Western Animation / Kubo and the Two Strings

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"If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see no matter how unusual it may seem. But please be warned: if you fidget; if you look away; if you forget ANY part of what I tell you, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish."

Kubo and the Two Strings is a Stop Motion animated movie produced by Laika.

Twelve-year-old Kubo lives with his catatonic mother on top of a mountain. By day, he is known as a storyteller to the village below, and by night, he must return to take care of his mother, never finishing the stories he tells.

One night, after encountering the mysterious Sisters, he is sent away to find the only thing that can protect him: his late father's armor.

Along the way, he meets Monkey, a familiar sent by his mother, and Beetle, a cursed samurai who claims to have known his father, and must learn to develop and control his own magic, which he can utilize through playing his shamisen.

The movie premiered on August 19, 2016. The first trailer is here. Second trailer is here. Third trailer here. Fourth trailer is here.

Has no relation to Tite Kubo, author of Bleach, or Mitsurō Kubo, writer of Yuri!!! on Ice.

Character tropes go on to the Characters Sheet.

Tropes found in Kubo and the Two Strings include:

  • Advertised Extra: Despite having top billing, George Takei barely has any lines in the movie to the point where you wonder if the only reason he was even cast for the film was just for the Actor Allusion.
  • An Aesop: As long as you hold those you love within your memories, their stories will never fade, even after they're gone.
  • All There in the Manual: According to the artbook, the names of the sisters are Karasu (the chain sister) and Yukami (the pipe sister; name later reconfirmed as Washi) and that Washi's magical pipe contains a fire demon.
  • All There in the Script: Kubo's mother isn't named in the film proper, but interviews with the film's animators and character designers have revealed it to be Sariatu. The Moon King is named as Raiden in the cast, though this may have been a change in production since Raiden originally refers to a thunder god.
  • Anachronism Stew: The costumes, accessories, and weapons carried by various characters date to anywhere between the Heian and Edo eras, an eight-hundred-year spread. Possibly justified in that Kubo's mother, grandfather, and aunts are supernatural beings.
  • And Starring: Happens twice, weirdly enough. We get "and Ralph Fiennes" followed later on with "with Rooney Mara and Matthew McConaughey".
  • Animal Motifs: Beetles. A beetle is Kubo's family crest, the character of Beetle is self-explanatory, and, as mentioned above, The Beatles originally performed the song that is used in the end credits.
  • Annoying Arrows: Arrows do not affect the Gashadokuro at all. Justified, as it is shown to also casually shatter swords that are swung against it.
  • Arc Words:
    • "If you must blink, do it now."
    • "You are my Quest."
  • Armor Is Useless: Averted; Kubo's quest is to find his father's armor as it is the only thing that can protect him from his enemies. And in fact the armor helps Kubo to survive the attacks by the Moon King.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The Gashadokuro (giant skeleton demon) that guards the Sword Unbreakable is not only the biggest character in terms of in universe scale, its actually one of - if not the - largest stopmotion puppets ever made, standing at least twice as tall as a regular man.
  • Audible Sharpness: The Sword Unbreakable produces "swoosh" sounds when Kubo wields it.
  • Badass Boast: A number of people get them, such as the first Sister saying she's killed things that could fit the world on the tip of their finger, Monkey stating that love makes her strong, and more.
  • Badass Family: Kubo's mother and father both were very powerful badasses, and their badassery has definitely been inherited by him. And they're just as powerful after they've been turned into Monkey and Beetle.
  • Baleful Polymorph:
    • What actually ended up happening to Hanzo, as a result of his relationship with Kubo's mother making her turn against her family. As we can see from the paper recreation, it looked very painful.
    • In a way, the Moon King is also subjected to this, having been turned into a normal human by Kubo, something that he clearly would not have ever desired.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both of Kubo's parents end up dying by the end of the film, but he manages to defeat the Moon King. His parents' spirits in their true forms briefly return to him so he may send their boats down the river for the festival, ending the story. Also, Kameyo the widow poses as the amnesiac Moon King's second wife and tells him about Kubo being his grandson, meaning that Kubo still has family to take care of him. Lampshaded by Kubo at the end.
    Kubo: This was a happy story. But... it could still be a whole lot happier...
