At Which Speed of Life Must I Live to Understand “Five Centimeters Per Second”?

By Nhi

Four days ago, I met up with a high school friend whose passion for books converged with mine. We sat at a corner of a pavement cafe, watching streams of traffic flowing while sipping our drinks. My friend suddenly took out two novels that she wanted to give me as presents.

“Choose one!” she said.

Five centimeter per second novel! How do you know that I have always been wanting to read this?” I exclaimed in disbelief.

“You like it? I have never read this book, so I was a little anxious about giving it to you,” my friend said.

“Yes, I do. I watched the anime two years ago and it is one of my favorites,” I replied.


I watched the anime “Five centimeters per second” by Makoto Shinkai when I was seventeen, an age of limited life experiences that made it quite challenging for me to fully grasp the underlying themes and profound messages. I remembered finishing it at midnight, when my mind was left blank and confused because the anime ended so abruptly and well, unhappily. I searched over the Internet to make sure that I didn’t watch a cut version, replayed the rapid part at the end numerously to absorb what just happened and asked myself, “What is that all about?”

Akari and Takaki under the cherry blossoms

           I was left with vacant feelings because I didn’t know that to understand “Five centimeters per second”, one has to live through the inexpressible and often ignored brutality of modern relationships among humans. The anime also needs to be accompanied by the novel and manga which supply substantial details into the characters’ chains of thoughts and the story itself. I have read both the works, and while the exquisite manga provides the most complete picture, the novel, written by Makoto Shinkai, is a masterpiece crafted with impressive imagery and skillful story-telling techniques. Different from the manga and the anime that determine the images we are presented with, the novel gives us the chance to create our own animated films by imagination (and the scenery inside your heads will be beautiful, I guarantee).

The Manga


The Novel

            Five centimeters per second tells three short stories with backgrounds as three phases of the main character’s life: his childhood, adolescence and maturity. What makes the story so compelling and indelible is that, readers can find themselves among characters in each phase. That is, Five centimeters per second can be adored by people of all ages, whether you a kid in elementary school, a teenager or an adult. You won’t understand everything, but you will understand something. If you are a little kid, you maybe fascinated by the first vignette “Cherry Blossom”, which depicts the protagonist (Takaki)’s childhood love with his soulmate, Akari. The second vignette “Cosmonaut”, narrated from the perspective of Sumida who holds affection for Takaki, can pull at the heartstrings of anyone holding one-sided love. The third vignette is a poignant portrayal of Takaki’s life, when he has become a successful computer programmer living in Tokyo. Young adults will find traces of their lives somewhere in the third vignette “5 centimeters per second”.

Takaki and Sumida

            Reading 5 centimeters per second after watching the anime has been a pleasant experience. It feels like you are allowed to walk, slowly and contemplatively, on a bridge that connects with each character. The complicated world that you walk into while reading the book is suddenly so personal that you won’t be able to describe or talk eloquently. You wonder how the writer can know your stories and evoke feelings through a story with a few turning points. You suddenly think about the friends that you have lost throughout the years, the people who you can’t keep promises with and ponder over whether you will become Takaki in future.

Reading 5 centimeters per second (or watching the anime) once or twice isn’t enough. Each time flipping through the pages will give you new insights and discoveries about yourself. My interpretation now is different from my interpretation three years ago and will differ from my future one.

Read it. Interpret it from your rough life. And fall in love with it.

How do we balance between the past and present?

I guess we can only find the answers by living desperately.


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