your name. Another Side: Earthbound

By Arata Kanoh, Makoto Shinkai and Hiyori Ashikawa. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Taylor Engel.

your name was an astonishingly popular movie (and I assume did OK as a novel), so it’s no surprise that there would be a desire to see more of the world. It’s also no surprise that any side stories are not going to be written by Makoto Shinkai, who has no doubt already moved on to his next great work. Instead, this collection is by Arata Kanoh, who has done this sort of thing before – he has a 5 Centimeters Per second novel out in Japan, and seems to specialize in these sorts of books. What we get here is a collection of four short stories set in the world of your name (all on the Mitsuha side of the swap – sorry, Tokyo, no one cares about your end) and expanding on the points of view of three of the side characters (in case you’re wondering, the first story is more about Taki being not very Mitsuha-ish and making people “see another side” of her with his threatening bullies and doing Michael Jackson Smooth Criminal dances while in her body). As with many side story collections, it’s a mixed bag.

The second story focuses on Teshigawara, one of Mitsuha’s friends, and his POV on what’s been going on. One of the running gags through this volume is how horrible Taki and Mitsuha are at this bodyswapping, as absolutely everyone can see something is going on but can’t figure out what. It’s put down to stress, or possession by a fox spirit, etc. We get a few of the scenes in the original novel on his end, and see his frustration at the two girls talking about leaving this dead-end village when they graduate. He’s in a family business, expected to take it over, and rather frustrated about the whole thing, and therefore hearing them going on about how boring it is there is making his teeth grind.

The best story in the collection deals with Yotsuha, Mitsuha’s younger sister who spent most of the original novel staring suspiciously at her sister groping herself. Again, she knows something’s up with her sister, but can’t quite pin it down, and is casting around for reasons for the personality change. It’s a good look at events from the persopective of a 10 to 11-year-old tomboy, and we see the love that Yotsuha has for her sister, even if it doesn’t necessarily come out the way she wants. She also gets to experience what Mitsuha’s going through in another, more mystical way.

The final story was my least favorite, though that’s not the fault of the book – I just can’t bring myself to like Toshiki, Mitsuha’s father, and this story is an effort to give us backstory and show us how he turned into such an ass, as well as expand on Mitsuha’s mother. It didn’t help that we get a terrifying amount of cultural history regarding the past of the village’s rituals and how it got wiped out, which is meant to be interesting but I found a bit exhausting. I’m not sure I buy the “perhaps it was fate’s plan that I turn into a jerk and become Mayor” idea either.

That said, if you enjoyed your name, this is a pretty good followup to it. It’s not essential, but allows you to enter into that world one more time, which is just the sort of thing some readers love.

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.