Review: Kimi no Na wa. Another Side: Earthbound

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Kimi no Na wa (more popularly known as Your Name) has now surpassed Spirited Away as the highest grossing anime film of all time. A simple romance film between Taki and Mitsuha who have the unfortunate experience of switching their bodies, Kimi no Na Wa has become one of the most genuine moving romances audiences have seen in a long time.

But despite being lauded as one of the best anime films of all time to watch, Kimi no Na Wa has not opened in American theaters. Thanks to some weird marketing decisions by Funimation — for example, a one-week showing in Los Angeles to make it eligible for the Oscars– the film has been delayed to April when everyone else has watched it.

So as of this writing, the film has been trapped in a Hadron Large Collider Hyperchambers of Hype and Magic. Distortions and bizarre speculations of the film’s story in the United States anime fandom are rampant. Everything is praise:

  • This is the best film of all time.
  • This has to be the best anime I’ve ever seen.
  • Shinkai is the next Miyazaki. I can feel it.

This has led to zero discussion of the flaws of the film. Amidst news of the film beating every sales record thinkable, there is a vocal minority in Japan who is confused how something like this is popular. I agree. I find the film a bit too superficial for its rather large-than-life scale as it dives deeper into science fiction and fantasy territories. This is especially apparent in the final act as the film begins to leap over necessary steps to explain what is going on. Googling 君の名は 考察 gives you giant essays in explaining what happens there, but I don’t buy any of them. The film feels like a Jun Maeda work where you come out of the work crying but you aren’t sure how it achieved that effect. The ending is at best a string of tearjerker scenes to draw out emotions, but it doesn’t make any coherent sense in the story whatsoever.

So there’s something missing to the film. Many ideas are unexplored or cut especially in the second half of the film. The film sports a huge cast of likable characters and is entertaining and a visual spectacle from start to finish, but it’d be nice if the film made a bit more sense. Most people are probably satisfied and argue that there’s no need to add — the film is just a romance film and it has done its job to make us fall in love with the characters. But for the people who really want to understand the film, they need something more.

Kanou Arata has teamed up with Shinkai Makoto again — they have worked previously on a side story for Five Centimeter Per Second and others — to fill in that need. Another Side: Earthbound is a short story collection featuring four different perspectives in Itomori. It begins with Taki as Mitsuha learning how to put on a bra and ends with Toshiki, Mitsuha’s father, on the day of the comet.

It is quite the mood shift.

These are stories that will feel unnecessary in the course of the film’s plotting, so Earthbound is a very ambitious project when you realize this book is merely fleshing out themes of what is already seen as a finished product in the creator’s eyes. It is why it has the cautionary title Another Story. It shouldn’t have anything to add, but I find that the themes of the film become extremely apparent here.

In the first story, Taki is trying to understand how Mitsuha can withstand this much pain from society. He learns that she always feels pressured thanks to how her family has broken up and how her father seems to be in some crude political deals. Classmates often gossip about her and make fun of how she is hanging out with Tessie who is the son of the subcontractor her father is working closely with.

Taki gets frustrated and retaliates, but he remembers that this isn’t his place to change the public perception of her. Of course, as anyone watched the film goes, it’s impossible to not do that as people are beginning to see a “new side” of Mitsuha. A wilder side, that is. Taki realizes how flexible Mitsuha is and begins to moonwalk to the bassline of “Smooth Criminal” and even gets some people clapping for his dance moves. It is ridiculous and quite cute to read this bizarre scene.

But what makes the story very fascinating to read is how Taki begins to empathize with Mitsuha with learning how to strap on a bra. He has no idea bras are this complicated and needs help from Natori. It’s a clever and subtle way to introduce to readers the themes of connection and empathy.

As you read the book, you could say Kimi no Na wa is a film about how we connect with people in the most unexpected ways and perceive people differently as a result. The second story in the book involves Tessie as he struggles to understand what his place in the city is. He wants to change the small town of Itomori, but he isn’t sure how. The story replicates the beginning of the film as Tessie listens to Natori and Mitsuha complain about how there are no urban facilities, especially cafes. He points to the vending machine that sells coffee. But what the film doesn’t show is that he is actually serious someday he will build an open cafe around that spot for people to hang out. Taki as Mitsuha decides to help out and this is a pleasant surprise for Tessie. He never knew that he’ll be connected to Mitsuha in this way. It is this unexpected connection that resonates with readers (and I suspect, cinemagoers) which is threaded throughout the book.

People, space, time, events, nature, the world — we are all connected in the same way the side stories are connected to the film. The connection may be perceived as unnecessary, but it is what drives the world. Earthbound admits connections between the wildest opposites are divine. It is the thread of fate that links us — the signification in semiotics — which we call God.

We find this appear in Yotsuha’s chapter as she is confused about what in the world is wrong with Mitsuha. She knows very little and, to Mitsuha, is just a little sister who wakes her up every day. But she sees Mitsuha as a shade of her mother who she barely remembers meeting. She becomes more emotionally attached to her sister and that attachment is what we call divine.

The last story neatly wraps up the semiotical themes of Kimi no Na wa with Toshiki reminiscing his past as a folklorist who has fallen in love with his then wife, Miyamizu Futaba. But Toshiki is distraught when Futaba passes away and no one in the Miyamizu family seems to have grieved at all. They say it’s part of fate and she should be happy as a servant of the deities. Toshiki runs away from all this — even his daughters — to become a politician and change the city for the sake of his wife. But at the end of the story, he realizes that all of his actions are part of an intricate network of connections that have been building up to this moment. He sees the signification in all of this. Everything before has happened for this decision he needs to make.

