Thoughts on Kimi no Na wa.

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The essence of beauty has become something so abstract to any individual that one can’t seem to describe it without relying on what has been told through prior discourse. What one might find beautiful another would find mediocre. While some may dig deeper into the metaphorical mine to find the most precious of shiny stones, others see a decrepit pit of darkness and monotony and don’t bother taking the time to see it any further. Movies are a testament to those willing to find that inner beauty through the creativity and dedication of a director, producer, or whoever else involved. Of course, not every movie has that amount of effort put into every frame. Even so, sometimes beauty can come in the form of the most basic qualities such as character interaction, development, and execution of story. A commitment to establishing symbolism and depth into a visual spectrum is more than appreciated by those both within and outside the mainstream audience, but to make a film work as well as it could, one must make everything pop; a task no doubt difficult to overcome.

I have to bring this up, as I’m sure many others would, but the popularity of this film is mind-blowing. Within a few days of its release to anime-streaming sites, it shot to #1 overall in terms of average rating on MyAnimeList, past series such as GintamaOne Punch Man, and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. As of now, according to Box Office Mojo, it’s accumulated $174 million in Japanese currency. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an average rating of 8.3/10; 8.8/10 on IMDb. Both financially and critically, this movie has been an overwhelming success. Was this a surprise? Maybe. The director, Makoto Shinkai, is known for other films such as 5 Centimeters Per Second, a well-received film in its own right. The amount of praise garnered for this film is more than I’ve seen in a long time, even more than ErasedOne Punch Man, and now, Yuri!!! on Ice. When a film becomes that prevalent, that universally-accepted, cherished as a modern masterpiece of animated film making among the heights of Studio Ghibli, there’s no doubt I will be intrigued to the highest degree. No matter the subject, anything that can shoot to #1 that fast is on my radar.

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Kimi no Na wa is a film that has a lot of what people enjoy in animated features (I think). Teenage girls, teenage boys. Body-swapping to authorize another’s perspective. THE POWER OF EMOTIONS! Destined lovers. Fantastical elements (but only to a degree). Great visuals. Humorous side characters. There’s a lot of elements at play here and there’s a lot of charm dedicated to making them seem as brightly stylized as possible. The important thing, however, is whether it all works when put together in a long, Tom & Jerry-esque contraption served to capture something. In this case, capturing the viewers’ hearts. There’s a lot of praise going towards this film for its ability to manipulate the hearts of its viewers. The emotions involved with the characters and their efforts to remain with one another under horrible duress. It’s all understandably relatable, but as always, the concept is debatable.

Haven’t really said much about the film at all, have I? Allow me to alleviate this.

More than anything, I believe Kimi no Na wa is above average in almost every aspect. Characters, story, drama; though animation is little less than spectacular. There’s a lot of emphasis on pacing and setting up the scenes in the background that help the movie feel like an actual, progressing story—something most anime struggle with tremendously. The first half of the movie is intriguing with its focus on the characters and their improbable situation. Setting up a relationship with the use of body-swapping is something of a strange twist, though I acknowledge that it’s been done before. I enjoyed the interaction between reality and fiction, and the humor that arises because of it.

Characters in general are fairly believable and likable. Interactions have a genuine aura of familiarity and comfort, something that others would try to overemphasize with physical intimacy and feigned gleefulness. Little quirks and actions also show a heavier emphasis of intimacy between the characters present that may not be discernible to those not paying attention. This isn’t the type of film where the characters are going to blow you away with outward charisma, but there’s something to look forward to when characters appear onscreen. It’s a sort of relatableness with the characters and their desires to escape from a place or pursue an interest (or person) in their own way. One could say the characters are successful in remaining within the atmosphere of their situations, while showing their true spark under the most strenuous of situations.

