your name.

By Makoto Shinkai. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Taylor Engel.

I’m coming at this novel from a somewhat unique perspective, I think, as I am one of the few people reading it who hasn’t already seen the movie first. In fact, the author states he initially wasn’t going to write a novel at all (novelization might be more accurate), feeling that it was a story he felt best told through the medium of the animated movie (in particular, the music used for it). But the novel kept niggling at him, and he finally buckled down and wrote it. It’s from the perspective of its two leads, Mitsuha and Taki, which gives an opportunity to better get inside their heads, but also means we only see scenes they’re involved in. So if people are asking me whether your name. is worth reading if you’ve seen the movie, I can’t tell you that. I can say that by the end of the book I was enjoying it enormously, and I’m very happy I read it.

That said, the book comes with a warning from me to my readers: if you are bothered by second-hand embarrassment in your reading, them parts of this book are going to be like crawling through glass. The main premise involves a bodyswap between a boy and a girl, so we already get the normal ‘I’m acting weird and everyone is puzzled’ scenes, but the kids are also teenagers, meaning there’s lots of weird body issues and teen crushes, leading to the most awkward date ever. That said, both kids are nice, and the contrast between the way-out countryside and the middle of Tokyo was a nice contrast. Mitsuha’s perspective takes up a lot of the beginning and near the end of the book, while Taki’s has most of the middle for obvious plot reasons.

There is romance as well, of course, though it’s done so subtly that it almost crept up on me. At one point during the aforementioned awkward date, Taki’s crush says she can tell he’s in love with someone else, and he’s honestly as puzzled as the reader is by this point. But as things snowball, you can see the depth of feelings grow deeper and deeper, and by the end of the book we are quite content to actually not see the final familial confrontation because we’ve gotten what we wanted. More surprisingly, and without wanting to spoil too much, the ending is not quite as bittersweet as some of Shinkai’s other works, even though it still remains somewhat ambiguous. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be one of the reasons that this movie has been a bigger hit than any of his other movies – bittersweet is lovely, but doesn’t sell as well.

There are a few niggles – The book may be a bit TOO fast and short, for one. I’d also like to have seen more of Mitsuha vs. her father, and the side characters are not as developed as our leads. There’s also a side story volume coming out in the fall (by a different author) that may expand on this, as it apparently shows the story from other perspectives. But your name. is an emotional journey, and as the book goes on you’ll find yourself turning the pages faster and faster. I can’t speak for those who’ve seen the movie, but if you like romance with a touch of sci-fi, this is definitely worth a buy.

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  1. Hmm. I have seen and loved the movie, and I think you’ve convinced me to take a chance that the novel won’t ruin it.

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