According to author/director/screenwriter Makoto Shinkai’s afterword at the end of the novel, your name. started taking shape on the page after the script and production of his anime film of the same name had begun, and was released just a few weeks prior to it hitting Japanese theatres in August of 2016. Despite that, the book reads mostly like a short but well-written YA novelization of the movie — mostly matching the source film beat for beat, save for a few added or omitted scenes and the interesting first-person benefit of confirming the two main characters’ thought processes throughout. The film and the novel complement each other, and if you love one, you’ll love the other.
If you’ve seen any of his animations, you know Shinkai is the master of a feeling that I’m not sure has a name in English: sort of a longing, dramatically ironic, lonely ‘missed connection’ feeling; like a romance where obvious soulmates pass each other by, or like watching people who used to be impossibly close irreparably drift apart. This story is no exception. your name. is about a 17-year-old girl, Mitsuha, who longs to escape from her suffocating small-town country life in the over-traditional town of Itomori. She does just that — as intermittently, a few times a week, she falls asleep and wakes up in bustling Tokyo as a boy about her age. your name. is also about a big-city Tokyo boy, Taki, who, a few times a week, wakes up away from his messy apartment and busy part-time job as a teenage girl in mountainous Itomori. Are they dreaming? If so, how are they affecting each other’s lives in them? And why can’t they ever remember what they did yesterday the day after their ‘dreams’?
I’ve been a big fan of Shinkai’s works for a while now (thanks to the persistent urging of my brother, fellow TGON writer Jesse, despite my stubborn apathy) and, as I believe your name. to be his best film yet, I didn’t hesitate to jump right into the novel. One thing that’s very important to note: you don’t need to be a fan of anime — or Japanese culture, for that matter — to enjoy or appreciate this novel/movie. The translation to English is flawless, and the only Japanese language preserved is names of towns or commonly-known words (i.e. sake, senpai), with the exception of some of the complicated untranslatable central metaphors like musubi or tasogare; words that have multiple meanings in Japanese but that are sufficiently explored and explained. The great thing about this story is that if you’re confused, every question you have throughout will be answered by the end. I promise.
This book is written in a very clever style that, surprisingly, I didn’t find too difficult to follow. While each main act (eight, in total) is separated into a chapter, between paragraphs it will often switch from Taki’s first-person point of view to Mitsuha’s — and vice-versa — with zero warning. Thankfully, the author has included frequent clues like regional accents, memorable characters unique to each person’s life, and vivid mental portraits of the surroundings to keep your mind firmly planted in either Itomori or Tokyo. Oftentimes, this format is also used to add to the mystique, as the concept is intentionally disorienting in itself. Okay, now, am I reading as Taki, or Mitsuha? Are they are in their own body, or the other party’s? It’s definitely an interesting little writing device that will keep you on your toes, ensuring every word carries weight instead of allowing you to zone out between dialogue or during descriptions of the landscapes.
If you’re new to and/or cautious about getting into Japanese culture, or if you immediately dismiss the idea of taking the plunge with this book because of your inherent disinterest, I urge you to (re)consider this as your first foray. It’s short, so it’s not a huge time investment, and if you ever get too antsy you can always watch the near-identical film instead. While reading I laughed, I shamefully hid from my coworkers while reading some some of the few somewhat perverted moments, and I cried legitimate ugly tears, more than once. If, like me, you consume media because you hate yourself and want to feel heartache and pain, then you definitely can’t pass this one up. Makoto Shinkai is a visionary known for his incredibly beautiful and unique stories, and this one, according to film producer Genji Kawamura, is his ‘ultimate masterpiece’. I’m inclined to agree.
your name. by Makoto Shinkai
Translation by Taylor Engel
Published by Yen Press (Yen On Imprint)
Length: 174 pages
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★