Saturday, February 03, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #34: 5 Centimeters per Second by Makoto Shinkai and Yukiko Seike

I am the kind of person who reads a book based on a movie before seeing the movie. Perhaps even instead of seeing the movie. Sometimes without even realizing there was a movie until after finishing the book and looking to research it for a blog post such as this one.

I say all that to set expectations: I'm not going to compare books to movies very often, and definitely not today.

Today I'm writing about the manga volume 5 Centimeters per Second, written by Makoto Shinkai and drawn by Yukiko Seike. Unlike some similar projects, I get the sense Shinkai did translate his movie of the same name into a comics script -- this book (I found out after reading it) expands on the movie substantially.

Again, I can't speak for the movie. But the book has a strength and a crisp shape unusual for a work adapted from another medium, and it subverts expectations at every turn. It opens as a cute love-story between two kids -- she's Akari Shinohara, who just moved to this small town, and he's Takaki Tono, who moved there a year ago. They're maybe ten or eleven when the story begins, and about a year older when Akari moves away again, leaving them to write to each other to keep their connection. But then Takaki's family is going to move even further away, so they try to meet, for one last time, in the middle of a late-winter snowstorm that slows everything down.

Next we see Takaki in high school, friendly with everyone but not close to anyone. Another girl, Kanae Sumida, is painfully in love with him. He befriends her, but he doesn't have anything more to offer her -- we think, because we know stories like this, that it's because he'll get back together with Akari in the end. But if we look closer, we see that this section is Kanae's story: it's all about her feelings, and how Takaki doesn't, or can't, reciprocate.

And then the action jumps forward again, to the then-present day: Takaki is in his mid-twenties, working as a programmer. He has a steady girlfriend, Risa Mizuno, but he's no closer to her than anyone else. We realize the story is not about long-lost love, but about waiting for something that isn't real, or about letting past expectations define you, or about the ways life isn't like a romantic story.

I think Takaki learns that lesson, in the end. But this is a literary story, about internal states and emotions. And it ends, as it must, before we can see Takaki move on to something new in his life. So each reader has to decide individually what it means, and what will happen next.

This was a pleasant surprise: I thought I was getting a kid-love-reunited story, and I got something deeper and more resonant. (I'd say that I'll try to watch the movie, but there are several hundred movies ahead of it I could try to watch.) I should have realized it: 5 Centimeters was published by Vertical, who specialize in manga that is smart and real, created for grownups by grownups and not extruded to fill a slot in a marketing category. This is a real gem.

No comments:

Post a Comment