  • Blank Slate: As a result of Kubo's use of Laser-Guided Amnesia on the Moon King, the latter's tyrannical and cruel identity is wiped away, allowing the villagers to convince him he's actually a benevolent and respected member of their community.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: According to Kubo's mother, the Moon Kingdom functions on this. Kubo's aunts and grandfather do care for him and want him happy, but their way of going about it and view of the human world is monstrous to humans - forcibly abducting them from his parents (after hideously disfiguring one into a beetle) and plucking his remaining eye out to make him blind to the mortal realm, which the celestials consider impure and sinful.
  • Body Motifs: Eyes figure prominently throughout the film. Kubo had his eye taken from him by his grandfather, his mother gains a long scar across her left eye that is duplicated on Monkey's right as a clue to her identity, one of the armor pieces is kept in the sea among eye yokai, and the Moon King becomes a human with one working eye after the climax of the film, having been blind (both literally and figuratively) beforehand.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • At the very start of the film, Kubo does his signature "if you must blink" speech, but tacks on a few things to provide some backstory exposition, which makes it seem like he's directing this specific speech at us. As mentioned below in the Foreshadowing entry, it's like he's telling us to pay attention.
    • At the end, Kubo says "The End" in voice over.
  • Brick Joke: During the boating scene, Beetle has Kubo shoot an arrow at a fish and it sinks. During the fight against one of Kubo's aunts, he returns with the fish he caught.
  • Brought Down to Normal: The Moon King is turned into a normal person at the end of the movie.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: Kubo and the Two Strings.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • You know that bell in the village? Turns out that it's the Helmet Invulnerable.
    • The bracelet of his mother's hair Kubo wears and the one he makes out of Beetle's bow string. Both are used to restring his shamisen to defeat his grandfather. Monkey telling him about the power of memories also is one, as Kubo invokes that power in doing so.
    • The toro nagashi (river lanterns) of the deceased, which are introduced early on, later return during the Final Battle.
  • Clucking Funny: The old woman asks Kubo to add a fire-breathing chicken to his story as comic relief. Later on, he does just that.
  • Combined Energy Attack: Kubo uses his Magic Music to summon the ghosts of the village's honored dead, then uses the power of the memories associated with both them and his dead parents to defeat the Moon King.
  • Comically Missing the Point: During a battle with one of the aunts, Beetle appears with the fish Kubo shot earlier... after saying "I got it". (He was supposed to be retrieving the Breastplate Impenetrable.)
  • Cool Sword: The Sword Unbreakable, a magic sword that is indestructible.
  • Creative Closing Credits:
    • Done in 2D animation, with a bonus showing how the Gashadokuro, the largest stop-motion animated puppet ever, is set up right before it attacks a crew-member.
    • At the end, the letters in the Laika production logo turn into silhouettes of various characters from all four of the studio's movies to date.
  • Cut Short: Not the film itself, but the stories Kubo tells never get satisfying endings. Justified since he's retelling the stories his mother told him, but she struggles to finish them due to her head injury.
  • Diagonal Cut: Monkey is implied to have been killed this way, if the sliced-in-two charm is any indication.
  • Didn't Think This Through: On Beetle's part. Monkey points out that shooting the fish with an arrow is pointless if there was no plan of how to get the fish into the boat.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?:
    • According to one of the Sisters, she's killed beings that could fit the world on their finger in the past.
    • Monkey manages to kill the first Sister in single combat. While she's actually Kubo's mother, she seems to have none of her powers and does so in melee combat.
    • Kubo manages to kill the second Sister with a shockwave of Magic Music, though Beetle had wounded her beforehand.
    • Kubo ultimately defeats the Moon King with The Power of Love, turning him into a human without any memories.
  • Died Happily Ever After: At the end, Kubo sees the ghosts of his deceased parents happily united in death.
  • Disability Immunity: The monster in the lake puts Kubo in a trance showing him things from his past. He's rescued by Beetle, who has no memories, so the monster has no way of putting him in a trance.
  • Divine Parentage: Kubo has powerful magic by virtue of his mother being more or less a goddess.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Played straight with Monkey the monkey and Beetle the beetle-man. The latter lampshades the subversion of this trope in regards to Kubo.
