A Review of “5 Centimeters per Second” – A Lifetime of Longing…

“Hey. They say it’s five centimeters per second…the speed of falling cherry blossom petals is five centimeters per second…”

 – Akari [First Line in Movie]

You know, as an anime fan, I find that sometimes it’s what goes unsaid that speaks volumes.  It’s those quiet, reflective moments that can scream out to you. “5 Centimeters per Second” follows this rule, if you pardon the expression, to the letter. It’s a romantic story that follows its own rhythm and flow, taking all the time it needs to tell its intricate story of love, loss and the passage of time. However, just because it’s a good story, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. What makes it so good? Is it the story that passes almost achingly slow, but speaks volumes? Could it be the characters who make you want to both reach out through the TV and hug them…and give them a good thwap them upside the head? Could it be the animation and music, which keeps your eyes moving and your ears on alert? Or could it be the cast of actors and actresses who give each sentence meaning, emotion and life? Let’s get right into it.

Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – This one is remarkably clean. The rating is “TV-PG”, and I would hold it to that simply because this is a romance story and in one flashback scene, two characters are seen in bed together, though they are back to back and clothed.

Movie Availability – “5 Centimeters per Second” is available in a few different retailers, but, oddly enough, at the time of this printing, it did not show up in Wal-Mart’s inventory. Online retailers, like eBay and Amazon, are sure to have the series, if you’re looking for physical media.

Story Premise – “5 Centimeters per Second” is a three-part movie that that takes place in the early 1990’s, and ends at the “present day” of 2008. Part One is called “Cherry Blossom”, Part Two “Cosmonaut” and Part Three, appropriately enough, “5 Centimeters Per Second”. The story follows a young boy named Takaki Tōno as he struggles to come to grips with his feelings for his childhood friend Akari Shinohara, and how his feelings of indecision, apprehension and longing affects those around him, including a girl who has a crush on him. One thing that this story does very well is that it shows the passage of time in the most natural and flowing way. Though each story takes place in a different time frame [The first taking place in the early 1990’s, the second around the mid to late 90’s, and the third in 2008], the flow from season to season is so effortless and well done. The story itself is…well…slow. I don’t really mean that in a bad way, but for some viewers, the story can be agonizingly sluggish. For example, the first episode has so many moments when nothing happens, but it’s so methodical and heavy with emotion, and it gives you a chance to get inside the individual characters head. I admit, when I first bought this DVD back in 2010 and watched it straight through [admittedly, I was preoccupied with another project I was working on and I didn’t give it the attention it deserved] I thought it was way too slow, and too melodramatic, but upon re-watching this movie for review a year later, I find that not to be the case. One thing that really caught my eye was the use of a bullet train throughout the series and what it represents—it acts as a method to both close the distance and also as a barrier to separate. I found that to be extremely unique. The ending is not something that is cut and dry. In a way it’s good that it’s not, because it leaves the viewer to use their imagination as to what happened in the last few seconds before the end credits, but honestly, after the events of the last hour, and seeing all that the characters went through, you find that you want SOMETHING to be resolved in the end. It can be frustrating to some, satisfying for others. I’ve read reviews across the internet that hailed this film for its artistry, its deep significances, and the fact that it doesn’t have a clear-cut conclusion. As always, your mileage may vary, but I found myself attached to the former more than the latter. I’m admittedly selfish; I want my series to either end cleanly or leave me with some faint glimmer of hope for the future of the characters. Artistry is nice and all, but please give me something that makes me feel like I didn’t waste my money or my time. [20/25]

Characters – The character lineup for this movie is rather small and only consists of two main characters and one secondary character in the second act. The first person we’re introduced to, and the one we follow throughout the series is Takaki Tōno. When we first meet him, he is your typical transfer student leading an everyday life until he encounters fellow transfer student Akari Shinohara in elementary school. Akari is your typical girl who transfers into Takaki’s class on the same day, and grows close to him as they share many similar traits. Eventually, the pair grows apart and we are left with Takaki moving from day to day, thinking about what might have been and diving deep into his sadness over losing Akari. One thing that the creators did extremely well in the 2nd and 3rd acts was show how Takaki’s despair and longing for Akari affects other girls he encounters such as the surfer girl Kanae and an unnamed girlfriend in the final act of the movie. They all have a desire to be with him, but in their own ways, each girl sees that there is someone else on his mind and in his heart. In a way, that’s what I love about the females of this series—they’re still emotional and feel things, but unlike Takaki, they each find a way to stay strong and move on with their lives. [25/25]

Animation – This show is downright beautiful. I can honestly say that this show rivals the “Aria” series for its stunning animation style. It’s seriously like watching a painting hanging on the wall that suddenly decides to start moving. The slight breeze moving the grass makes for a beautiful visual as does the rushing water in the second part of the movie. One thing that I took note of was the fact that, as we move through the different time-frames, they actually change the look and feel of each one, so you really do believe that you’re in that period of time; for example, in each time frame, the technology changes; we go from not having cell phones in the early 1990’s to having them become common place in the 2000’s.  Character designs are given the same attention to detail; while the characters age and mature, their overall look remains the same. [12.5/12.5]