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Artistry is a fun thing. It allows people to do whatever they wish to do so long as they have the tools to do so. With animation, it provides a much broader spectrum than most live-action can. Kimi no Na wa has a lot of artistic spectacle to its name, both in a realistic and metaphorical sense. The overall quality of animation is fairly good, ranging from decent to amazing depending on what’s happening in a particular scene. Transitions of time fast forwarded to show the sky changing shape and lightness is a thing of beauty, and certain tense scenes have characters moving with a fluidity that feels almost uncanny valley. The animation has a tightness to it that boosts it past others, while the design of the environment and settings around the characters inevitably leaves quite an impression. Many view the film’s overall art direction as among the greatest of the greats seen in anime cinematic history, though I feel that’s going a tad far (limited experience as I have). It definitely has a say among the best-looking anime films of the last ten years or so, but I’d rather not pretend it has anything rivaling that of modern Disney films or Laika.

Events that unfold and the manner at which they occur are where the film begins to show its mediocrity. I’ve mentioned in past entries where fantasy or media that employs fantasy elements can either abide by the rules set by what they show or simply do whatever they want under the guise of “It’s fantasy.” Kimi no Na wa falls slightly within both categories. The manner with which the two central characters switch bodies is never really explained, nor is the reason behind it. However, it is shown that the switching is methodically constant and triggered by a certain action. This is fine, as with time, things will begin to unravel themselves. Unfortunately, the unraveling relies almost solely on THE POWER OF EMOTIONS! and begins to go rogue soon after. No reasonable explanation for how or why things happen, they just do. Because fantasy. For someone who enjoys logic (or at least an attempt) in insightful stories, this doesn’t suit well for my immersion. If one can ignore this, it’ll likely pass right over their head.

One other major flaw I see with the film is the impact of the romance. With one of the defining genres of the film, romance would certainly be something to look forward to. And I really like romance. To my chagrin, I felt the romance of Kimi no Na wa was incredibly lacking, with the relationship that had developed between the two central characters to be not just underdeveloped, but almost out of nowhere. Upon each character’s corresponding “I realized I’m in love!” scene, I couldn’t help but squint in confusion. The only means of communication they had with one another was leaving messages and changing their lives however they saw fit (Good thing they happened to switch with kind-hearted people, huh?). I find it a bit of a reach to have them develop feelings for one another over the course of three weeks based on being in one another’s bodies/arguing with one another through bi-daily messages left on body parts/phones. Because of this, a lot of the empathy I could feel for the destined pair goes moot, especially during the climax. Thankfully, the emotional explosion of said climax was enough to garner some tugs at my heart strings. All two of them.

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Somewhat of a quick note, but I actually found the comedy of the film more entertaining than the romance. There are the occasional running gags and character reactions that are actually decently funny, adding both to character charm and entertainment value to the film. It’s not stark enough to feel overbearing nor does it feel forced into the situation. It’s almost as fluid as the animation. If anything, I think this would do well as a slice of life flick.

The success that this film has amassed over the past few months is almost unprecedented by a major anime film (other than Ghibli). However, based on my own interpretation, it’s yet another film that feeds upon the demographic’s easily manifested emotional peak by adding in just about everything that’s appropriate enough to entice them. Little comedy, little fantasy, little sexual hunger, and lots of emotional dependency… with great visuals. Despite my snarky perceptions, the film stands on its own with a number of different positive attributes, including characters and their interactions with one another, an intriguing start, and great artistic style and animation. #1 overall is hilarious. Within the top 100 is also a stretch. Anywhere within 300 or so is about where I see the quality of this film compared to what I’ve seen. Which, setting everything aside, is still a pretty good standing. I’d recommend it as an analytical study-piece, but for those with a similar mindset, it’s not exactly fulfilling entertainment. Unless you adore all those little symbolic notes that I hardly declined to mention.

The rating for these titles and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi Review

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When you think of anime, what do you think of? A number of people could answer with “Dragon Ball Z,” “Sailor Moon,” “Naruto,” “Cowboy Bebop,” or even simply “porn.” However, there are a number of different genres that anime fall under, and the most highly rated on accompanying anime sites tend to be those not always acknowledged as media darlings. Take the case of Monster, which is regarded as one of the best titles that anime has to offer, yet has never made it to English mainstream audiences. Who’s ever heard of Monster? Boku dake ga Inai Machi, or Erased, is another anime that isn’t exactly like the rest of the class, and doesn’t benefit from having hundreds of episodes to exploit or colorful and expressive characters. Erased is an entity of its own—an entity that has taken on the world by storm.

