Every so often a book comes along that leaves you an emotional mess. You are all twisted and churning, trying to decide if you should be happy or if you should break down in tears and cry for the characters. 5 Centimeters Per Second is just such a book.
Remember a time before cell phones could be found in every pocket? Or when even accessing the world wide web was something only readily available in a library? Back then letters still filled up postboxes and moments just felt so much more precious when captured on Polaroid film. Now life seems to move at the speed of light. Our memories are captured and shared with the world on social media platforms. And love, which is already capricious, can feel like it is moving at terminal velocity.
The title of the book refers to the speed at which cherry blossoms fall from a tree. So slow. So peaceful. Yet, they are inevitably falling. Their descent is as beautiful, if not more so, than their time on the tree. It is a fleeting time as they make way for new fruit.
Such is the message in 5 Centimeter’s Per Second. The main characters are together so briefly, their time so fleeting. But it is when they are separated, floating and drifting apart that the story takes on a transcendant beauty. It would be easy to give the characters a happy ending or to give the reader a moment where the two star-crossed lovers are reunited. But that is melodrama. That is not life. That is not reality. That is not the slow, inevitable descent of a cherry blossom.
Makoto Shinkai understands this and crafts a heart wrenching story which treats love like gravity. There are inevitable outcomes which, regardless of hw hard one tries, the laws of love and the laws of gravity cannot be defied. As if to drive the point home, Shinkai’s main character, Takaki wants nothing more than to be an astronaut. He longs to break free from his earthly bonds and discover what life lis like high above the ground. He also spends most of the book wishing desperately to be back together with his childhood love, Akari. He wishes and dreams so much that he loses sight of what is going on around him and become a victim of the incessant pull of life.
Yukiko Seike’s art is warm and comforting. Her characters remain identifiable as they grow and change over the years. She keeps their body language and facial expressions consistent more than their hair or sense of style…but then again, that’s the way life is as well!
My only complaint about the book has to do with the way the word balloons are arranged and the lack of tails on the balloons indicating who is speaking. Since the book is entirely conversations (very little “action”) it is important to keep track of who is saying what. However, the majority of the panels have two people speaking with multiple balloons and no indication who is saying what. It gets confusing. It took me a couple of re-reads to figure out an important plot element of the book because I had attributed a balloon or two to the wrong character!
5 Centimeters Per Second is one of the most emotionally dense books I have read. It tugs at heartstrings and jumbles you up inside. While the characters may not all end up where you want them, they all end up where they should. And, just as the falling of the cherry blossoms reminds us of the fleeting beauty of nature, 5 Centimeters Per Second reminds us of the fleeting beauty of love. Embrace it while you can.