Disclaimer: From first impressions of this anime, one might be under the impression that this is an anime focused on the furry subculture. There are undeniable connections to this subculture due to the style that anthropomorphism in animals has taken today. However, while I can't say I speak for director Mamoru Hosoda when I say this, I don't believe this anime to be one necessarily about the furry culture and definitely not for furries only. In addition, nothing about this anime brings along the negative baggage that SOME parts of the furry fandom bring. If the very idea of anthropomorphism in animals is revolting to you, then you probably shouldn't watch an anime starring anthropomorphic animals. However, if you are turned off from this anime because of its resemblence to negative parts of a controversial subculture, then you're depriving yourself of a quality piece of cinema.
tl;dr: Love and tolerate.
Figure 1: Not furry porn
If I were a lazy bum, I'd just copy and paste segments from my review of Usagi Drop, because many of the story elements are similar, with a single parent struggling to raise a child and learning on the fly. Many of the struggles and concerns of our lead character, Hana, are the same, whether or not she's doing everything “properly,” and trying to balance between giving her children freedom and protecting them. Obviously there's differences in the dynamics, most obviously the fact that these children are also partly wolves. While this anime is in the realm of fantasy, it takes a very pragmatic stance towards the idea of anthropomorphism, and at times Hana is unsure whether or not to raise her children like a pet or like a child. She doesn't make the right choices all the time and narrowly escapes disaster on a few occasions, but this helps build the whole environment of the story which is surprisingly rooted in the real world.
Figure 2: Not a dog and a baby
The strength of the anime isn't really in the structure of the storytelling, although it is very well paced and flows superbly. The story distinguishes itself with its immersiveness in both story and animation. The animation, while in a relatively simple style compared to other modern anime, manages to include enough detail to make you really believe that what you're seeing is something from the real world, usually. While some of the CGI elements were impressive, I think they clashed too much with the traditional style of most of the anime, which ironically broke the immersion of the viewer rather than enhanced it (because you have to bring yourself out of the movie you're watching just to say “wow, that was a nice water sequence"). The story and characters progress as they would in reality. Usually, there's one or two times when I have to suspend my disbelief with the actions of a character or a development in the story, but every time I came to one of those usual impasses in this movie, the story progressed in a logical manner (not necessarily that someone did that “best” thing they could, but they didn't do something that was against their character or didn't make any sense at all).
Figure 3: Not a rejected Skyrim location
The characters are strong and compelling. This anime requires a strong lead and we get it with Hana. She's intelligent and hardworking, and while she doesn't always make the right decisions, she always has the best of intentions. It sounds like a stereotype at this point, but it's difficult to really articulate in text without context how these qualities form an interesting character rather than a bland one. Trust me when I say that with the adversity thrown at the lead in this film you are going to want a character with a spine, and Hana delivers. The other main characters in the movie are the two children, Yuki and Ame. Both have contrasting personalities, but are dynamic in their development, which is the core of what makes them interesting. It allows the movie to explore the dual nature of the characters fully and the struggles that come with each path. Perhaps I'm reading too deep into it, but I found this to be the most relatable part of the movie. Everyone, whether they're an anthropomorphic wolf or not, has decisions to make in life and sometimes it can feel as if different parts of your nature are at conflict. How these characters deal with their issues with self identity parallel many of our “coming of age stories.” The rest of the cast is very solid and allows for the development of the world around the main heroes. As a slice of life anime at heart, there really isn't a villain, but due to the conflicting interests of the heroes and the rest of society, confrontations erupt that lead to some very powerful scenes.
Figure 4: Not-so-subtle symbolism
Everything else is icing on the cake. The voice acting was very well done and convincing all around, even though the actors playing the leads are relatively inexperienced. The soundtrack is beautiful, adding to the wellspring of emotion throughout the film. In particular, I enjoyed this film's use of minimal dialogue, and at times, I felt like I was watching a short story within a movie, scenes from life that convey a single idea. This movie is directed with the artistic flair of a master, and I have no doubt that this is a movie that will go down in anime history as one of the greatest along with the masterworks of Miyazaki, Shinkai, and Kon.
But if all you care about is it being about furries, who cares?
Figure 5: You be the judge
Note: I tried a different format for this review. Feedback is appreciated.