Seriously, why is probably the most acclaimed romance anime of all-time never brought up these days?
Despite 5 Centimeters Per Second’s acclaim along with its recent re-release, it hasn’t been all that relevant in the anime community as of late. If anything, I think Haikyuu has gotten more attention when both anime were released in the States on the same day. Fair enough, as despite his popularity, Shinkai isn’t exactly the most well-respected director and his films/commercials since 5/cm have mostly just been good without being great. Nevertheless, if you consider yourself a fan of animation, I don’t know why you wouldn’t at least give this guy a chance.
I mean have you seen this artwork? Wow.
“But wait, Mr. Flawfinder!” I hear you scream. “Didn’t you say when you first started this blog that Makoto Shinkai is a boring hack, too in love with narration to let the visuals do the talking?”. To which I say “quit bringing up the past. I like him now, and I love this movie, so shut up.”
Admittedly, I still do wish that Shinkai would tone down the narration in his works. It’s not on the same level of intrusiveness as Durarara’s or anything, but given how f*cking meta that shit got in its latest iteration (along with meta now being one of the lowest forms of wit imaginable), the narration in Shinkai’s stuff might as well be on the same level as Shin Mazinger Z’s or Winnie the Pooh’s by comparison. Nevertheless, you could make a convincing argument that the narration was necessary in order to portray self-important kids whose self-importance ends up ruining their lives along with their health, and considering that is a major part of 5 Centimeter’s story, said annoyances are toned down to 1/100th of their potential at maximum.
So let’s get down to the story. Two kids meet due to their reclusive nature and allergies and grow up together up until middle school, when the girl had to move due to the nature of her parents’ job. They try to keep in contact with each other, but given that up until the third chapter, technology like cell phones, Facebook, and f*cking Snapchat didn’t exist, said contact became increasingly difficult to maintain. It didn’t exactly help that the boy’s parents decided to hop on the “moving train” as well, making it impossible for the two to meet each other ever again without doing the equivalent of a drive from New York City to Seattle, and as much as I like my mom, I’m not paying that much gas money in order to receive a hug from her. From there, we mostly focus on the boy, named Takaki, as he finds himself unable to move from the past yet hesitant to try to reclaim it once cell phones are invented, causing him to fight a losing battle within himself for many years. Honestly, I don’t think I’d want to know what happen if Snapchat existed in this film. It’d probably turn the whole thing into a comedic farce that John Green would laugh at.
Whilst it’s true that the majority of romance stories I enjoy happen to be the ones where the couple can’t work things out and separate in the end, Annie Hall-style, the ones amongst that sub-genre I do have a fondness for have to be done a specific way. Otherwise, I’d champion Annie Hall and the majority of Woody Allen’s movies the same way I’d champion a deep dish pepperoni pizza with extra tomato sauce. No, my favorite kind of bittersweet romance is the kind that makes you feel good in the end, knowing that everything is going to be alright. You can subject your protagonists to multiple feels and shit in-between, but you need that feeling of happiness at the end – preferably for both people involved – because to me, that’s reality. I’m not quite as big into the ones that end with the couple trying to start anew, but I give a pass to something like Eternal Sunshine considering both parties lost their memory at the end. Not so much Ruby, but let’s stick to the anime film I’m actually reviewing shall we…
…oh, and you can’t do it like 500 Days of Summer. Seriously, that movie was so wrapped up in thinking it was being original that it forgot to be funny, smart, or even all that entertaining. Don Jon was better.
…okay now seriously, I understand why quite a few people don’t like the kind of story 5/cm is. I know that most anime fan’s views of anime romance tend to be stuff like Spice and Wolf, Crest of the Stars, and Nodame Cantabile. And if you’re into melodramas, Clannad and Your Lie In April really gets you into the feels mode as well. You know, the kind when you either want to feel a sugar rush or unsubtle tears. It also doesn’t help that when anime fans like a couple, they really want to spend a long time with ’em because that’s how you get to care about ’em. And okay, the less than 10 minutes that Akari and Takaki share on screen isn’t exactly the best artistic decision one can make when telling a love story, regardless of the end result or how closely it mirrors real life. But this is fiction at the end of the day, and in the realm of fiction, I think 5/cm’s blow to those sorts of romances (and that includes the straight-forward romance anime I like as well) makes for a great stand-alone story and a great meta-commentary on anime romances on the whole, particularly the childhood friend tropes.
Whilst I would have liked Akari to have shared her part of the “slowly drifting apart like sakura petals” story more and Kanae’s story – whilst good on its own – probably shouldn’t have taken priority over that, in regards to this anime’s goal, there’s nothing in it that doesn’t need to be in it. I also find it a little weird that Takaki is so obsessive over a childhood crush, because whilst I’m aware that Japan has a different culture to us, it still doesn’t change the fact that romances at the high school level and under ultimately mean nothing. And I find it hard to believe that’s not the case in Japan given its low birth rate and such. But that’s not the main thing you’re supposed to focus on. You’re supposed to focus on how these sorts of romances just don’t work out, along with how these characters’ self-defeating behaviors are ultimately not good for them. It’s like Millennium Actress if Millennium Actress had a more ambitious end game besides the pursuit of timeless romance. Sorry Chiyoko, but you barely even knew the guy, so why the hell should I care about your endless pursuit?
I know a lot of people are down on the ending, and the cheesy music video feel probably wasn’t a good accompaniment for its anticlimactic nature, but the anticlimax is part of the point really. If it ended differently, it’d just be giving the fans what they’d want, and why would you want to do that? Oh I’m sure Paper Towns will rake in a decent amount of dough with its take on a hopeful outlook and all provided the movie sticks to the books accurately (and honestly it’s not a bad story, but the end result you’re supposed to take from it has been many times before), but whilst I like these sorts of stories to end happily, don’t overshoot yourself ala Taylor Swift when she puts out a listenable song (and especially when she doesn’t). Nothing loses fans quicker than sacrificing the integrity of your story in the process of finishing it – something Bioware is still recovering from and Eden of the East will probably never live down.
But let’s get to the real reason why this movie shines: the animation. Even if you don’t like the kind of romance story that 5/cm portrays, watch it just for the art. No, I’m not just talking pretty pictures that look like they had a really long bubble bath here. I’m talking about gorgeous pictures with painstaking attention to detail regarding the backgrounds and how said backgrounds are used to convey the mood of the also well-drawn and expressive characters as we follow them throughout their lives. It’s the kind of animation that makes me a fan of the medium, despite my constant complaints at practically everything it gives me, including the stuff I like. 5/cm isn’t exactly on the level of In The Mood For Love in terms of this kind of story, but it’s definitely more accessible, and the visuals along with the atmosphere it creates are a big, if not the main, reason why that is. There are Makoto Shinkai artbooks out there that you can read that detail why it’s so amazing, so all I can say is that even though his stories haven’t been as good lately, I’m amazed that he managed to improve on his artwork over time, especially considering how amazing this is in general.
If you’re an anime fan, or a fan of animation, I really highly recommend 5/cm. You don’t have to like it. Some of you may really hate it. But it’s still worth at least one watch, just for the visual experience.