5 Centimeters Per Second
Created by: Makoto Shinkai, Yukiko Seike
Published by: Vertical
ISBN: 1932234969 (Amazon)
Human interaction, this whole member of society thing, is hard. There’s no rulebook, no trailguide. And everything that attempts to mark out the boundaries and admonish a sort of Best Practice approach to the world of humanity is just some arrogant SOB’s shot in the dark based off what worked for her or him. Nobody really knows. And when you add to that the volatile mix of emotions and hormones, it becomes flatly miraculous that any of us can lay claim to even a modicum of success when it comes to Being Around People. Which is, of course, funny when one considers just how naturally social we are, as a people.
While I personally have at last settled into a comfortable kind of success on the interpersonal front, it took a while. Decades. And in those decades when I was trying to figure it out—trying to make friends and find love—I screwed things up often, badly, and often badly. I hurt people and was hurt by other people. My emotions overcame my reason—which only would have mattered if I knew what I was doing.
I did this to someone once. I am shamed.
For this reason, me being part of the broken human race and being smart and being stupid and being filled with love and distrust and kindness and anger—for this reason, watching Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters per Second was a resonating experience. It felt true and honest. For all its awkwardness, for its sliver of a resolution, for its refusal to offer satisfaction—for all of that, I appreciated Shinkai for telling a story I could believe in. His film charts a love’s gradual evolution into void through three segments. It’s good and powerful and most viewers I hear from don’t actually like the movie. My wife thought it was a good film that she never really wants to see again. Kind of like me and Grave of the Fireflies.
When I saw that Vertical had released an adaptation of the film, I was initially skeptical. Beyond the fact that adaptations from other mediums into comics rarely fair that well, any adaptation of Shinkai’s film would have to navigate his reliance upon scene-to-scene and aspect-to-aspect cut. Part of the power of Shinkai’s film comes from its staccato barrage of imagery, something impossible to adequately simulate in comics. And then, lastly, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to watch people engage in romantic suffering.
I feel you, Kanae. I really do.
I needn’t have been concerned. Yukiko Seike’s adaptation acquits itself on all points. More than acquits itself, actually. Because as good as Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters is (and it is good), Seike’s 5 Centimeters is better.
In truth, while sharing a foundation, the two are very different literary artifacts. Kind of like comparing James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans with Michael Mann’s. Seike takes Shinkai’s rather terse script and expands on it… expansively. Her sense for a story that either was only hinted at in the source or even didn’t exist at all is robust. Characters get backstories. Relationships develop. Takaki’s girlfriend has enough dialogue to make the dissolution of their relationship mean something—and we actually bear witness to that dissolution. And where Shinkai’s original ends in three chapters, Seike’s creates an entire additional fourth chapter, moving Shinkai’s world well beyond it’s original purpose.
With all of her additions, Seike’s adaptation strikes an entirely different vibe and its tonal difference is dramatic. While my wife might not ever want to see the film again, I’m certain she wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility that she might return to the book. While Seike doesn’t obliterate Shinkai’s original conclusion, she does offer something more satisfying (at least to Western readers who delight in loose ends being tied and clipped). I am one of those who appreciated what I imagined Shinkai to be saying with his mostly downbeat11There’s a bare trickle of hope in the final frames of the film, though not enough to overwhelm the far greater sense of loss. conclusion. I thought his ending was natural to the story he was telling. (Caveat: I was also fine with the conclusion of John Sayles 1999 film Limbo, whose ending was booed in my audience.) That said, Seike’s version is the more mature work and its length and heavy use of dialogue allow it to explore the implications of Shinkai’s world a bit more insightfully.
Probably because of Shinkai’s interests combined with his film’s barely-over-an-hour runtime, the original’s focus was acute. It was solely concerned with Takaki and how his inability to hold onto love dominated and destroyed his life (at least for a time). Seike’s version treats that but also explores the ramifications of Takaki’s brokenness. We are all every one of us participants in our societies and even our most internal struggles leave marks on the outside world. Our joys, fears, activities, ideologies—everything—affect those around us, even those we fail to notice. Seike’s 5 Centimeters explores that in a way that Shinkai’s was either unable or unwilling to do. And Seike’s epilogue takes Takaki’s story beyond where we previously saw it end and does so in a way that’s both true to Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters and true to the new vision, which Seike has developed.
Roundly satisfying, I liked this. It was good. I felt like I was reading something worth my time—which is a remarkable thing for an adaptation. Mature love stories in comics aren’t the most common find, so any solid literary romance is worth pursuing and supporting.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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