Summer Reading — Your Name, Hatsune Miku (June 29)

Your Name art by hami

It’s time for our second and final discussion of the novels Your Name and The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku. Spoilers ahoy!

Your Name

What is there to say about the story of Your Name that hasn’t been said a hundred times already? That’s the first thing that comes to mind for me as I try to decide what topic to focus on for this summer reading post. Fate and fatalism, what constitutes one’s identity, traditional culture in a modern era, gender roles, the effect of great disasters on society, fulfilling dreams within mundane reality… The list goes on and on.

There are a lot of things I like about the second half of Your Name. Much of it plays out like a sort of YA thriller, and is pulled off well enough that I had to read most of it in one sitting. The protagonists Mitsuha and Taki are also very easy characters to root for. The story as a whole feels like multiple genres that have all been meshed together seamlessly (for the most part), and each has its own unique spin on things.

What stands out the most to me though is the emotion of the story. Some of Makoto Shinkai’s past films have really resonated with me, particularly Five Centimeters Per Second (which I’m going to have to say, is still my favorite of his). I feel that Shinkai’s greatest strength in his storytelling is how he manages to powerfully convey the sorts of feelings people carry deep within themselves. In the final chapter of the novel, I ended up highlighting an entire page that stuck out to me in this way:

There are a number of “montage sequences” in the book, but this one in particular stood out for how it gets across a feeling that is not so easy to define. The days of our lives go by–and for many of us, we yearn for something, but don’t know what precisely. Sometimes we stop and observe small, everyday things, and just absorb that moment. We try to glean something from it. It’s a hint to something important, maybe? Or maybe it’s not. Our day-to-day lives are perhaps mostly made up of things that don’t actually matter. But then, what is it that we decide is significant? What do we keep breathing and walking and struggling for?

Your Name is written in simple language, but through those simple words I think we can glean a variety of messages. The story is about many different things, but they all tie together nicely enough that the overarching themes feel greater than the sums of their parts. The prose is carefully handled in such a way that the words have more “weight” to them than I feel is typical of genre fiction.

In other words, the story is going to stick with me, and I can see myself re-reading the book in the years to come.

art by kometa

The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku

The Hatsune Miku robot may have disappeared, but as long as people keep making Vocaloid songs, her memory will never die… That’s the gist of the story, right?

To be honest, I felt this book was too straightforward, as nothing about its plot ever took me by surprise. Well, until the ending, that is — but that just came off as a bit random. A robot has the power to absorb matter, wipe away memories, and turn into mist? It was a bit much for me to accept, as was the dull epilogue that focused on an entirely new set of characters for no reason.

More concerning than the banal plot for me though were the bland characters. They were cute at first, but in the end they’re pretty forgettable. Miku lost her emotions (for the most part) halfway through, and the protagonist Asano never really pushed outside of Self-Insert Character territory. His two friends were nice for giving the first act a little pep, but once the main plot started to develop they seemed to just be there to accomplish all the things Asano needed done to move the story from one point to the next.

The artwork was certainly nice though! And I do like the general concept of Vocaloid programs allowing everyone to interpret singing characters such as Miku in their own clever and engaging ways. I think I mainly just wish the “Miku as a robot” angle could have been explored a little more, particularly in how she interacted with Asano. Would Miku have gotten attached to any person assigned to the field study with her? Does Miku like Asano simply because Somejima Otoha (the girl whose personality was copied for Miku) would have liked Asano?

Of course, the story ended with a generic “you are you!” message for Miku, but the concept of a robot being programmed with some individual’s personality at least seems to fit with Vocaloid music-making in general. All the songs people create star their own unique Miku, and in turn everyone who listens to the songs will interpret their own unique Miku.

———

Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts on the stories!

Next month we will discuss Magical Girl Raising Project and The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress. Look forward to the reading schedule for those soon.

6 responses to “Summer Reading — Your Name, Hatsune Miku (June 29)

  1. I was behind for the first post of this, but just finished Disappearance last night, so woohoo! Anyways, I have to say Your Name is far and away my favorite stand-alone book I’ve read. I wasn’t able to put the book down at about halfway through, and I ended up staying up way too late. Not that I regret that because the story was so engaging. I haven’t seen the film, so all of it was new to me, but I had the suspicion that the main characters might not be in the same time as each other for awhile before the reveal. Of course, I did not expect Mitsuha’s town to have been blown up by a space rock at all… there’s really too many good things about the book for me to organize my thoughts past “I love this book,” but if I was dissatisfied with anything, I would have to say I wish the ending was a bit different. If I had to voice a conclusive point, I wish that we could have seen more of Mitsuha’s perspective after they saved the town. The ending left me with a feeling like I had at the end of Erased, though not quite as much. I guess that’s just my wish that everybody is happy and perfect at the end talking, while this ending is much more realistic and pragmatic. After all, the book is about loss, and it would probably feel cheap if the characters weren’t stuck with their loss.