    Beetle: Wait; if you're Monkey, and I'm Beetle, then why isn't he [Kubo] called Boy?
    Monkey: Oh boy...
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Beetle, during the fight with the Gashadokuro:
    Beetle: I've got a bone to pick with you! (aside) Get it? Because he's made of bone?
    Monkey: You're an embarrassment.
  • Doomed Hometown: Kubo's hometown is destroyed when the Sisters come to get him there, thus precipitating the beginning of his adventure. Ultimately Subverted, as when he comes back it turns out that the town actually survived and was still inhabited, although many structures were severely damaged.
  • Dramatic Slip: Happens twice to Kubo.
    • First he slips when trying to get away from the Sisters during their first encounter at the village.
    • He slips again when running from the Gashadokuro.
  • The End: Kubo narrates the last line of the movie: The end!
  • Enemy Rising Behind: One of the eyes from the monster of Long Lake rises behind Kubo.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • As Monkey explains later on in the film, the Moon King and the Sisters don't actually hate Kubo; they want him to live with the rest of his mother's kin. The issue is that they want to take Kubo's remaining eye so that he can become blind to and shed his humanity, believing this to be the best life for him. It should be noted that even though they killed her husband, ripped out her infant son's eye and planned to kill her, kidnap her son, and rip out his other eye, Kubo's mother refers to them as Kubo's grandfather and aunts instead of "The Moon King and his daughters" or even just "my father and sisters". Then again it's possible she simply didn't want him to be shocked when he learned the truth or manipulated due to being relatives.
    • When Kubo later gets to meet his aunts and then his grandfather, it is shown that she was right, they honestly want him in their family and believe he will be happy in the Heavens.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Monkey was created by Kubo's mother and acts as a guide and mentor to him throughout his journey.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The helmet, breastplate, and sword Kubo seeks have names that tell exactly what is special about them.
  • Eye Cam: There is a brief scene early on where the camera "blinks" as it assumes Kubo's POV as he wakes up.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Kubo has one, courtesy of his grandfather stealing his eye while Kubo was a baby.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Beetle does this with an eye monster.
    • It happened to Kubo before the main story thanks to his grandfather, and he returns the favor in the final battle, albeit in reverse by restoring an eye (and thus by the significance explained in the story, giving him humanity and mortality).
  • Failed a Spot Check: Kubo, during his vision of the location of the Helmet Invulnerable. He instantly notes that the man with him in the vision is blind, but does not recall that blindness is the one trait he's had emphasized to him about the Moon King. The Moon King then tricks Kubo into going to his father's castle in search of the Helmet Invulnerable; there, he finds not a helmet, but a very deadly ambush.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • We don't see the actual blow, but the first Sister's mask is shown to have been cut in half by the blow that killed her, implying Monkey killed her by slicing through her skull.
    • Beetle dies after being stabbed in the back by the second Sister. Monkey is implied to have been sliced in half if the charm she'd been is any indication.
  • Flipping Helpless: Beetle needs help to get up when he falls on his back.
  • Foreshadowing: You know that part in the very beginning when Kubo seems to ask us to pay attention? That wasn't just patter.
    • Kubo is told that if he takes a paper lantern and prays to the spirits of the dead, he will be able to communicate with lost loved ones. When he tries to talk to his father's spirit, nothing happens even though the lanterns of the people around him are lit up. While he gets mad and decides his father is just ignoring him, this is a hint that his father is not actually dead.
    • Kubo's mother is catatonic during the day and is only ever herself at night, presumably as a result of the nasty head wound she received in the prologue. However, once you learn she is actually a daughter of the Moon King, it becomes evident that this is possibly the reason that she is in a catatonic state during the day - given how we only ever see the Moon King and his daughters at night, it can be presumed that they also cannot function during the day.
    • Monkey has the same scar under her eye as Kubo's mother Sariatu, hinting at her true identity. However, unlike Sariatu, the scar is under the right eye and not the left.
    • Beetle seems to have collected several items from Hanzo's men. Because he was there at the final battle. Because he's Hanzo.
    • When Kubo meets Monkey, she tells him to get up, then makes him dinner. Kinda like mothers do. Beetle shows him how to fish, like a dad.
