Title: your name. (Kimi no Na wa.)
Genre: Romance, Supernatural
Publisher: Kadokawa (JP), Yen Press (US)
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Translation: Taylor Engel
Release Date: May 23, 2017
Review copy provided by Yen Press.
TheOASG’s Anime Review: http://www.theoasg.com/reviews/anime-2/your-name-review/4553
Full disclaimer: I have not seen your name., so I have no idea what differences there are between the light novel and the movie. Novel author and film director Shinkai notes that at the time he was writing the afterword, the film version still had another three months or so to go, and some aspects were still likely to be changed in the final product. So if you’re worried that your name. relies heavily on the blockbuster movie, rest assured it can stand alone without confusing readers.
In your name., country shrine maiden bumpkin Mitsuha and city boy with a bit of a temper Taki find themselves having weird dreams they just can’t quite remember in the morning. Eventually, the two realize they’ve been randomly swapping bodies, and the only way they can communicate with each other is through notes and diary entries. While both are somewhat frustrated in their normal lives, Taki and Mitsuha have to rely on these messages to make sure their lives don’t go too far off track. Mitsuha doesn’t want Taki to have “fun” with her body, and Taki begs Mitsuha to not interfere with his crush on an older woman at his workplace. Eventually, though, the situation becomes more complicated, and the two have to work through their hazy memories in order to solve the mystery.
I found the story every bit as beautiful as the reviews say. Gender benders often focus on comedy, but while Mitsuha and Taki are understandably bewildered by their sudden bodies (and their friends and family are similar confused by their weird behaviors), the plot has a sense of urgency and longing. Most body swapping manga involve people who know each other or can otherwise interact, but Taki and Mitsuha don’t have that luxury.
Since the novel is told in the first person point-of-view (switching narrators throughout each chapter), we get to really understand their unknown longing, the awkwardness of suddenly waking up and not having any recollection of what they did the day before.
Of course, this type of storytelling has its drawbacks. Internal monologues seem a little deep and wordy for typical teenagers, and the two leads don’t tend to talk about themselves a lot. An omniscient narrator likely could have woven details and descriptions a little more naturally. Like, did Mitsuha look forward to hanging out with Taki’s co-worker Okudera because she was just messing with Taki, or was she attracted to her too? Other characters also suffer a bit, as I didn’t fully understand Okudera’s motivation for following him in the second half of your name.
Speaking of the second half, the story has a clear shift in priorities. While the two have been mostly adjusted to their new lives, something happens that makes Taki desperate to meet Mitsuha. (A twist, I might add, I wasn’t expecting.) Mitsuha’s grandmother’s legends and wisdom start to play a much larger role in the story, and the overall tone becomes more philosophical. It’s not full of morals or lectures or anything, but I got the sense your name. wanted to but couldn’t to keep its anime-ness and general appeal. The switch is quite sudden, especially since we miss a lot of how the main pair’s connection has been deepening. It’s something that probably is better reflected in film, the sort of scene a montage could explain without slowing down the story.
One of the biggest challenges in a story like this is the translation. Gender benders often rely heavily on aspects of the Japanese language that just don’t carry over into English, most notably the different words for “I”. Fortunately, the light novel didn’t seem to have any scenes where this came into play. Mitsuha seems a little more formal and has an accent, but no one blinks when Taki uses “Grandma” instead of “Gran”. The text does not seem to sound like it’s a teenager’s thoughts at times, but I imagine this is mostly an issue with the decision to use first person point-of-view. (Do you muse about memories being stored in synapses and retinas? Call your sister a “prepubescent little kid”?)
Japanese terms are included, so if you prefer a translation with little-to-no signs of the original language, prepare to be disappointed. The concept of musubi is used in a way similar to hitsuzen was in the manga version of xxxHolic, and despite honorifics not being used, Okudera is referred to as “Okudera-senpai”. I don’t know how other translators (or even FUNimation) would have handled this, but it did feel out-of-place considering Mitsuha first called her “Miss Okudera”, which, I assume, replaced “Okudera-san” in the original. Regardless of how you feel about the use of Japanese terms, I was surprised translator’s notes were not included. I guess that’s because if someone isn’t too familiar with anime and manga, they’d probably go for the film version rather than the book.
All in all, your name. is a wonderful tale about bonds and connections, and it is much more than a typical body swap romance. The section that ties the two halves of the story could have been a little stronger, and the book version probably would sound more natural if an omniscient narrator rather than a 17-year-old boy described accessories being “a careful seal on the charms of her skin”. Still, while Shinkai was reluctant to do a your name. novel, the finished product turned out to be a moving piece of work.
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