready to let someone go. It is honestly painful to see how Suzu withers away after the loss of her mother.
Suzu completely closes herself off from the world. Even her one friend really does not have much in common with her, but she is always there for support. Sadly, she also does not have the most meaningful relationship with her father either.
Throughout the entire movie, she avoided her father every single time he came around. However, when Suzu is out finding the child behind the Beast, she reaches out to her father for the first time in years, asking for help in a momentous scene.
A lot of children out there can relate.
Not everyone has the greatest relationship with one of or both of their parents, but there is always hope. Suzu’s father, though distant, was always there for her, even if just behind the scenes. All she needed to know was that he loves her. That was her final push.
Belle’s Beautiful Music
Belle’s voice catches all the heartstrings. Every lyric is crafted with careful meaning. Each song Suzu Naito writes describes what it is like to be alone, and what it feels like for someone to reach out with a healing touch.
Because this is so relatable, Belle becomes a sensation that confused everyone around the world. Is she trying to attract attention, or are her words genuine?
The song A Million Miles Away was a dedication to the child behind the Beast. He isolates himself because no one is willing to stop his father’s abuse. Why would they ask for help, when he has been and no one has listened? This song of Belle’s explains how living alone seems easier, but in reality, it just hurts more.
Belle reaches for the Beast through her song, trying to convince him that he is worth saving. Even if others have shied away from saving him in the past, it only takes one person. Suzu is willing to save him and bring him out of loneliness.
Nothing Like A Friend
Many people are lonely and too afraid to talk to others and ask for help. However, nothing means more than a friend, especially when you are struggling.
Suzu Naito only has one friend, and she supports her throughout her growing fame. As Suzu begins to open herself up to others, she finds that people can truly be kind. In fact, they come to her aid and never leave her side. This might seem corny, but love and friendship are two ideals desperately needed not just in Suzu Naito’s world, but also in our own.
In the song Lend Me Your Voice, Belle is the one who is asking to aid others who are lonely. She asks that they tell her about all of the heartaches. She will be there to listen and accept you for who you are.
This is evident when she sings:
Your hands seal the entrance and path to your heart. Anger kept fear and the sadness you feel, under the surface for so long. Locked that room you keep it inside. Lend me your voice. Words you try so hard to forget, they’ll break through the silence. Bring me close.
Gales Of Song
Gales Of Song, another piece by Belle, describes what it is like to sing and feel the music within you. Music has been gone from Suzu Naito’s life for a very long time, but once she goes into the U-niverse, inspiration flows through her. She asks that music guide her every step.
Suzu describes this feeling as wind or “gales” that sing to her:
Gales of song, guide me through the storm. On the wings of a small, simple melody, words take flight and soar, they carry me, a world we’ll see.
The storm is the sadness and depression that have been plaguing Suzu Naito. She is also talking to her mother in this song, telling her mother how much she misses her and how odd it is to see people so happy in the world when everything is going wrong for her.
This is a very honest feeling to have, and something Suzu Naito only felt safe at the time to share with her mother.
During this one-sided conversation, she sings:
A life without you I cannot accept. I can’t tell that lie. I can’t let go. But now that you’re gone, I have to move on. Seems like everyone just smiles staring at the sun. But what about me? Tell me how I will know where I should go? Oh gales, you sing and guide me!
Perhaps her mother is the gales of song that speak to her, and she is asking her mother for help.
U is a song by Belle and the Millennium Parade. Belle comes riding on a giant whale, dressed in red flowers. She is surrounded by large speakers and charges into the U-niverse, sending a message.
This song throws caution to the wind and tells people to be brave, to go out there and try something new. With the lyrics, Suzu Naito addresses those who feel they don’t belong in the real world. She asks them to walk with her, that they attempt to be themselves and not let others control their path.
This song has an upbeat melody that is fast and powerful. It instantly pumps you up. It is different from the other songs, which tend to be slower and more heartfelt. This one caters to a more pop crowd.
Fun, Lovable Characters
This film has so many lovable side characters, in addition to its main ones!
High-energy teddy bear Shinjiro Chikami brings much-needed comedy relief. He brings light and happiness to a story that is already melancholy. His obsession with canoes and inability to understand social cues create many a humorous scene!
Of course, we have the quirky choir ladies that help Suzu on her journey to save the abused boys. We also have Ruka Watanabe. Ruka is the most popular girl in school and is often found with crowds of admirers. While one might expect Ruka to be a mean girl, she is actually very kind and accepting.
She has a major crush on Shinjiro as well.
Critiques Of The Movie
While this movie is jaw-dropping, there are still things to critique.
To start with, let’s discuss Suzu Naito’s mother’s death. Suzu and her mother were so close, but one day her mother decides to save a child from drowning in a dangerous river which ends up costing her life.
It doesn’t exactly make sense why her mother would risk her life when she knew her responsibilities. Even Suzu Naito has some resentment towards her mother for leaving her for another child’s life. Then again, no one else tried to save the child, much like no one tried to save the abused boys.
Still, there are unanswered questions: did Suzu’s mother know she was going to die? Did anyone try to save her?
In addition, Suzu and her father have a touching, pivotal moment in the film. Yet the audience still doesn’t learn anything about the father’s own feelings about his wife’s death or his daughter’s complete shutdown. Suzu’s father acts as if nothing happened with his wife and decides to stay out of his daughter’s life, except to ask what she wants for dinner.
While this could be its own exploration of grief, the story doesn’t explore it. Of course, the producers must keep the movie within a certain time, but this should have been prioritized.
The movie was very loaded with characters and plot, which occasionally meant some subplots and characters were overlooked. Some might even say it has too many characters, which makes the universe hard to keep up with. There are several romances and characters that sort of drowns out what’s most important.
Studio Chizu was created by Yuichiro Saito and Mamoru Hosada. The studio has also made Mirai, and The Boy And The Beast.
Their art style is beautiful and truly makes the audience gaze up at it in awe. The art style of Belle resembles the anime film Wolf Children. However, one thing that is unique about Belle is that the style of animation changes depending on the setting.
If the setting is in the real world, it is a classic Studio Chizu style of 2D animation. When the setting is in the virtual world of U, the style is very 3D and brightly saturated.
Each animation style offers a new feeling or vibe, one might say. The real world is calm and serene, with more natural colors. In contrast, the virtual world is full of colors that you would not ordinarily see in nature.
All of the avatars are also amazingly sculpted and creatively designed. The computer can generate whatever it wants. In fact, it can sometimes give you some really strange results. For example, several people were very fishlike or animal-inspired. It takes any person’s imagination and throws it for a loop.
We Can All Learn from Suzu Naito & Belle
Belle and Suzu Naito have done more than a lot of people to help the world and it all started with music. Belle takes the time to learn about someone, no matter how bad they seemed on the outside. She knew deep down that appearances mean nothing compared to what is inside.
A lot of the world could use this open mindset.
With the growth of the virtual social world, more and more people are hiding behind “avatars” and want to avoid activity in the real world as much as possible. However, virtual avatars aren’t entirely bad themselves. They are beautiful exteriors, but the real beauty is in the real-life people behind them.
When Belle sings in front of the entire platform to save two children from the evil hands of domestic abuse, the other people in U realized that they needed to help, too. Too often in our modern society people prefer to sweep things under the rug.
Belle’s beautiful music inspires change and shifts people’s priorities to something more important, something our world could very much use these days.