Just from its synopsis, Erased immediately differentiates itself from most anime. It deals with time travel, mystery, and traumatic themes such as child abuse, murder, and struggling to quell the regrets of one’s past. It’s the type of anime that people can cling to as a breath of fresh air from the likes of anime that follows trends and clichés. It’s the type of anime that many can see as a story for any audience, rather than a “typical anime.” Erased can (and will undoubtedly) be used as an example to show those keen on looking down on anime as a trump card.  It has that sense of intrigue to it that makes it immediately appealing. After all, it shot through the top 100 ranked anime on MyAnimeList after the first episode. Most of all, it’s an anime I didn’t care to discover.

I was pulled into viewing Erased out of sheer curiosity. The top 100 after a single episode? There’s got to be a catch. Upon seeing the first episode, I could feel that sense of intrigue and immersion begin to settle in. I found myself anticipating the next episode, which I went to without any hesitation. I could understand then that this series wouldn’t be “just another anime.” The presentation was interesting, the characters were in a non-typical setting, and the whole process of setting the scene was executed phenomenally. If there is one thing that this anime has that many anime don’t, it’s a hook; a hook that can withstand even the biggest and rowdiest fish in the ocean. Unfortunately, a powerful hook is nothing without a sturdy line.

The series stars Satoru, a 29-year-old pizza delivery driver with an uncanny power: the ability to relive events prior to an accident that would cause one’s death or misfortune. Because of this power, Satoru is constantly finding himself in situations where he must go out of his way to save those in danger, without knowing who or what with certainty. After showing this ability for the first time, the anime showcases his normal, miserable life, complete with his overbearing mother and odd co-workers. However, his life is thrown upside-down when a terrible tragedy befalls him, only to have his power transport him back to 1988, a few weeks before a string of murders occurs in his quiet (and seemingly always snowing) hometown.

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The first and immediate issue I had with Erased was the use of his superpower. It had twelve episodes to explain why or how it occurs, but it never does. This breaks some of the suspense possible with the anime seeing as if Satoru were to ever fail in his mission or face something detrimental to his life, the writer could simply have his power transport him back to a point prior without hesitation. In fact, this happens twice in the anime past episode one. It doesn’t seem entirely apparent that Satoru has any control over his ability, but it provides a scapegoat for a prolonged path to a goal or a safety net for any degree of failure. Along with no explanation as to why it happens or where it originated—not to mention the multiple timelines left abandoned when it happens and no feedback because of it—it feels like a lazy way for the writer to reset the story for the sake of getting it right.

If one were to ignore his ability, one could find enjoyment in the progression of his growing relationship with Kayo, a girl who is the victim of abuse from her mother and an eventual victim of murder in later timelines. Erased does a good job of taking its time developing the bond between a young Satoru and Kayo, who is hesitant to open up due to her own grim situation. It seems on the cusp of self-insert in regards to the amount of leniency Satoru has as the main character with all of the intelligence of a 29-year-old in an eleven-year-old’s body, but in terms of the story, it works, so it’s excusable. Still, with as much charm as a 29-year-old can muster up to a child (which is made into comedy), it feels almost like a hunt, with one side having all the tools to succeed against one without any comprehensive capabilities. That being said, Kayo herself seems older than that of ten. Perhaps the abuse has forced her to mature beyond her years, but I hesitate to believe that physical, mental, or a combination of both abuses is enough to cause a girl to become completely quiet and philosophical. Some of the conversations between Satoru and Kayo, along with another kid named Kenya, are ridiculously dark for children’s dialogue. It almost sets them up as pieces to the story’s overall puzzle rather than actual kids (not including Satoru).