Music – Plain and simple, the soundtrack for this particular movie is a perfect fit. It’s as natural as the everyday background sounds heard in the series, yet you feel its presence. “5 Centimeters” uses classical style music to set the tone for key scenes very well; not making it overly dominating, but not too gentle either. The song that plays into the ending credits, “One more time, One more chance” by Masayoshi Yamazaki, is a very nice way to end the series and plays over the end montage clips perfectly. [12.5/12.5]

Performances and Production – In my research for this particular project, I have discovered that there are actually two English Language versions of “5 Centimeters per Second”. The original, which is what I’m reviewing now, is from then-ADV Films with director Steven Foster at the helm and acting as script writer. Now, typically, when you hear the name Steven Foster on this blog, you think of productions like “Ghost Stories” or the as yet-reviewed “Steel Angel Kurumi” or “Highschool of the Dead”. This time around, with a more subdued and serious script, Steven shows that he is a multi-talented writer and director, guiding his small group of actors into their roles with an experienced hand. David Matranga as the male lead Takaki Tōno is a perfect match to the original voice actor Kenji Mizuhashi. He brings depth to the role; making Takaki sound age appropriate in all three time shifts. The same can be said for Hillary Haag as Akari Shinohara. She plays the role very nicely and again, sounds age appropriate in each time shift. Kanae Sumida, the surfer with a crush on Takaki is played by Serena Varghese and I have to say it is a good match. She gets emotional with the role, without going over the top. Overall, this movie is a winner in both languages, so take a listen to both. [25/25]

Scoring Summary:

Story Breakdown – 20/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 25/25

Final Score – 95/100 = 95% – A

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

  • As I mentioned earlier, this show was originally dubbed by then-ADV Films with the cast as mentioned above. However, in 2008, ADV ceased releasing the DVD’s. At the request of the original Japanese distributor, the series was then redubbed by Bang Zoom! Entertainment. This new dub featured a new director, Alex Von David, and a new cast which featured Johnny Yong Bosch as Takaki and, harkening back to the original Japanese version, three separate voice actresses as Akari. The new dub originally premiered and streamed on Crunchyroll, and was scheduled for a DVD release; however, I was not able to locate any copies of the Bang! Zoom dub or any video to compare the two.
  • Much like the “Aria” series, the production crew of “5 Centimeters per Second” traveled to certain locations around Japan capturing pictures of the real cities and beaches to use as reference points for the animation of the movie.
  • In the beginning of the third act of the movie, when the camera pans over Takaki’s dry erase board, a small Catbus magnet can be seen in the upper right had corner of the board. This is, of course, a nod to the Miyazaki movie “My Neighbor Totoro”.
  • Also in the third act, Takaki can be seen working on an iMac computer with a Cinema HD display and a Logitech wireless mouse.

So where does that leave us? Well, simply put “5 Centimeters per Second” is a study in understated story telling. With its methodical story, intriguing characters, jaw dropping animation, strong yet gentle soundtrack and an acting cast that satisfies in both languages, “5 Centimeters Per Second” makes you think about love, life and the passage of time…and the effects of mass transit on relationships.

And so, that’s it for “5 Centimeters per Second”! This was a special request review from a new friend of mine GoodbyeNavi over at “Black Strawberry”, so I hope she enjoys it! Check out her blog when you get a chance guys, okay? Okay, so we’re at the tail end of May right now, but we’re still going to bring you the best we got! We got one more review to work on, and of course, we’re going to launch the new award system before the end of the month so please stick around! Now as for my next review–

Oh…heh…kinda forgot. I’m going on vacation this month, aren’t I? Ah well, can’t be helped. Thanks for the reminder  Yuko-Chan…

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4 thoughts on “A Review of “5 Centimeters per Second” – A Lifetime of Longing…

  1. Very nice review, makes me want to rewatch it. This is important because when I first watched 5 Centimeters Per Second, I was bored senseless. I watched the whole thing, mainly because I bought the DVD and didn’t want to feel like I wasted my money. However, I cannot deny that the animation is achingly beautiful. However, it moved so painfully slow and I kept getting frustrated with the characters to the point that I lost interest and dozed off. I asked for a review because I really wanted to see what someone else thought outside of the anime news sites and the disjointed comments on forums.

    1. Thank you so much! I honestly thought that this one was going to be ranked lower than what it was, because after I bought it [from a used video store, so I didn’t invest too much into it] and watched it one time, I thought “Oh, I’m not watching THIS one again! It’s as slow as mud!” And for a while, I thought there might’ve been something wrong with me as I read all these other reviews talking about what a “masterpiece” it was and how spetacular this movie was. At the time, I honestly didn’t see it. But after some time, when I matured a bit more and went back to watch it, I thought “It’s slow…but it’s beautifully, achingly slow.” and I found I was able to appreciate it more.

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to give it a well deserved second look!

  2. I don’t know if you’ll see this comment, been some years already, but I hope you will, hahaha.

    I don’t think I understand what you mean by nothing being resolved in the ending, it was very, very clear to me that he decided to move on, it was not left up to your imagination, in that moment were the train finally passed and he saw that she had also moved on, he didn’t chase after her, he turned around, and started walking while smiling.

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