Monday Anime: Five Centimeters Per Second

While I’ve really been enjoying doing themed reviews every month for a little while now, I haven’t had a lot of time to think on one for August. Stuff happening, as you all know, that keeps me fairly distracted.

Honestly, I’m sometimes surprised I’m even managing to keep this blog going. In a way, I think, it’s cathartic. It’s a bit of normalcy, maybe. A thing I can do, that helps me stay sane.

Mostly, it’s the writing. Writing always helps. The more I can write, the more I can deal with everything. It lets me pour my energy into something, so I’m not just exploding. Keeps the depression at bay. You know.

Still, I’ve not had a lot of time to consider what theme I’m doing this month, but there are a few shows I’ve been wanting to talk about that more or less fall under a loose heading of slice of life drama. That can be a theme, sort of. Slice of life and drama are pretty wide open genres, though, so this month is gonna be a bit loosey goosey.

Thing is, as a writer myself, I can’t help but love the slice of life genre. It’s this thing, where we spend time with characters, get to know them, and live with them as they deal with whatever it is they are dealing with. It’s a pure character driven genre, and as you know, that’s a big thing with me. It’s also pretty well a uniquely anime thing, as very few other types of television really do this.

I guess I just appreciate the whole thing in some hard to define way. Color me weird. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Also, I’m feeling dramatic lately, for obvious reasons, so here we are. I’m doing slice of life drama.

Anyway, there actually are a few shows that I really enjoyed that can only be defined under this heading in any meaningful way, so I figured since I didn’t really have any sort of plan for this month, let’s just do these and see where we are next month.

I am planning to tackle some shows that are pretty hard to define in the near future, like Baccano, Higurashi, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but that’s gonna require I have my brain operating in order to even try and write about any of them. It’s not doing that real smooth of late, so they can wait a bit.

Instead, I wanna tell you guys about this little three episode series called 5 Centimeters Per Second.

Called what now?

Released in 2007 by CoMix Wave, this is kind of an odd little show, but it’s also really amazing. Odds are, you may be more familiar with it as a feature film, if you’ve heard of it at all. After it first aired, the three episodes were bundled together and released as a movie, which did really well.

The story follows Takaki Tohno, who when he was in elementary school, was very close to a girl named Akari Shinohara. Unfortunately, before entering middle school, Akari’s parents had to move away, due to their job. This was something Takaki was familiar with, as his parents often had to do the same. Still, he and Akari had shared a bond like he’d never known before, and her leaving his life hurt a lot.

The two kept in touch by letter through his first year in middle school, before his parents had to move again, putting him on the opposite end of the country from Akari. Deciding to go and see her one more time, Takaki struggles through a blizzard, and slow moving trains, to see her once again, and the two share a kiss.

I got a first kiss to get to dammit!

Time is the enemy of us all, however, and after moving, their contact become ever more infrequent, before ending completely by the time Takaki is ready to graduate high school. He has become too attached to the memory of Akari to see anything, or anyone else, including Kanae, a classmate with a huge crush on him. Eventually, she gives up on confessing her feelings, because she sees that he will never see her.

More time passes, and Takaki is adult, working a job, and occasionally talking to an ex girlfriend who left him because his heart was always somewhere else. Akari, meanwhile, is engaged, and only somewhat remembers Takaki. Until a chance encounter causes them to cross paths once more.

That probably sounds really depressing, now that I think about it.

The theme the story explores is letting go, and moving forward. Takaki spends the entire story wanting to do that, and here and there through the second chapter, seems to be aware that Kanae has feelings for him, but is unable to return them, because he’s still hung up on Akari. He wants to move on, but can’t seem to, and just goes through the motions of life, rather than live.

Over time, these regrets that haunt him build up, and send him into a depression. He’s unable to let go, and just get on with his life, because he’s always thinking of what might have been, instead of what could be. Much less what should be.

On the other side of this is Akari, who did let go, and moved on with her life. We see her engaged, and while she does remember Takaki, with fondness, that is the distant past, and she has her eyes on the future, the one place Takaki can never manage to look to.

I’m totally gonna forget your ass in ten years. Love you!

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the show the first time I watched it, and it ended up being a thoughtful exploration of how a relationship that almost was affected two people in very different ways. Not just them, but the people around them, as Kanae suffers from Takaki’s inability to deal with the loss of Akari, and just get on with living. Though, I would imagine Akari’s soon to be husband is pretty okay with her having gotten over Takaki.