    • The Hanzo doll acts as a compass to the sword, armor, and helmet. When they go to retrieve the helmet the doll is pointing in the opposite direction Kubo is walking. It is revealed here that Kubo was Lured into a Trap by his grandfather.
    • Monkey and Beetle argue like a married couple would argue over specific parenting techniques. This is because they are married and Kubo's parents.
  • Freudian Trio: Careful, serious Monkey and goofy, impulsive Beetle play the superego and id to Kubo's ego.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: Kubo's mother calms one in the prologue with her magic. Unfortunately there was another one right behind her which causes her head injury and almost kills her and baby Kubo.
    • The two giant waves may also foreshadow the two sisters. Also, don't forget that waves are created by the Moon.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • The death of the first Sister, which only shows her shattered porcelain mask sinking into the ocean. Considering said mask was sliced in half, it leaves little ambiguity to how she died.
    • Monkey's death, which shows her charm cut in half.
    • The second Sister's death as well, as all we see is Kubo letting off a Magic Music shockwave and then see her shattered mask.
  • Handicapped Badass: Many of the characters. Kubo has only one eye, while his mother suffers from complications due to head trauma which leaves her comatose during the day. Beetle has amnesia, and has difficulty remembering even basic things without Kubo and Monkey to keep him focused. Monkey is injured midway through the movie and is Secretly Dying, as the magic that keeps her soul in her body fades. The Moon King is completely blind until the ending, where Kubo's other eye gives him sight at the cost of his memories.
  • Heel–Face Brainwashing: After Kubo defeats the Moon King, the villain doesn't remember a single detail about himself, his life, or anything. The villagers quickly take advantage of this by telling him he's the nicest man in the village and that everyone loves him dearly. The king is taken aback, but accepts that it must be true.
  • Hell of a Heaven: The Heavens the Moon King rules over are described as being without the evils and suffering of the mortal world. However, from the way Sariatu describes it, the qualifications for Kubo to go there, the Sisters' sociopathic and psychopathic behavior and the Moon King's true nature, the Heavens described by this are potentially Orwellian in nature.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Kubo's father and his army died so Kubo's mother could escape with him before the Moon King took his other eye. Kubo's mother dies to save him from her sisters. Monkey and Beetle also die protecting him.
  • The Hero's Journey: Kubo is leaving his hometown to find the three items that will enable him to defeat the Moon King. At the end he return to Where It All Began having learned a lesson about family values.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The Helmet Invulnerable was the bell in Kubo's village.
    Sister: Seems there had been a reason for her to bring you to such a place.
  • Homage: The entire film has been described by many critics as Laika's homage to Studio Ghibli, and to Japanese fantasy anime in general.
  • The Hypnotoad: The monster in Long Lake has the ability to show its victims things about their past and/or future if it looks into one of its many eyes. However, it also leaves in a trance and leaves you open to being its lunch.
  • Insistent Terminology: In her form as "Mr. Monkey," Monkey was most definitely not a "toy." She was a charm.
  • In the Back: How Beetle gets killed.
  • In the End, You Are on Your Own: With the deaths of Monkey and Beetle near the end of the movie, Kubo is left alone to find the last piece of armor he needs and face the Moon King. Subverted in that he summons the ghosts from his village to stand beside him in the climax, and the living villagers do so as well.
  • Justified Title: One might assume the title refers to Kubo and his shamisen, but it's actually a three string instrument. There is only a brief moment where Kubo is in possession of two strings; near the climax, he takes off his two bracelets—one made from a strand of his mother's hair, the other made from Beetle's bowstring—and uses them to re-string his shamisen. He then adds a third string made from his own hair. It's still thematically significant: The two strings representing the memories of his two parents, and he makes the third string out of his own hair. His instrument's strings are Kubo and the Two Strings he acquired over the story, as made very obvious in the credits sequence, where the three strings morph into Kubo and his two parents.
  • Karma Houdini: Played with. On the one hand, the Moon King is turned into a human, something he would hate. On the other he has Laser-Guided Amnesia and doesn't even recall being the person who would hate it, and it's implied the villagers and Kubo will treat him well. He also gets to live with Kubo, which was what he wanted but not on the terms he would have wanted it... not that he remembers those terms even existed anymore.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Monkey takes a good look at the tiny paper Hanzo and points out what the audience has been thinking, that origami figures that elaborate are impossible.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia:
    • Beetle was cursed so that he couldn't remember anything about himself prior to his transformation.
