5 Centimeters per Second: one more side

By Makoto Shinkai and Arata Kanoh. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Kristi Fernandez.

(This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher)

I hadn’t initially planned to review this, mostly as I’ve never seen the 5 Centimeters per Second movie, and if I read the manga it was so long ago I’ve forgotten it. But I’m familiar with the author from the your name spinoff he wrote, which I enjoyed, and he also has a Voices of a Distant Star novel coming out over here this summer. So I gave it a try, and I’m glad I did. I knew going in from the start that the overall mood of the book would be ‘wistful verging on bleak’, of course. This is Makoto Shinkai we’re talking about, the creator who surprised everyone by NOT giving your name a bittersweet ending. 5 Centimeters per Second tells the story of a boy, Takaki, and a girl, Akari, who meet as kids, fall in love, separate, try to stay in touch, meet one more time in an ultra romantic scene… and then never meet again. This book tells the story from different perspectives.

I’ll be honest here, I liked Akari a lot more than I liked Takaki. This is deliberate, I suspect. It’s one reason why I think my favorite part of the book was the start, showing us Akari’s perspective of life as a shy, introverted child who had to transfer schools. Her emotions are raw, and mention is made of wanting to “disappear” but not actually having the wherewithal to kill herself, which is really bleak given she’s about nine. Transferring schools is a lot more common in Japan than it is in the West, and the lessons given here on how to fit in – and how hard it is – read very true. Takaki is at his best here, helping Akari with some sound advice and an ear to lend, but even at this age we can see how he tends to withdraw from her when things get too close.

The second part of the book is Takaki’s, showing his middle school life after he moves down South to Tanegashima. He meets a nice girl who falls for him hard, and he clearly likes her, but is also deliberately not doing anything. This compares nicely to the third part of the book, which has interlocking POVs, where he meets a nice woman as an adult who falls for him hard and he clearly likes her but is also deliberately not doing anything. Takaki seems trapped in that one moment he had with Akari at the station when they were thirteen (twelve? Around there), and it’s only at the very, very end of the book that he seems to grow past it. Akari, on the other hand, blossoms into a confident, happy young woman, marries a nice guy, and has a wonderful life. Seeing this made the ending less bittersweet than I’d expected. Sure, young love didn’t work out. That happens all the time. But, helped by Takaki’s advice as a child, Akari has become a wonderful young woman.

I’m not sure how this complements the movie, but I’m pretty sure fans of it will want to pick this up. The prose is gorgeous and evocative, worth the price of the book alone. I’ll definitely want to get more of this author’s take on Shinkai’s works.

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