Warning: Extreme fanboy gushing ahead!
The following is the initial review for the first episode of Makoto Shinkai's Byousoku 5 Centimeters that I wrote on AnimeNfo with images inserted and some minor changes and edits to fit a more permanent format, as I will update the review on AnimeNfo when I see the rest of the movie. I'll most likely do a complete review of the full movie on this site.
On with the review!
"The Speed at which cherry blossoms fall. Five centimeters per second"
Though the full 3-part movie of _Byousoku 5 centimeter_ is not due to come out until March 3rd in Japan, Yahoo! Japan decided to release the 1st episode of the movie (titled Ohkashoh, or "Extract of Cherry Blossom") as a stream to Yahoo! Premium members and Yahoo! BB members on February 16th. I had resigned to not seeing the movie until later when the fansubbers get a hold of the DVD release, but I had forgotten of the power of the internet!
Needless to say, I somehow found myself with a raw of the stream. Initially, I watched it twice without any subtitling or any translation help...
And I was astounded. What I was seeing, even through a reduced-quality stream, was amazing. Shinkai and his animation team manages to outdo his previous movie's animation quality ever so slightly. But more importantly than what I was seeing was how the movie made me feel. The imagery I was seeing on screen, the music created and played by TENMON, the voice-acting, and the bits and pieces of what I could make out of the Japanese I was hearing seriously moved me. It moved me enough to make me watch it twice in succession, and get me to put off watching it again while I chewed on what I just saw.
The third time I watched the first episode, this time with a printed transation in hand (Like old school anime fans! Before there were these silly fansubbing groups!), confirmed what I got as the basic story: Young boy and young girl in the same elementary class like each other. Then they get separated as their families (or something) need to move, so they keep in contact via phone or letter, and occasionally meet each other by train. One day, before the boy has to move even further so that they aren't just a train-ride away, he goes to see her one more time. Unfortunately, the day they choose to meet was the day the sky decided to dump a large amount of snow...
This time, Makoto Shinkai presents the straightforward drama without any sci-fi framework. This should help make the episode much easier to relate to for most (And truthfully, Shinkai wasn't very good at expounding on the otherwise extraneous sci-fi elements in his previous movie, as solidly planned as it was).
By far, from the 28 minutes (Including ending theme and preview of the next episode) I just seen, this is Shinkai at his best. I cannot wait to get my hands on a DVD of Byousoku, and this movie may push me to get a HD-DVD or Blue Ray version (in addition to spending the money to support such a setup!), DRM be damned! I can only hope that ADV continues their excellent dubbing work of Shinkai's movies for the U.S. audience.
The animation in this episode has surpassed what Shinkai had acheived in _The Place Promised in Our Early Days_. The characters seemed to be a bit more refined than his previous work, though people might still complain about how generic they are. If anything, I can see the Miyazaki influence in how Shinkai's characters look.
The sounds of trains, the chirping of birds, and the sound of snow falling from a tree; quite... trance-like. Especially with TENMON's piano supporting from behind and the voice acting help with expressing the innocence and love between the two main characters.
Seriously, TENMON is the other half of Shinkai. Without the soft, emotive piano and orchestral pieces framing the scenes, Shinkai's work would not be nearly as effective is it normally would be. Plus, as Shinkai uses music and ambient sounds very well, he also makes sure to go without them at times; silence at the right moments really make those moments stand out.
The ending theme is something quite different from the normal ending theme Shinkai uses; this one is a soft-rock song called "One more time, One more chance" by Masayoshi Yamazaki. When I first heard it in the preview trailer, I was a bit questioning about how appropriate it was for a Shinkai movie. After seeing the movie, that doubt has been erased.
Episode 1: Okasho (Extract of Cherry Blossom)
Though the heart of _Byousoki 5 centimeter_'s first episode is a very simple love story, Shinkai's presentation of it isn't quite so simple. The main story is about Takaki going on a trainride to meet with Akari before he moves even futher away, where the snow conspires to keep them apart. The setting is early 1990s Japan. Punctuating events during the train ride are Akari's monologues of her letters to Takaki and his memories of their times together.
It is very amazing is how well Takaki's frustrations of the train delaying him from their meeting is telegraphed. Even without the translation, the building up of this tension was relieved with such a perfect ending to the episode.
One thing about the relationship Takaki and Akari that I've noticed that it was portrayed in a way that I've rarely seen anime portray love.
Both main characters just started junior high school in this episode. Both Tohno Takaki and Shinohara Akari seem so mature, yet maintain a sense of innocence for children of that age, it seems.
They met in the same class in a Tokyo elementary school. As Takari says, "Akari and I were a lot alike spiritually, somehow." It seems both were rather small for their age and not very active. They would rather be in the library than outside. And it seem they were teased by their classmates.
A few other characters make appearances, like Takaki's sempai, his mother, or the train ticket attendant, but they are really just part of the setting.
There's several motifs that Makoto Shinkai uses in almost all of his work. Trains, telephone poles, and movement of light on objects are three of the most common one. The most common theme he uses is time and distance, which he uses here. The Japanese in general are big on cherry blossoms, and Shinkai's the same in all of his work, though in this case, the title pertains to them ("Byousoku 5 Centimeter" translates to "5 centimeters per second"). There's also the act of placing a hand on a window (usually on a train) that I've noticed that Shinkai uses in past works.
In this one, Shinkai uses a new metaphor, the flight of the bird. One of Takaki's last internal monologues reveal that metaphor rather subtly.
I don't know if there's any fansubs available, but I cannot wait to get my hands on an official, licensed DVD. Signed would be nice, too... :)
[At least one fansub has been released of the first episode (*cough*I was a small part in that happening*cough*... No, don't ask how to get it...)]