    • Kubo does something similar to the Moon King after turning him human/mortal. Whether this was intentional or not is uncertain.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the end, Kubo prays to the spirits of his parents to be with him at the end of the story. That's what literally happens as the last scene of the film.
  • Lighter and Softer: Than Laika's previous three animated features, Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. Compared to them, Kubo has less frightening imagery and eases up on the violence, though the themes and plot are still fairly dark (involving death, immortality and Eye Scream).
  • Lightning Reveal: During the battle between one of the Sisters and Monkey on the boat, the former has suddenly disappeared but a lightning reveals her shadow behind the sail.
  • Love at First Sight: Kubo's parents fell in love during their battle when the Moon King sent his mother to kill his father. Replicated in how easily Monkey and Beetle start to take to each other.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Kubo eventually realizes that Monkey is actually his mother. Later, one of the Sisters reveals that Beetle is his father, which no one knew, not even Beetle himself.
  • Lured into a Trap: The location of the Helmet Invulnerable turns out to be an ambush set up by the Moon King.
  • Lying to Protect Your Feelings: Monkey doesn't reveal that she's actually Kubo's mother inhabiting a different form because the magic that's keeping her alive is slowly fading, and she doesn't want Kubo to experience the tragedy of losing his mother twice.
  • MacGuffin: The set of armor that Kubo is questing for. It's also not what he needs to win his fight with his grandfather: his shamisen and magic are what defeat the Moon King in the end, the armor just helping him to hold out until he can use it.
  • Magical Guide: Monkey acts as this to Kubo, having been triggered by his mother's magic in order to protect him on his journey to battle the Moon King.
  • Magic Compass: If you look closely, not only does the Hanzo doll point the way to the sword, but also to the armor below the sea and the sheet of paper revealing the true location of the helmet.
  • Magic Music: A magical shamisen that controls objects - most notably, and quite possibly only, paper and related materials - when it is played. Kubo's mother is also able to create powerful shockwaves with it capable of slicing a gigantic wave in half. Kubo manages to do this to finish off the second Sister. He's also able to use it, combined with the spirits of the dead and their memories, to turn the Moon King mortal and remove his memories.
  • Meaningful Echo: Beetle repeats Hanzo's line "You are my quest" when Monkey is about to die.
  • Metaphorically True: In a vision Kubo has, an old man who is really The Moon King tells Kubo that he can find the Helmet Invulnerable if he will "look to the setting sun," then shows Kubo a vision of his father Hanzo's fortress. The Moon King is leading Kubo into a trap, but if Kubo were in his home village, the advice would be correct: each evening Kubo turns at the sound of the bell ringing to indicate that the sun is setting, and the "bell" in Kubo's village is really the Helmet Invulnerable.
  • "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: When Monkey points out that the pedestal with the Sword Unbreakable could be a trap and they should be cautious, Beetle dashes ahead, saying that stealth was his middle name. Monkey reminds him that he doesn't even have a first name.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The prologue starts with Kubo as a baby. Then, there is a Time Skip to him at the age of 12 years.
  • Mundane Utility: While on the boat, Monkey uses the Sword Unbreakable to make sashimi.
  • Mysterious Watcher: Before his introduction, Beetle is shown spying at Kubo and Monkey from behind rocks.
  • Mythology Gag: Kubo and the Two Strings seems to share similar motifs with Coraline. In both films, the antagonists (The Moon King/The Other Mother) are shapeshifters obsessed with taking the child protagonist's (Kubo/Coraline) eyes (gouging them out to blind him to humanity/sewing buttons into Coraline's eyes to claim her soul) and entrap them in their realm (the Heavens/the Other World) for eternity.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: The Sword Unbreakable is found embedded in the Gashadokuro's skull, along with dozens of regular swords.
  • Nice Day, Deadly Night: Feudal Japan is friendly and normal enough in the daytime, but come night, Kubo's grandfather the Moon King and his daughters (Kubo's aunts) are out to get him, in ways that are often deadly.
  • No Name Given: Kubo's mother, the Sisters, and the Moon King are never referred to by any name other than those titles throughout the movie. Their names were later confirmed as, respectively, Sariatu, Washi and Karasu, and Raiden.