All of these stories have one thing in common: the connection between subjects is beautifully fated to one another. It is what Hitoha, the grandma, has been talking about when she mentions 結び (musubi). Unexpected they might be, the link has been chalked up by fate and it is our responsibility to uncover these systems and understand what they mean.

This makes Kimi no Na wa a story about how causality is actually a romance between people and events. We believe in the genuine affection between Taki and Mitsuha because of this and Earthbound gives reasons why. While the writing is rough, the book is an entertaining and almost necessary read for fans who want more out of the work. I personally loved the book more than the film in what it is trying to do and appreciate how amusing most of the scenes are. It is a book I don’t mind recommending.

Except for one problem: I hate stories about fate. This book makes the film too fatalist for me to swallow.

Much like most fiction dealing with time, the film Kimi no Na wa is ambivalent in delineating predestination/fate and free will. I went out of the film with the impression that both can coexist and love is the most powerful divine connection one can ever make to combat fate. Love is free will. Love makes the film tick.

But in the book, it is revealed everything in Toshiki’s life is set up by “destiny” to save the town. This can be applied in extension to every event in the film. Everyone and everything are important to make the parallel worlds happen to give us a happy ending. There is no ounce of free will. You can’t escape the connections that have put you on this road.

So all those sweat and tears Taki and Mitsuha are not genuine. They are going to end up together and save people. It isn’t the unexpected connection that links them but fate. Their romance isn’t beautiful but an arranged marriage by the threads of fate. Everything about the film is cheapened because of this book when you start thinking about the internal consistencies and logic of the world.

What are we to say about Taki’s undying passion for the countryside? Mitsuha’s love for the new and urban? The ending that Shinkai Makoto has crafted from the threads of fate?

I’m not arguing against predestination or for free will — I am a devout Taoist, so such ideas are meaningless — but in the context of the the film, the concepts don’t make any sense whatsoever. There is no logic to the film. Beautiful connections are ruined because they are scripted. Nothing is real. Everything is artificial. You have paid to watch a film that has been plotted to purge out emotions you never thought you ever had and make you cry. Deceptive marketing is all there is to the film because of this. You aren’t watching a romance; you are watching two unfortunate people get tangled up in the threads of fate.

I don’t want to see Kimi no Na wa as that because I do actually like the film and think the romance is especially cute. But that’s the logic of the world according to the book and film. Nothing about it makes sense and it is impossible to take the film’s setting seriously if it is all over the place. It is a Shinkai film I actually like after years of a love-hate relationship with the director and I don’t want to ruin it just because I started poking some holes into the work and lost every bit of my suspension of disbelief.

So what I have done is a compromise: I am going to see Kimi no Na wa and Earthbound as intrinsically connected works but not part of the same “work”. Earthbound is a spinoff, not a side story. It is the only way to save this connection, which I think is beautiful.

I may be thinking too much about the book and film. I’ve seen fans and haters describe Kimi no Na wa as a not-philosophical work. It doesn’t have an important message to deliver; it just reaffirms our stances in connections. Shinkai has also stated that his primary goal for the film is to make it entertaining for everyone and I think he has achieved his goals quite well.

But how much can one let these holes slip through is a test to how interested you will be in Earthbound. Are you willing to see the connections in Kimi no Na wa as meaninglessly fated or are you not that bothered by the consistencies of the work and can enjoy it with little criticism?

I can’t answer that myself, which is why this post will not have a rating. A rating assumes the reviewer has few reservations about what they feel toward a work. I have many and can only recommend it to people who favor prose over plot and themes without problems. That’s too specific of a recommendation to write out.

All I can say is: this book has resurfaced my mixed feelings toward Shinkai Makoto and I still wonder why I have watched most of his films. This inexplicable reason is what connects me with the director and I like to hope that this isn’t linked because of the threads of fate.

7 responses to “Review: Kimi no Na wa. Another Side: Earthbound

  1. I had dismissed Earthbound as a fluffy spinoff but I think I’ll give it a read now. (I was a big fan of the film.)

    You mentioned towards the end that you’d recommend it to people who favor prose over plot and themes without problems. Is there anything special about the prose?

    • The writing is nothing special and somewhat unpolished, but that’s where I enjoyed the most. It has a somewhat quirky feel to it and the random Western references amused me more than I thought. I wanted to read more of the writer after finishing the book, but I don’t feel like reading novelizations of Hayate no Gotoku movie or the umpteen Shining series novels he wrote…

      Edit: Oh yeah, I got interested in the post because I was reading Bookmeter and Amazon JP reviews about how it “finishes” the film so I never thought it was just silly side stories. It was a good random purchase.

  2. Looking forward to the English release of this spinoff (and the Your Name novel). I love most of the Shinkai films, and was glad I got to see this film in theaters while in Japan.
    It’s hard for me to comment on the intricacies of the story when I haven’t seen the film subtitled, and haven’t read these books. I guess I’ll chat with you on Twitter about it when that time comes, ha ha.

    • Shinkai is a mixed bag for me most of the time, so I’m glad Your Name is actually quite good. Too bad it’s not exactly what I would consider better than a popcorn flick.

      Earthbound is interesting since it tries to elevate the status of the film through its lore. As this review showed, I’m not sure if it succeeded. It’d be interesting if you or Melody review the English translation, so people can compare their thoughts (it’s why I went Kimi no Na wa instead of Your Name for easier viewing).

      • Don’t worry, I plan to pick up the Your Name and Earthbound books as soon as they’re out in English. Expect in-depth reviews every hour, on the hour (at least for one hour).

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