Well, it might be people’s best of 2017 since it’ll be a while before the blu-ray becomes available over here.
With the exception of maybe Dokyuusei, I can’t think of a single original anime movie in recent times that has gotten as much fanfare as Makoto Shinkai’s latest work did before it became available to the gaijin public. Even before it arrived in Japanese theatres, the fanbase that erupted from its exclusive Anime Expo-showing have been making their voices louder than a Siberian tiger scratching the world’s largest chalkboard. And now that it has arrived in the Eastern theatres, it’s made more money on its opening weekend than The Nice Guys had during its entire box office run. Whilst its currently high MAL score is almost guaranteed to go down once it reaches the wider audience that is America’s toxic anime fanbase, the fact remains that Shinkai has really hit the big leagues as of late, and as one of anime’s last remaining auteurs (let alone one that’s actually good), I think that alone should be worth celebrating.
Will he become the next Miyazaki as time goes on? I don’t know, and quite frankly I doubt he cares, so why should I? This isn’t a review of his career anyways. It’s a review of Your Name, or Kimi no Na wa as the weeaboos like to call it, and I was really looking forward to watching this one once I discovered that the premise was about a boy and a girl going through a Freaky Friday routine, because that’s usually the kind of premise reserved for a cheap harem anime or One Piece. Not something you’d expect a man of Shinkai’s caliber to do, and especially not a premise deserving of so much visual porn that it’d make art students cum within five seconds of exposure. Sure when you think about it, it’s not too far out of his domain. Shinkai has dabbled with putting a serious take on wacky anime premises in the past (his first major work was basically a modern take on Gunbuster after all). Still, I never really expected this sort of premise to get a big-budget treatment in general unless it was a cheap franchise movie, let alone be put in the hands of such a talented guy. And now that I’ve seen the result of that combination, I can safely say I should never underestimate this dude.
Now before going on, I should point out that I’m fully aware most of you guys haven’t had a chance to see the movie as of this time of writing, and unfortunately I can’t talk about the majority of Your Name’s story because of how heavily dependent it is on things not being as clear-cut as they seem. That’s right. A movie about a boy and a girl who can swap bodies with each other has a lot going on underneath the surface that I can’t spoil for fear of ruining your enjoyment like all of pop culture does for Citizen Kane. So let’s just start off by saying that I do recommend Your Name. It’s easily one of the best anime I’ve seen this year (not that the competition has been all that fierce) as well as one of the most emotional roller coasters that I’ve seen this medium produce in quite a long time. Oh, and if you are even slightly interested in shipping culture, there is a 99% chance that you will consider this movie a masterpiece, because it pretty much hits every major shipping button in the book – including ones that most hardcore shippers didn’t know they had. If you want a more visual representation of what I’m talking about, remember what you loved about ERASED before it went to shit. Now imagine that show never going to shit and make sure to step out of that puddle of drool and tears you just made.
The tone of Your Name is distinctively more “anime” than most of Shinkai’s stuff. It felt like he was trying to cater more to a mainstream audience whilst not sacrificing his signature style in the process throughout the entire runtime, and if the later Persona games are anything to go by, that can really pay off if done well. And it does pay off in quite a few ways I didn’t expect. The movie made me laugh a lot, even at jokes that I wouldn’t normally laugh at, and the story actually progressed in a way that I wanted to see things end happily rather than the usual bittersweet closures that I generally love about this guy’s take on romance. And any anime that can get that amount of investment from me is always worth my time, even if the characters themselves don’t have too much going for them individually.
Having to look up their names for this review is one thing because I’m bad at remember names in general, let alone foreign ones. But if you were to ask me to describe the two leads, I wouldn’t have much to say besides a normal girl who wants to be free of the traditions set on her by her family and a normal boy who just wants to get by in life. I think it was an intentional decision on Shinkai’s part to make his characters “normal” so that we can relate to them more and they’re both likable/interesting enough, but I prefer characters who have story to them first, and relatability second. And it’s hard to get too invested in a character’s dilemma when I’m not given a non-circumstantial reason regarding why I’d want to follow this character in the first place.
