It’s probably fair to say that 5 Centimeters per Second isn’t the first film you think of if you hear the name Makoto Shinkai; no doubt your mind will go to his blockbuster hit Your Name. However, for me, 5 Centimeters per Second holds a special place in my heart for being my introduction to Shinkai’s work and I’m always looking for new ways to explore it. Now, thanks to publisher Vertical, a new opportunity has arisen in the form of 5 Centimeters per Second – One More Side, a retelling of the story from the perspective of other characters. Is it worth a read? Let’s find out!
Before we begin I would like to mention that this book is more of a companion piece to the movie than a way to experience 5 Centimeters per Second as a newcomer. If this is your first encounter with the story, then I encourage you to seek out Manga Entertainment’s recent Blu-ray release. You can find my review for that here.
Our story begins with Akari Shinohara reminiscing about her first love, Takaki Tono. The two met in elementary school, and both being victims of transferring from school to school because of their parent’s jobs, quickly bonded. Although they have never confessed their feelings to one another, Takaki and Akari are inseparable all throughout elementary school but that abruptly comes to an end when Akari’s family decide to move away from Tokyo.
With a huge distance between them and without the modern day convenience of email, the two slowly grow apart, not only in body but in spirit too. They exchange letters that never contain their real feelings, just fragmented looks at their daily lives. When Takaki’s family later reveals they, too, are moving away from Tokyo, Takaki makes an effort to visit Akari for the first and last time. What comes after is an emotional and thoughtful look at first love, separation, and how it can shape your future as a whole.
In the 5 Centimeters per Second film, the first arc is told from Takaki’s perspective. For One More Side, this has been swapped to Akari, which gives us a better look at her as a person and why she grows so close to Takaki so quickly. Akari has never fitted in at school, she’s a bookworm with no desire to join clubs or interact much with her fellow classmates. Previous attempts to socialise have not gone well, especially coupled with her status as the ‘transfer student’. Takaki has learned how to instantly fit in without rocking the boat, something he advises and helps Akari with. Life is easier together and the years spent with Takakai moulds Akari into the person she is today, more confident and capable than ever before. She’s without a doubt the best character in the book and so I’m glad that One More Side does such a good job of telling the story from her point of view.
The second chapter of the book is swapped to Takaki’s perspective, showing his life through middle and high school. In the film, we see this through the eyes of his friend, Kanae, who often talks about how Takaki is distant and looking to someplace far away for something out of reach. Seeing Takaki’s thoughts in One More Side is enlightening and shows how much the loss of Akari in his life affected him.
While the novel never touches on this subject itself, it’s clear from Takaki’s monologues that he is depressed, often wondering what the world would be like without him in it and what there is to push forward for. While I can empathise with the fact that love is hard to get over, especially in a situation out of your control, Takaki was just a child when he fell for Akari. Now much older and with someone close to home who has feelings for him (feelings he avoids dealing with in any way), it’s frustrating to watch his refusal to move on in his life.
This stubbornness to deal with his own feelings spills over into the third act, which is narrated by both Takaki and Akari interchangeably. Even years later Takaki is still yearning for Akari in his life, but also can’t accept that he needs to move on. Coupled with the fact that Takaki has never been a particularly likeable character to begin with, these sections just sour my opinion of him that much more.
Having said that, the third act of One More Side is where the most value in this novel comes from. The final arc of 5 Centimeters per Second has always been the weakest because Shinkai spends the least time with it and leaves the most questions unanswered. The manga adaption (also available through publisher Vertical) does a good job at answering some of the questions, but One More Side goes one step further and leaves me truly satisfied for the first time. Finally, both Takaki and Akari’s stories are given the closure they deserve.
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Adapted by author Arata Kanoh, One More Side perfectly captures the world and characters that Shinkai created – for better and worse. Kanoh has worked on adapting and expanding many of Shinkai’s works, such as Your Name: Another Side Earthbound, and he has a talent for drawing out new and fascinating elements of the story. One More Side is just as captivating as 5 Centimeters per Second was for me on my first viewing. As a whole, it may be flawed because of Takaki’s grating personality, but I can’t deny that it’s still a great story.
Having said that, Vertical advertise the book as being ‘deeply engaging’ for newcomers to the story – which isn’t true. Kanoh does his best not to retread the story Shinkai told, apart from the most important elements, and I think that would leave a first-timer lost. This book is a fantastic companion piece to the film, but not a substitute for it.
As previously mentioned this novel comes to the West thanks to Vertical and features an attractive cover illustration drawn by Monogatari illustrator, VOFAN. The book has been translated by Kristi Fernandez and the translation reads well – although there are a couple of sentences where the language becomes quite formal and almost stiff because of it. One notable example is a section where the term ‘letter’ has been replaced with the word ‘missive’, something I wasn’t familiar with and which didn’t quite fit the context after researching it. Fernandez was kind enough to get in touch on Twitter regarding the example and her explanation sheds light on what was evidently an editorial change and one that I assume was made to avoid echoing the word letter over and over on that particular page.
Overall 5 Centimeters per Second – One More Side is a must-read for fans of the film. Although it can’t fix the many flaws 5 Centimeters per Second has, especially with its characters, it’s still a surprisingly engrossing read. The fresh perspective on the tale brings it to life in a whole new way.