    Disappearance gave me complicated feelings. As a big vocaloid fan, I was super excited to read it, but for the first third of it, I had this nagging feeling that it was like an awkward fanfiction. But aside from that, it felt a lot like Chobits to me, which was a good thing since I love that series. The author touches on this in the afterward, but I think it was actually detrimental for me to be a vocaloid fan going into this than not because I already had so many sub-conscious preconceptions on who “Hatsune Miku” should be. I think that took awhile to get over, but by the halfway point, I was able to enjoy it as it was. I was really into the story when Miku started malfunctioning, but later on a different nagging feeling started to bug me once Asano let his friends in on the secret. At that point, everything just started being so… convenient for Asano. “You need to find where she’s being taken? Well lucky for you, your friend happens to have stalking skills that would put professional PIs to shame. You need a door hacked? It’s a god thing that your friend is a computer prodigy on par with the people who made this super advanced android!” If they had maybe touched on the fact that Juuhachi and Aika had these skills beforehand, I don’t think it would have felt so cheap. And I had the same concern with the “matter absorption” part. It was all action-y and cool, but it’s just like “wait, since when can you do that?” which seemed to be a recurring question I had throughout the book. Although I’m not personally one for tragedy, I did feel that the conclusion of this book wrapped up the story quite nicely, even if the epilogue took awhile to say what it wanted to say. In all, I think I may have been able to enjoy it more if it was just an android, rather than a Hatsune Miku android, but even still I wish that the story wasn’t so convenient, or at least played on the convenience of itself. I still enjoyed reading it, though, and was totally absorbed into it myself by the end haha!

    • If you liked the book for Your Name I imagine you’ll like the film too. Be sure to give it a watch when you can.
      I also wanted more from Mitsuha at the end — but the scene I felt was missing the most was her confrontation with her father. There was a whole subplot with them that we never got to see resolved, which I found quite disappointing. I can only presume she got through to him (considering everyone evacuated in time), but it would’ve been nice to actually see that happen. Perhaps it will be in the side story novel.

      I think we’re on the same page regarding Asano’s friends in Disappearance. Juuhachi especially was incredibly convenient for solving all the technical issues, and the sudden reveal regarding Aika at the end just felt tacked-on.
      Glad you enjoyed the story overall! Perhaps in the future there can be other Vocaloid LNs localized. (There are a lot of them in Japan.)

  2. I also finished the second half of your name in a couple of sittings. Very enjoyable read. Doesn’t stray from the movie much, so I am interested to see how the spin-off will read.

    The paragraph about where memories live interested me. “Are they in the synaptic circuitry of the brain? Do retinas and fingertips hold memories, too? Or is there an invisible, amorphous, mistlike, spiritual collective somewhere, and that’s where the memories reside? Something we’d call the heart or the mind or the soul. Is it something you can take out and stick back in, like a memory card with an OS on it?” Really existential question there that has fascinated me for awhile and this book/movie explores memories in a fascinating way.

    Was fascinated to learn that the book came out before the movie in Japan. I considered reading one of the Star Wars books before watching the movie, which came out at around the same time, but decided against it. I find, as a visual learner, if I want to get the most out of an adaptation, it’s best for me to watch the movie/show before reading the book, no matter which is adapted from which.

    • Your thoughts on memories tie into what constitutes an individual’s identity, I feel. Your Name features Mitsuha and Taki each losing their entire bodies, and seemingly being affected mentally in some ways as well. Of course, the mind and body are interlinked, so it’s understandable that one would affect the other. What is curious is how the highly targeted memory loss operates. I’ll have to give it some more thought.
      I feel there’s a lot that can be delved into regarding what Your Name has to say in answer to the question “Who am I?” (or “Who are you?”), and I’m not sure if I can put it succinctly enough in a comment here. But basically, I think Your Name is saying that people are all connected, so there’s a part of you in any other person you are close to (and vice versa). An individual is made up of many things, and those things overlap with other individuals. By things I mean thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs, knowledge, opinions, values… anything that can be shared with or impressed upon others. Mitsuha and Taki gain an understanding of one other by living in the other’s environment and interacting with the people they know. Unlike Shinkai’s other films, Your Name works with a relatively large cast of characters, which I think is crucial for the themes he’s working with here.
      In anime and manga and LNs, characters often say “You are you!” — but I think what Your Name says is “You are you, and all the people you are close to!”

      • The memory-body link thing here reminds me of Log Horizon. It wouldn’t surprise me if they start exploring that question later in the series too.

      • That’s an interesting title to compare to. I also thought of the visual novel puzzle game “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors,” which deals with the topic of morphogenetic fields. The idea of that is everyone’s minds are individual branches of a single tree. The ending of that game in particular reminded me of Your Name.

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