For example, the main boy’s name is Taki Tachibana, and his goals in life are to get into university, get closer to his hot female co-worker at the restaurant he does part-time work in, and grope his own breasts when he suddenly discovers he has them. That’s stuff you can say about any normal Joe, and whilst I can definitely relate to those issues enough to not find Taki boring, the sort of connection I can form with him from just that is limited when I’m not the one who’s actually experiencing those problems first-hand. Even when the movie gets into deeper material, Taki never really experiences any emotions or problems that are particular complex to analyze. And considering Shinkai has managed to balance both the intellectual and the emotional aspects of his stories in the past, I found the heavy emphasis on the latter at the expense of the former to be kinda disappointing. Hell, even the majority of Ghibli’s output after they peaked did a pretty decent job in that department. Maybe my opinion will change if I watch the movie again (and you can bet I will), but I’m just going to say right now that I liked the character presentation in 5/cm. You fanboys may call it emotionally distant. I call it the solution to you guys overrating the hell out of Holo and Lawrence’s thing.
But let’s move on to another aspect of Your Name I can actually talk about: the technicals. Frankly, I am quite amazed at how much Shinkai is improving in that field, especially considering how high he sets the bar with each film he does. Not only is the visual quality of the animation so stunning that it makes Garden of Words look like someone’s Flash animation and the Radwimps soundtrack one of the most fun anime soundtracks I’ve heard in quite some time, but the way he utilizes these technicals is so masterful that it can make even the most basic of emotions expressed throughout this film feel like you’ve just been hit in the face and you want more because you love it. I’m really hard-pressed to come up with a cartoon that gets emotional storytelling down the way the animation in this one does, even compared to what I consider superior cartoons like Kaiba, Haibane Renmei, or a good chunk of Pixar’s output. Hell, I’d need a whole other post (and a digital file of the film) just to talk about the specifics.
A lot of you guys are watching Re:Zero, right? Well let’s put it like this: if White Fox’s “masterful” direction of Subaru’s bawl-fests is the equivalent of getting hit with a cannonball, Your Name’s direction of the emotions constantly vibrating in its characters, setting, dialogue, and just about everything that makes up a single frame of this film is the equivalent of getting hit with a cannonball the size of Jupiter, and there are thousands more frames where that came from. It knows when to play it light. It knows when to play it heavy. It knows just the right amount to make it seem natural. And it doesn’t sacrifice more important things in the process. Well okay, I just said it sacrificed some important things a few paragraphs ago. But never to the extent that I ever walked out thinking to myself “well that was good enough”. The Boy and the Beast is an anime I consider “good enough”. Your Name is plain good, regardless of the actual magnitude of positive feelings I have for it.
I really wish I could talk more about the plot with you guys, but I can’t. Not even regarding the movie’s themes, which I’m still not quite clear on myself, but I will tell you that part of the movie’s plot was inspired by Japan’s recent earthquake disasters. However, I only knew this because Shinkai himself told us. Otherwise, I would never have made the connection, because the “event” that said inspiration is based on…well let’s just say depending on your suspension of disbelief, you’ll consider it emotionally heart-breaking or completely arbitrary. I’m not for heavy-handed commentary or anything, but if there is a deeper meaning that I’m missing in Your Name that’d make me join on the “masterpiece” bandwagon with the rest of the die-hards, I really think Shinkai should have made it more obvious. After all, some anvils just need to be dropped, because otherwise you’ll risk the opposite problem of people reading too much into things. There’s open to interpretation, and then there’s just laying out a bunch of plot elements and telling your audience to make their own story.
Don’t take my word for it though. Watch the movie yourself and come to your own conclusions. Or watch it because this review has just a raised a million questions regarding what the hell could possibly be in Your Name that’s making me so cryptic in regards to describing the experience. Either way works fine. Just don’t get spoiled before diving in. You’ll probably still enjoy the movie regardless, but there can only be one moment of discovery, and no one should have the right to take it away from you but yourself. And even then, only when you decide that you are ready.
In the meantime, here’s the full version of the main song to tide you guys over.
- It’s possible that a second viewing will uncover previously unseen flaws or strengths that I didn’t notice at the time due to the Expo atmosphere, so don’t expect a good chunk of this review to hold up over time.
- How come I’ve never heard of Radwimps before now?
- Actually, the MAL score has a decent chance of actually rising when this movie becomes more available.