I assume. The dark sequel may yet appear where they battle each other with katanas for her heart.

The show covers eighteen years, and while Akari is a very present character, most of the story focuses on Takaki, as he struggles with his growing depression over what might have been. The detrimental affect of trying to live in a world that never was slowly eats away at him, causing him to alienate even the people who would be close to him, and leaving him a shell.

The ending is somewhat vague, and open to interpretation, though personally, it struck me that after the chance encounter, Takaki was finally ready to get on with his life. Which is also nice, as suggests that even from the depth of loss and loneliness he had allowed himself to sink to, there is always a way back up.

I may be reading that into it, though. For personal reason.

Personal, slightly emo reasons.

 

Still, it’s an interesting exploration of characters, life, love, and loss, that is well worth a watch, as it is done with considerable skill and sympathy for all the characters as they struggle two find their way in the world, never knowing what tomorrow might bring.

The animation is especially lovely. Most of the backgrounds are almost like watercolor paintings given motion, and the character designs are very well executed, making the two central characters easily recognizable, even as they age and mature. The whole thing has an almost dreamlike quality to it that makes it extremely pretty to just look at.

Now for that part I was excited to get to.

The show was written, produced, and directed by Makoto Shinkai, the guy behind Voice of a Distant Star, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, and last years mega hit, Your Name.

Yeah. That guy. The Your Name guy. The guy everyone keeps hailing as the next Miyazaki.

No pressure, folks. I’m sure Shinkai is totally not secretly panicking about that at all.

Fun fact. Shinkai is a month younger than me. We’ll have to get together some time and have a birthday toast, buddy. Talk about all your success, and how I can’t quite seem to achieve my own. Yeah. That’ll be fun.

What was I not being bitter about again? Oh. Right.

Like, whatever, man.

5 Centimeters Per Second is Shinkai’s fourth project. She and Her Cat, his first anime, was a five minute short that ended up winning him some awards, and lead to him being able to quit his job at video game maker Falcom, to make Voices of a Distant Star, which won a crap ton of awards, and he mostly did on his computer at home. This allowed him to make The Place Promised In Our Early Days, which won all the awards, and brought Shinaki a crap load of critical acclaim, as well as starting the next Miyazaki talk, something he has gone on record as wishing people would stop.

However, it would be 5 Centimeters Per Second that really put Shinkai on the map as a writer and director. His masterful examination of the human state, of love, loss, grief, and loneliness, as well as his ability to explore this emotions with long, slow, panning shots of landscapes, is deserving of the praise he receives, and then some. Shinkai uses more than dialogue to explore peoples emotional state. He uses everything, including visuals, and music.

The music, by the by, was composed by his close friend, frequent collaborator, and former Flacom co-worker, Tenmon, who I was very disappointed to find out is not actually a Digimon, but a normal human being who can do absurdly beautiful things with a piano. Which I guess is a power, or something. Would still be cool if he could digivolve into something, though.

My feelings about it all.

Okay, okay, joking aside, the music is simply beautiful. It’s typically simple, elegant, and emotionally haunting as it follows Takaki through his downward spiral of depression, but always contains notes of that evoke a sense of hope that he can still find a way to move forward. It’s gentle, sweet, and heartfelt. Tenmon is an excellent composer, and has worked with Shinkai on a lot of occasions, composing the soundtrack to almost all of his works. The two do great things together.

Five Centimeters Per Second draws its name from the rate at which cherry blossoms fall, which ties into the plot. Takaki and Akari promised to watch the cherry blossoms in a certain place in Tokyo fall together once again some day, and that very spot is where they have their chance encounter eighteen years later. So, it’s a really well thought out title, and deeply meaningful in ways I have now totally spoiled.

Total spoilage for you today, I guess.

Overall, this really is just an incredibly well put together show. It certainly is art, I’ll say that, and an excellent showcase of Shinkai’s talents, but the kinds of things that can be done with anime. Considering that CoMix Wave more or less seems to exist solely to make Shinkai’s projects come to life, that really does say a lot about not just his talent, but the depth and breadth of what anime can be in masterful hands. Enough to keep an entire studio afloat.

Honestly, as bitter as I sometimes feel about my own struggle to gain any kind of recognition for my work, seeing the kinds of things Shinakai can do fills me with hope. There really is an audience out there for dreamers like us.

Keep it up, man. You are a rockstar, and this show is proof of that.

You can only reach the sky when you aim that high.
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