  • No Ontological Inertia:
    • When Kubo is being drowned by the lake monster, the leaf ship created through his power starts to fall apart. When he starts to recover, it reassembles.
    • As soon as the Sword Unbreakable is removed from the Gashadokuro's skull, it collapses.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The Moon King and his family are essentially gods—immortal beings from the sky with immense power—but no one ever calls them as such, or uses any particular names for their kind.
  • Overly Long Gag:
    • Beetle trying to get up after being knocked onto his back.
    • Beetle telling Monkey that Kubo's story will live on in the people he shares it with, and the people they share it with, and the people they share it with, and the people they share it with... this goes on for quite some time before Monkey realizes he's not going to stop.
  • Power Incontinence: Kubo's mother unconsciously uses her Paper Master powers in her sleep. Later on Kubo does the same thing to create the paper Hanzo that guides him.
  • Precision F-Strike: The Moon King describes mortality as "hell". Most guidelines regarding obscenity give this a pass, since he is using the word as an unflattering description, not as profanity.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Kubo's mother did this after falling for Hanzo and realizing how cold and lonely the heavens were. Later pulled by Kubo himself as he fights the Moon King.
  • Reality Ensues: Two cases of this:
    • Kubo's mother suffers a blow to the head at the start of the movie, hard enough to draw blood and leave a scar. Flash forward to the present, and this has caused serious medical problems, as she now spends most of every day catatonic, and even when she's conscious, she suffers from constant holes in her memory and tremors. Though the catatonia is probably more related to the fact that she is a daughter of the Moon King, and seeing as her sisters and father are only ever seen at night it can be presumed they must sleep during the day / are catatonic during the day should they be awake. She herself is only ever seen lucid at night as well. Her memory loss is probably related to the head wound, though.
    • The armor and sword Kubo spends the film seeking out turn out to be not that useful to him. While an unbreakable sword and indestructible armor would be of tremendous use to a great warrior like his father, Kubo has little to no training in using them so he cannot defeat the Moon King with them. On the other hand, it helps Kubo survive attacks from the Moon King until he gets to his shamisen and weaponizes The Power of Love.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Kubo delivers an epic one to the Moon King instantly before taking him down.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Unlike most stories pitting gods and mortals against one another, all of the humans in the story are portrayed pretty favorably. The villagers in Kubo's village are not off-put or frightened by his mysterious powers and are quick to stand up for him against an unstoppable foe and no one seems to blame him for the destruction of their village. The Moon King is a god or god-like being that explains how corrupt and selfish humanity supposedly is, he himself the most selfish and cruel character portrayed in the entire film.
  • Rule of Cool: Beetle can fire his bow with great effectiveness underwater, and Kubo's shamisen seems to be more or less fine after being submerged and caught in a rainstorm. In reality, both would be ruined.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The Sisters' shattered masks are used to symbolize their deaths.
  • Rule of Three:
    • Three companions: Kubo, Monkey and Beetle.
    • When Kubo first meets Monkey she tells him she will only answer three questions. (She later agrees to answer a fourth.)
    • Kubo's shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument with three strings. During his final confrontation with the Moon King, Kubo re-strings his shamisen with the strand of his mother's hair he carried with him, his father's discarded bowstring, and a strand of his own hair.
    • Three family members chasing after Kubo and his companions. Three battles fought, one with each of them.
    • The armor Kubo seeks has three elements; the Sword Unbreakable, the Armor Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The charm that Kubo always called Mr. Monkey? When the charm comes to life, it reveals that it's actually a Miss. Though it does have to do with the fact that Kubo's mother has what's left of her soul inside of it.
  • Scary Shadow Fakeout: Beetle casts a frightening shadow on the wall of his cave as he bows over Kubo but then it is revealed he only looked at Paper Hanzo.
  • Scenery Porn: From the opening shot of Kubo's mother plowing through a violent sea, to the frozen tundra of the Far Lands, to the forests and mountains the group travels through to get to Kubo's old home, this movie is a delight to just look at.
