Mitsuru had a happy home life until his father suddenly announces he is moving out and leaves Wataru and his mother in a state of shock. Confused and lost, Wataru remembers his earlier conversations with the mysterious transfer student Mitsuru about another world where wishes are granted and Wataru finds the courage to travel there and return his family back to the way it was.
It’s an ambitious story and one of it’s flaws is that with so many ideas many are left unresolved by the end of the movie. Aside from Wataru and Mitsuru none of the characters accomplish any of their goals (ie, achieve any resolution, or explanation when it comes to the mysterious voice following Wataru around) for one thing which feels dishonest considering how some of them were carefully built up earlier in the film (and others were barely characterized at all beyond being on screen quite often). Lots of things about this story feel like a bad fantasy novel, from how Wataru and Mitsuru are basically given video game roles following a test (whoever thought that “riddle” was a riddle has clearly never met one in their life), that both of them progress quickly and easily through their quest, and in a trope I rather dislike, they find a way to make their fantasy world worse than when they arrived and it feels like cheap to have it be so malleable. Plus I've never like stories where it’s the traveler from the other world who has the chance at a quest/wish and not denizens of that world, it feels like a “save the natives” plot. All things aside, I do think this was supposed to be a real, alternate world, not a metaphor for the boys’ lives. If this was a metaphor then more of these flaws would be forgivable (if it's not "a real world" then of course it won't be fully fleshed out) but I truly don't think that's how it was intended to be understood.
Looking at the real world, I also took offense at how the story portrayed divorce. Admittedly I take offense with how a lot of stories tell divorce, we need more diversity in how we tell these stories, but even with that in mind that aspect was horribly cliched. The father who suddenly leaves, the mother who refuses to believe (and then tries to kill herself, leaving behind a child with no support), I was thinking “this author clearly doesn’t understand divorce at all!” so I was horrified to see so much support for this storyline online. Divorce isn’t an event or an instance to “get over”, it’s a process and a change. It’s not as if you wake up one day and decide that you’ve come to terms with it, that will probably happen but it’s also the moment a few years later when you worry over saying you can work Saturday evenings since that’s the one day of the week you see your dad and he already gives you crap about not seeing him enough. It’s that mixture of love and annoyance you have at your parents for taking care of you and still just not talking to each other nearly as much as they need to. I know that the divorce I went through is a bit unique, and that Wataru spends over half the movie away from his parents, but unique or not in Brave Story the divorce reduced the parents to items and left me completely unable to take Wataru’s “growth” surrounding it seriously.
Beyond that, the production values of the movie felt rather average, nine years after it’s creation. The setting and costume design work is okay and riffs whole scale heavily from real world locals, barring one or two select instances. In short, I can't recommend this movie at all (even if you could find the movie legally), there are better things you can do with your time!