Learning from 5 Centimeters Per Second

I literally just came home from the bookstore after finishing 5 Centimeters Per Second in one sitting, needing to write a blog about it. Because I had high hopes for it. I really did. The art is beautiful. The opening arc tugs at the heart-strings. It made me shed some tears, I’ll be honest.

And then I got to the end.

(This blog will include spoilers, btw)

What was disappointing about it? Why will I avoid doing in my own stories? In The Lotus War, particularly?

The most obvious would be the heartbreak of an ending. I think it was trying to tell a story of first love and moving on from that. It… it failed at that. It seemed to me it told the story of true love and lacking the courage to hold onto that. What Takaki and Akari had was something that they carried with them for literally a decade – despite romantic advances from other people, despite a lack of communication, despite any distance apart they were. I’ve had puppy love. I’ve had crushes that lasted for five years – but it was never like 5 Centimeters presented it. Nothing was like that… except for the love that led me to my marriage. So for them not to end up together? That was really depressing.

It seems to me that if you were trying to tell a realistic story of moving on, you would show the main character (Takaki) growing out of the stage, and maybe finding closure. None is really presented. He lost the courage to keep talking to this love of his life, then lost the courage to reunite… even when she was right there in front of him. Arguably, it wasn’t a lack of courage, as much as the reassurance that she’d grown past him and was a fine, stable adult. But if even for a brief good-bye, or meaningful contact beyond a chance glimpse – I feel even that would add depth to the ending.

Another argument is that she walked away from him, and he was willing to accept that because he recognized her need to do so. I know you can love one person for a while, then fall in love with someone else when circumstances change, and have both be true and real. True love isn’t necessarily once-in-a-lifetime, but the manga neither comments on that directly, nor really demonstrates that through Akari, as we are never really given insight into her new love. It’s a leap of faith, blind and optimistic, but feeling unrealistic. Again – it lacks closure. Even if they’d talked so that he could hear this himself, and this helped him move on (a la 500 Days of Summer), I would likely have been an ardent fan. But this brought it out of the realm of realism and into the feel of coming purely from the author’s imagination.

The part that really put the nail in coffin? The story ended with a whole chapter devoted to a minor character. Say what, now?

So during the second story arc, the manga kind of derails off of Takaki and Akari to tell the story of Kanae, a girl who pines after Takaki in high school. There’s not much to her. There’s not much to her love of Takaki… and yet, for some reason, she gets the entire last chapter. I tell you in all earnestness, I could not care less for Kanae. I flipped through that whole last chapter just to see if the narrative end of Takaki and Akari was really the end (it was).

Before that, I felt like it was a perfect manga. Great art. Touching story. Realistic characters. Heartrending moments. And then Takaki lets Akari walk right by him and he just smiles and they never talk (presumably) again. Ugh.

So what can I learn about this in telling my own narrative?

Well the ever-obvious: do not end your story boring audiences about a minor character whom you barely spent any time developing. That’s obvious.

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Worry not, readers and hopefully eventual players: Lotus War will not end with this guy.

Really, though, The Lotus War is not a love story, per say. And it’s not like FF8, where Squall ends up with Rinoa because they’re soulmates and that’s how the writers want it. The Lotus War, of course, presents two different romantic options. It’s up to the player to choose. But what I learned from 5 Centimeters is that no matter who the player ends up choosing, if either, the characters need to have a well-developed arc.

Of course I knew that, but I saw just how delicately that needs to be balanced.

Whether Ren ends up with Taya or Arinnel, the heartbreak verses the satisfaction of the ending needs to balance. (And that’s good, because I do have a particular heartbreak in mind).

A bigger lesson, though, lies for Arinnel’s arc in particular. Like Kanae, Arinnel will be introduced a little later in the story than Taya. That might give the impression that Arinnel is secondary to Taya or that she’s the other woman or not as major, or whatever. That’s not the case at all. To not let it appear that way, though, I definitely need to make sure that Arinnel, her introduction, and her overall arc are completely well-developed.

What about you guys? What kinds of lessons have you learned by reading/watching/playing other works?

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