Title: 5 Centimeters per Second
Author: Makoto Shinkai, with art by Yukiko Seike
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Volume: One-shot (omnibus), $18.95
Vintage: 2010 by Kodansha, June 2012 by Vertical Inc.
Genre: Drama, romance, slice-of-life
Transfer student Akari Shinohara becomes fast friends with Takaki Tohno, himself familiar with the pains of transferring, in elementary school. They bond over their love of books and spend so much time together that their classmates begin to tease them. When they end up in different classes, Takaki decides to join the same club as Akari so they can continue to spend time together. Unfortunately, as they are planning to attend the same junior high together, Akari’s father is transferred, and she has to move far away. After Akari moves, they write letters back and forth for some time, neither ever really revealing their true feelings to the other. Eventually, Takaki has to move, which will make the distance between them even greater. Before that happens, they agree to meet in Iwafune. Immediately after school, Takaki sets off on a long train trip with several connections and line switches. The winter snow piles up, delaying train after train, causing him to arrive hours after their intended rendezvous. To his surprise, he finds Akari waiting for him, and they spend the night talking, but depart the next day without confessing the love they have for each other. Takaki transfers to a far away school on Tanegashima Island. It’s there that he meets Kanae, a girl who enjoys surfing off the island, and is head over heels for Takaki. She waits around after school for the chance to walk home with him after his archery club activities, and arrives at school early for the chance to watch him practice. She is drawn to his kind and friendly nature, and vows to confess her feelings once she finally catches a real wave. However, the more time she spends with him, and the closer they become, the farther she feels he really is from her reach. Takaki always has a distant expression on his face, looking past what’s in front of him. Including Kanae. When the day comes that she catches her first wave and tries to confess her feelings, she isn’t able to, and realizes that she’s been fooling herself and reading too much into Takaki’s kind nature. Even so, it’s not that Takaki was stringing her along. He just doesn’t know how to experience the life around him anymore. He’s stuck in the past, something which takes him a long time to learn. As an adult, Takaki dates girls, but the relationship always ends with the girl claiming she can’t understand or get a grip on his feelings. His longest, most serious relationship is with a girl named Risa Mizuno. With Risa, he goes through all the proper steps of a relationship, but when face with real commitment, the reality of taking a serious step forward, he freaks out and backs off, leaving Risa confused. When she finally confronts him, he realizes how much he’s been hurting the women he’s dated, especially Risa, and decides to tell her everything. That he’s lost, has no enthusiasm for life, feels he’s hit a dead end. He takes Risa to Iwafune, the last place he saw Akari, intending to face his past and move forward, but freezes up at the critical moment. Too late Takaki realizes that he’s placed his life on hold for something that will never come to fruition, but Akari has, at the very least, made him realize how much of life he’s been missing out on. And, in a way, has helped him break free of his stasis. In another place, Kanae has grown up and is trying to find her own tempo in life. She hasn’t forgotten about Takaki, however, and it’s holding her back from experiencing her life to its fullest. With some encouragement from a surfing friend and her older sister, Kanae is able to face her past and move forward as well.
I reviewed the film version that this manga is based on a while back. There’s not much more to say here that I didn’t already say there, because the manga follows along with the film’s plot and pace quite closely. The main change is the prologue with Kanae, and a much more drawn out and deeper section with Risa. Which is what this version has over the film – more depth. The format just allows for it, and Shinkai and Seike take advantage of that. Really exploring the sort of existential crisis that Takaki is having as he grows older. And also giving each of the main women in his life – Akari, Kanae, and Risa – much more individual time, so they are very well fleshed out. Kanae in particular, who in the film is just another stepping stone in Takaki’s life, really shines in this version, and experiences a lot of growth throughout her story line. So, if you’re a fan of the film, there are plenty of reasons to pick this version up. If you’ve never seen the film, I highly recommend it. 5 Centimeters per Second is a beautiful story about love, loss, growing up, and following dreams. One of its biggest themes, of course, is love trying to survive over a great distance, which is a common thread through all of Shinkai’s stories. Usually it’s more hopeful, but in this story it holds the characters back and keeps them from moving forward in life. The first part of the story is very beautiful, though also painful, in particular the long, lonely train journey Takai takes to visit Akari. It’s heartbreaking to watch him grow more and more panicked, and then depressed, as he realizes he has long missed the meeting time, fearful that Akari will have left. The journey back to Iwafune he takes with Risa has a lot of parallels with that first journey. Seiki expertly shows the changing emotions across Takaki’s face as he grows more and more panicked the closer they get, the moment his fear overcomes him and he leaves Risa behind, and his realization over what he’s done. Every moment of desperation, panic, grief, longing, and love is clearly illustrated on every character’s face. As a special bonus, Vertical has included a couple of beautiful color pages at the front of the book. Their translation is excellent, and all of the text flows naturally and is easy to read. My only complaint on that front are the word bubbles, which sometimes make it hard to follow which character is speaking. The book is well worth reading, whether you’re a Shinkai fan or not.