  • Secretly Dying: Monkey gets wounded during her battle with one of the Sisters but she doesn't show it to Kubo. Afterwards she reveals to Beetle that her strength is constantly fading and she may not be around for much longer.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: How Kubo defeats the Moon King. After the armor and blade he sought for so long proved to be of little offensive use during the battle, Kubo sheds them and uses his magic, channeled through his shamisen, instead. In doing this, he succeeds in bringing his foe down through The Power of Love.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Sisters' attack on Kubo's village in the beginning is similar to the dead forest spirit engulfing Iron Town at the climax of Princess Mononoke. Thankfully, the Sisters' smoky tendrils aren't instantly fatal.
    • The mountain landscape looks an awful lot like the Pacific Northwest; Laika studios just happens to be located in Oregon.
    • The character design in the 2D animated Creative Closing Credits resemble those in Mulan.
    • The crest on the Moon King's breastplate — a tarnished, off-center (or overlapping) "snake eye" symbol — resembles the unfinished "rotten-looking" second Death Star in Return of the Jedi another movie that ends with the good guy mastering his powers to fight the bad guy, who he learned in the previous movie was his older male relative who wanted him to join the Dark Side, not with his sword but with words and redeems him in the end.
      • Multiple layers of meaning/irony: The Moon King's crest is an eye; he's blind and wants to physically and symbolically blind his family. It's called a "snake eye" and in the end he transforms into a giant serpentine monster. The "eye" is a stylized piece of archery equipment (a bowstring spool), a weapon associated with Beetle and Hanzo, the Moon King's enemy.
    • Japanese folklore:
      • Momotaro/Peach Boy: Our hero has super powers (Momotaro had super-strength) and goes on a quest with three (mostly) non-human companions: an intelligent monkey, a flying scout (a pheasant/the paper doll), and one who's strong and loyal (a dog/Beetle); he's also aided by items provided by his parents. In the end both heroes spare the enemy leader after depowering him.
      • Bamboo Princess: Kubo's mother's background being a cold-hearted princess from the moon who falls in love with a man from the earth. In the folklore the Princess deliberately asks her suitors to find her impossible things so they'll give up on her, seeing as she'll soon return to the moon and her heavenly family/species and forget her time as a human.
      • Things tend to end badly for supernatural women who marry human men in Japanese folklore: generally the women leave the men who then have to raise their children alone. At first this seems to be a subversion; Kubo's mother has to raise her child alone, then Kubo has to tend to his mother, then played straight as Beetle/Hanzo is on the verge of taking over for Kubo's mother once her magic runs out and she "leaves" for good, then subverted again when Hanzo is killed and in the end Kubo decides to care for his grandfather.
    • The Sisters wear Noh-like masks and when part of the second Sister's mask breaks she has white skin with blue "highlights"; in Kabuki theater white skin with blue highlights is shorthand for "this character is evil" (or dead, which is what happens to the Sister shortly thereafter).
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Monkey to the first Sister and Kubo to the Moon King at the climax.
  • Significant Double Casting: The fact that Charlize Theron voices both Monkey and Kubo's mother is an early sign that they're actually the same person. Not immediately obvious in the film, as Theron is only publicly credited as Monkey, and she says relatively little and in a different tone of voice as Kubo's mother.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: In one of Kubo's visual tales, the Hanzo doll defeats a spider with a single stroke that cuts off all of its legs.
  • Splitting the Arrow: Beetle shows off his skills by splitting an arrow, then splitting the splitting arrow, then splitting the splitter splitting arrow, then splitting the splitter-splitting splitting arrow in rapid succession. This is foreshadowing that he is Hanzo, who Kubo's mother noted was an incredible archer.
  • Stealth Pun: A beetle is a main character and the standard on Hanzo's flag, and the closing credits music is a The Beatles song. His other companion is a monkey.
  • The Stinger: As per Laika tradition. After the animated credits, a small sequence plays where the Gashadokuro is being built for the cave scene, letting the viewer see just how large the puppet is in comparison to its creators (this being pretty gosh darn big). Just as this sequence cuts away and the second credits sequence starts to play, the Gashadokuro turns to attack the crew member nearest to it.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: After pulling off a Big Damn Heroes moment and spending a tender moment with the boy he now knows is his son, Beetle gets stabbed in the back and dies without a word and the movie doesn't spend time dwelling on this as Kubo's aunt is still trying to kill them.
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: The set of magic armor that Kubo is trying to collect for most of the film.
