It’s raining outside and I’m coil myself around my sofa cushion. There was a flash outside my window and soon after, there was a faint clap of thunder. I could taste the humidity in the air and smell the scent of wet soil from outside my house. I really hate rain when I was younger, but now, it seems like rain is a welcome friend. I stood up, and walked out the doors of my home. Standing in my yard, I looked up at the grey skies, ignoring the stinging drops of water on my bare eyes and sighed longingly.
“A faint clap of thunder,
Perhaps rain will come.
If so, will you stay here with me?“
Makoto Shinkai’s latest work in 2013, a 46-minute long anime film that as per usual features a lot of spectacularly beautiful scenes and another somewhat realistic romance story. However, the question remains after I watched the movie for the first time, “Has Makoto Shinkai gone soft?”
On one end, we have the usual male protagonist, Takao Akizuki, a typical highschool student who was a delinquent in school. Nope, he’s not the stereotypical delinquent you normally see in anime that sleep on rooftops all the time. This one is one of those delinquents you see in reality, those that comes from financially challenged families that work part-time all the time. Takao has his aspirations too, that is to be a shoemaker. In fact, he’s so engrossed in shoe making, that he literally makes shoes at home. Though he claims that they are no good, he works at it day and night, sketching, sculpting, sewing non-stop. He thinks that school is not what he should be doing and rather skip school than do sit there listening to the lessons. Who doesn’t, though?
On the other, we have the mysterious women who Akizuki meets and befriends when skips classes on rainy days. She is always clad in office clothes and later, it was revealed that she was skipping work, just like how Akizuki skips school. As the monsoon season drag on, Akizuki meets the mysterious woman almost every day and as in all romance stories, he began to fall in love with her. But, unbeknownst to him, she is actually closer than to him than he had ever imagined…
Like almost all of Makoto Shinkai’s work, at the center of the anime, there is an unconventional love story. Take 5 Centimeters Per Second, for example. There is the two childhood friends who were separated by fate and as time passes, they find the distance between the two of them increasing despite their growing fondness for each other.
In The Garden of Words, it is almost the same but unlike 5 Centimeters Per Second and his previous works, this film has a more satisfying feel to it. I’ll try not to spoil too much for you but forgive me if I let slip too much.
This film is centered around the themes of love but unlike conventional love, it challenges the viewers’ perception of love. Since Akizuki is still a highschool student, his love towards the mysterious woman who is considerably older than him can cut both ways for many people. While one may feel that relationships like that are impure or unacceptable, he/she may find himself/herself rooting for the duo. The themes of unconventional love rings loud throughout the entire series and despite the main characters’ mutual feelings for each other, they are restricted by the age barrier and their roles in society.
This anime reminds me a lot of GTO which explores and redefines the roles of teachers and students in Japan. What people may call ‘puppy love’ and what is real can be really different in reality. This anime is really bold in exploring these themes and the relentlessness of the main characters in pursuing their happiness is really heart warming.
To date, this anime is one of the most touching and memorable anime produced by Makoto Shinkai, very possibly, even better than his most famous work, 5 Centimeters Per Second. Not only is it the most memorable, in my opinion, it is also one of the most beautifully animated films in the history of anime.
The animation is extremely fluid and each frame was extremely fine in detail. Every rain drop, every ripple, every reflection, every tree, every leaf, every ray of sunlight was so beautifully drawn out. It’s so beautiful that it may even precedes the beauty in real life. You could almost feel the humidity, the raindrops splattering on the ground, it looks so real that our eyes deceive us.
The plot on the other hand, is considerably different from Makoto’s previous work. Unlike his usual slow pacing, this anime’s pacing is quite good and not so slow that you would feel the slowness of the plot. Despite the excellent pacing, I would find the some parts not properly explained as it could have been. Well, basically that’s the only thing I could complain about in this entire anime so that should explain a lot.
One thing worth mentioning here is the fact that Hanazawa Kana voices the “mysterious” woman in this anime. Yes, the one and only Hanazawa Kana. In case you don’t know who she is, she normally voices high-pitched girl characters such as Kuroneko from OreImo, Onodera Kosaki from Nisekoi and Nadeko Sengoku from Bakemonogatari. In consideration of those roles, you would really doubt her suitability in playing a role that is more mature. However, she pulled off a shocker as her voice, though vaguely recognizable, was extremely suitable to this role as a young adult woman in her late-20s. I don’t know how she did it but her voice was deeper and mature when compared to her previous roles.
Apparently, Shinkai chose Kana Hanazawa because who had a very low natural voice, despite typically playing the roles of high-pitched younger girls. One of the things that impressed Shinkai about Hanazawa’s voice was her ability to cover such a broad range of expression and her ability to pull off one of the more complicated realistic elements of the woman’s character that was her sense of purity that her voice convey.
Now, onto the question that everyone has been wondering about: “Has Makoto Shinkai gone soft?”
Why did I suggest a question like that? That’s because in this short 46 minute short film, no one died, fell gravely ill, broke up with girlfriend/boyfriend, died (yes, I know I repeated.) or left to rot in another planet very far away from Earth. Somehow, that’s what we all began to expect from Makoto Shinkai, or rather, sad anime in general. We start thinking that sad anime will think of the most ridiculous or incredulous way to make us feel sad or crack up even if it means coughing up ridiculous settings for the characters to be in.
I mean, it’s anime but it doesn’t mean it has to be ridiculous. In this movie, Makoto has shown us that you don’t need anything fanciful to be sad. In fact, you don’t even need to try. No robots, no afterlife and no freaking balls of life or whatever. Just the smallest things in life, no matter how small or insignificant it may be, it can still touch your heart and make you feel sad inside.
Like the rain, or a simple poem can touch you more than anything fanciful you may think of. As the upcoming Key produced Charlotte nears, I just hope that the production studio will take cues from Makoto’s way of doing things and just keep it simple. Though I doubt it.
To date, this can be considered one of the most touching stories that has ever come out of Makoto Shinkai’s bag of beautifully animated movies. It has a fantastic plot even though it may be underdeveloped at times, it has great animation as usual and the themes mentioned in this anime will make you cringe and smile at the same time. To top it all off, it has Hanazawa Kana showing us a different side of her normally high-pitched and buoyant demeanour. What’s not to love about it?
“A faint clap of thunder,
Even if rain comes or not,
I will stay here,
Together with you.”
Now, if you will excuse me as I attempt to roll and sleep my hollow feelings away.
Till the next post, then, goodnight.