The characters in general are vapid, especially the side-characters. Many only exist to take up screentime or offer support as a “friend of Satoru or Kayo,” while others exist only to play a role. Take the case of Kayo’s mother, who is a drunk, insane, violent psychopath who’s incredibly aggressive and seems to enjoy inflicting pain upon her daughter. Doesn’t she sound like an interesting character? Rather, she sounds like a villain, someone that any logical person would root against for the sake of siding with Satoru’s holy crusade to save everyone from harm. She’s a poor and unequivocally one-dimensional excuse for a “parent figure” that the author uses only to create trauma for the sake of trauma. However, there are some likable members of the cast, though it only relates to those within the main cast. As is typical with most stories, the main characters get all of the development, while the side-characters act as a crutch to make the main characters look better or develop faster. I can hardly remember what most of the side characters look like. There was even one character I thought was a girl up until the final episode. Personal observations aside, I found Satoru and Kayo as characters to be likable, albeit not entirely realistic. I was also fond of Satoru’s mother, but she felt more overflowing with shounen justice than her son at times. Otherwise, the cast can either be forgotten by the audience or even forgotten by the anime.

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Aside from the hook of the series and the intrigue of mystery that follows, Erased‘s biggest asset is its animation and style of presentation. It feels as though it tries to be as immersive and as stylish with its angles than most series would even care to. Its animation is smooth (though there isn’t many fast-paced examples) and has a distinguishable look to it. Characters’ heads all seem to be a different shape and their eyes vary from person to person. Satoru’s mother even has protruding lips that I’ve only ever seen on fat or snobby women. That made me incorrectly assume the type of person she’d be. The emphasis on scenery and background is especially apparent, but I would argue not exactly creative. The anime is dark and dreary so the characters are placed in a town where the sun never seems to shine. How fitting. I suppose that could be the best word to describe the atmosphere of the show: fitting. Otherwise, I have no complaints about the visuals.

I spoke of my first and immediate issue with Erased earlier, but now it’s come time to let dam fall. This anime has so many plotholes that by series’ end, one couldn’t even make out a story at all. Not only are there many plotholes, but the situations that the anime chooses to resolve are done in such a ridiculous and laughable way that one has to question if the writer was inebriated halfway through. There is a scene where a character from present time is telling Satoru about her family’s situation. Her mother and father had separated long before and the town in which she was raised looks down on her family name due to her father’s grave mistake. That grave mistake: a candy bar. A candy bar? A candy bar? Of all the things the writer could have used as a catalyst to support that claim and the object chosen was a candy bar? Horribly enough, this is just one example. Erased is full of these instances. Events that come to fruition with unreasonable claims of trauma and resolved equally as absurd, if at all! The final episode was the proverbial nail in the coffin, as the killer’s motivation for everything and the reason for keeping Satoru alive throughout the series was some of the most batshit reasoning I’ve seen in any anime, or in any story for that matter. It’s almost convenient to have characters so irrationally insane, because no logical person would come up with the excuses found in Erased.

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Even as a mystery, Erased is somewhat lacking. By the halfway point in the series, any reasonable person could assume who the killer is. The series doesn’t entirely hide the identity of the killer either: they appear in almost every important scene. It’s almost as if the series is mocking the viewer with how easy it is to think “Wait, why are they always there?” They have certain scenes where they shift the blame to any number of people, which I appreciate, but I feel they don’t do it enough. They stop doing it after episode six, when one has already gotten a good guess as to who it is. In one scene, they shift suspicion towards one character, but then never explain the situation that they were in, as if it never happened. False ends leave a bad taste when everything begins to unravel, especially when they’re used as bait rather than a genuine area to explore. It just feels rushed, especially near the end of the series.

It is true that Erased is different. It’s an anime that sticks out for the type of atmosphere it presents and the grandeur of its “complex” storyline. It’s one that people can use to showcase the variety that anime has as a “culture” of sorts. However, one thing it cannot be used as is a standard of anime’s elite. Its plotholes are innumerable and sewn shut with peanut butter. The characters are so deep within their own role that one could identify their importance with chess pieces. The world of Erased is a confusing mess of black and white and unexplained miracles. The characters do all they can, but the “complexity” of the environment that they inhabit brings them into a world they cannot hope to understand. So when you think of anime, what do you think of? If Erased was the standard, maybe viewing all anime as food-loving justice machines and rainbow harems wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Nevermind. Yes, it would.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.