  • Symbolic Blood: Kubo has his animated paper dolls fight for part of his show, which includes strips of red paper coming out of cut up monsters to represent blood spatters. One man actually throws up from seeing this.
  • Take a Third Option: Kubo tries to slay the Moon King with his father's armor, but ultimately falls back on his musical magic, the support of his friends and The Power of Love.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: The Moon King appears to Kubo in his dream as a blind man, pointing him towards the location of the Helmet Invulnerable. Or so he believes.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Dramatically subverted at Hanzo's homestead, when our heroes gather around wounded Monkey to listen to her Final Speech, only to be interrupted by the Sister coming from behind.
  • Talking to the Dead: Kubo tries to talk to his dead father at his grave but gets no answer, for obvious reasons.
  • Tell Me About My Father: At one point Kubo asks his mother about his Disappeared Dad.
  • That Was Not a Dream: "I dreamed I fought a giant skeleton with swords in its head." — "That really happened." — "Oh, yeah."
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Before entering the whale carcass, Monkey has this expression right after she notes that her sense of smell is ten times stronger than Kubo's and he might be tempted to complain about the smell.
  • This Is Reality: Monkey reminds Kubo about this as he starts making fun of her by slurping his soup inside the whale.
    Monkey: Okay, you better start taking this seriously, Kubo. This is real. This is not a story.
  • Thwarted Coup de Grâce: Beetle interrupts both Sisters trying to finish off Monkey, first on the boat and again later at Hanzo's homestead.
  • Together in Death: Sariatu and Hanzo in the last shot of the film, having finally had their memories and true forms restored.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: You know that sliding slash Kubo does in a couple of previews? That's part of the Final Battle.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Kubo's mother is shown as this, though not maliciously; her memories are scrambled due to the head trauma she suffered when Kubo was a baby, and she has trouble following the thread of her own stories through to the end as a result.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The townfolk seem to be quite desensitized to Kubo's magic paper performances. Justified in that he is implied to go there all the time. Granted, he does attract a huge crowd because they love what he does, to the point of being deeply disappointed that he never finishes his stories.
  • Villain-Beating Artifact: Kubo's father's magic set of armor is said to be the only thing that can defeat the Moon King. It isn't, actually.
  • Walk and Talk: Discussed by our Genre Savvy Monkey as she instructs the Beetle to fill them in on his story on their way because they cannot waste time.
  • Wham Line:
    • Monkey's line when battling the First Sister, "Love has made me stronger!" qualifies as a Wham Line since this is how Monkey reveals to her sisters (and to the audience) that she is in fact Kubo's mother, taking on Monkey's form to protect her son.
    • Later, when the Second Sister confronts Monkey and Beetle, she delivers this...
    Second Sister: You took her from us. It was only fitting we took something from you. How swiftly those memories spilled from your head, wiping out all recollection of your obscene union... Hanzo!
  • Wham Shot
    • Kubo's vision of Monkey's face fading into his mother's when he is drowning in the Long Lake.
    • The origami model of Hanzo being folded into a beetle by one of the Sisters.
    • The drawing that shows that the Helmet Invulnerable is back in Kubo's hometown.
  • Where It All Began: Three times in short succession. Kubo travels to his father's fortress, where Hanzo made his final stand against the Moon King, to retrieve the final piece of the Armor. And then, it turns out that the Helmet was in his home village all along, disguised as a humble bell. Kubo dons the Helmet, and then battles the Moon King in the rubble of his hometown. And then, the fight wanders over to the graveyard, where Kubo was at the beginning of the film when he accidentally stayed out after dark.
  • Windows of the Soul: Kubo confirms Monkey's true identity by looking into her eyes-which confirms it for the audience, too.
  • Youkai:
    • A Gashadokuro appears in the film. It is the largest puppet ever built for a stop-motion production, standing around 18 feet tall.
    • The breastplate in the Long Lake is guarded by strange eyeball yokai whose gaze entrances unwary swimmers, allowing them to be drowned and eaten by the main organism's Lamprey Mouth.
  • You Killed My Father: Line said by Kubo to the Moon King during their final confrontation.
    Kubo: My family is gone. You killed them.


"The end."

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/WesternAnimation/KuboAndTheTwoStrings