Modern anime films and shows have shifted their focus to male and female fantasies. These kinds of shows, especially for genres like Romance, are made to help viewers escape from reality. In addition to this idea, the sense of realism is replaced with the viewers’ perception of paradise or, in this case, guilty pleasure. Viewers tend to show satisfaction when they favor what the creators have developed with certain events or characters. Due to some fears of producing a dissatisfying taste to anime viewers, these expectations can affect creators who wish to express their own ideas in their films and shows.
On the contrary, film creators have taken a different route to produce something new to the romance genre. Thus, the films 5 Centimeters Per Second and Flavors of Youth have conveyed a sense of realism through emotions such as pain and anguish by using the same real-life issue amongst couples – the long-distance relationship. Additionally, they inspire a sense of nostalgia– providing the childhood of characters and see them transitioned on with their lives.
The modern anime romance presents many male viewers with a beautiful female character who shows great interest in a weak protagonist or vice versa. The idealized romance is rather a naive fantasy—providing the happily-ever-after trope. I argue that the films 5 Centimeters Per Second and Flavors of Youth take a different approach to the genre of romance, with their creators introducing the element of realism to deeply satisfy their viewers beyond just fanservice, which is one of the shallower fantasy counterparts.
The anime films I will be analyzing are 5 Centimeters Per Second and Flavors of Youth. The film 5 Centimeters Per Second tells a tale of young love between the protagonists, Takaki Tono and Akari Shinohara, and their struggles in their long-distance relationship. The film splits into three parts—Cherry Blossom, Cosmonaut, and 5 Centimeters per Second. The episodic tale of Cherry Blossom follows the childhood of Takaki and Akari, which shows the state of their relationship from close friends to lovers. The film transitions from Takaki’s childhood to high school moments while Kanae, our main character of this segment, Cosmonaut, develops feelings for Takaki. Our last tale, 5 Centimeters Per Second, shows the adulthood between our three characters—Takaki, Akari, and Kanae.
Unlike Five Centimeters Per Second, the anthology film Flavors of Youth focuses on three different stories—The Rice Noodles, A Little Fashion Show, and Love in Shanghai, which all depict a sense of change in society and how they affect the characters’ lives. However, this paper will focus on the episodic tale of Love in Shanghai, which follows a similar path to Five Centimeters Per Second. This segment visits the childhood memories of Li Mo, who had made a grave mistake that led to his complete separation from Xiao Yu, his childhood love interest.
Both films convey many similar themes, including nostalgic childhood, issues of separation, making regretful decisions that led to their demise, etc. Nonetheless, these themes are things I wished to compare between the two films. Before reviewing the two films, the paper will discuss the idealization of Anime Romance.
Anime genres such as Romance and Romantic-Comedy have a tendency of never bringing relationships past a certain point—anime series would conclude when the love interests start dating or were hinted at having affection for one another. This kind of pattern usually leaves the viewers dissatisfied with the character’s arc as well as the whole story’s outcome. The viewers wish for the characters’ arc to go beyond that point. Izawa (2000) states that “the word ‘romance’ symbolizes the emotional, the grand, the epic: the taste of heroism, fantastic adventure, and the melancholy; passionate love, personal struggle, and eternal longing.” Anime shows such as Clannad, My Love Story, and Mischievous Kiss are primary examples of shows that focus on the aftermath of the characters’ romance with real-life dilemmas such as having children, a full-time job, societal burdens, etc. Romance helps viewers to deepen their connections with the characters, and their satisfaction lies within the story arc that progresses for the characters’ relationships. On the contrary, other shows such as Tokimeki Memorial: Only Love, Sakurasou, Glasslip, and even shows which focus on the Harem genre, don’t display much progression with the essence of Romance. Furthermore, these shows focus on the characters’ build-up towards a confession, the outcome of which the creator concludes the series with– either a cliffhanger or an unsatisfying ending. Creators would create kiss scenes or scenes with erotic content to please the viewers with their favorite characters or relationships. Newitz’s (1995) article mentions, “a ‘good’ romance … is made possible to a certain degree by the Japanese practice of segregating girls and boys in public situations and placing a strong taboo on sexuality. As a result, relationships between young men and women in romantic anime are based upon sexual innuendo and … fantasized expectations, rather than sexual consummation and its aftermath (a common theme in contemporary American romance).” Nonetheless, these progressions are hardly considered to be a true sense of Romance to many Shoujo viewers. Many anime viewers would have noticed similar patterns of Romantic tactics being overused in a variety of anime shows. The romantic clichés and tropes have been redundantly used to an extent where romance is created as an excuse to include more fan service, or in this case, a worn-out process that creates a more artificial and hollow story. The fan service is presented as a tool to easily create tension—revealing repetitive use of tropes and clichés. Therefore, it pulls viewers into an unrealistic depiction of romance.
In many anime shows, the male character is viewed as a heroic figure while he partners with a heroine who would be his love interest later. The creators use this idea as a template to help fantasize about the anime character who would match the viewers’ expectations and satisfaction. Newitz (1995) agrees that “heterosexual fans might enjoy romantic comedy anime not just because they wish they could dominate women, but also to experience an ‘old-fashioned’ romantic story.” Thus, the romance genre shows male protagonists as strong and brave individuals, while the heroines were usually viewed as fragile and fearful women. Kimi no Todoke and Ore Monogatari are few examples that express these kinds of characters. Both male protagonists are seen to have traits that represent their toughness and cool personality. Additionally, their stories provide more development to their characters and further expands their arc with their romantic partners. However, their partners are presented as kind and fragile-like in order to preserve the innocence of their character. Nevertheless, these kinds of characters are shown in films such as 5 Centimeters Per Second and Flavors of Youth as well. However, they are fleshed out, and the focus is on their relationship rather than simply appearance and personality. Both films have main protagonists who are shown to be naïve in their character and decision-making, which leads to their unfortunate outcomes. Despite Li Mo and Takaki Tono being boys who possess a strong affection for their love interests, they end up making the wrong decisions that cause their bonds to be broken. This is a realistic depiction of long-distance love; romance cannot always end on a good note but has bad notes as well. 5 Centimeters Per Second and Flavors of Youth both explore the harsher realities of Romance. This paper will examine the common themes between the films, which are not utilized fully in the stereotypical modern anime romance.
In both films, there is a theme that provides our male protagonists– Li Mo and Takaki Tono, a sense of nostalgia from their childhood memories. Within these memories, lies their moments and affection for their love interests—Xiao Yu and Akari Shinohara. 5 Centimeters Per Second focuses more on Takaki’s perspective as the viewers looked back into his memories of his close bond with Akari. Li Mo revisits his childhood memories of his best friend and love interest, Xiao Yu, while moving back to his old town, which was heavily modernized. Furthermore, Li Mo looks back into his old cassette tapes, which helps bring back more about his memories. Nevertheless, both characters experience some nostalgia through old belongings and memories of their love interests. These cassette tapes are also shown as communication tools since Xiao Yu and Li Mo would use them to communicate with each other during childhood. In 5 Centimeters Per Second, Akari and Takaki would often write to each other, which can be seen during the first arc, Cherry Blossom. Nonetheless, both anime films and their childhood moments convey that these characters can feel like they are living in a carefree life with no responsibilities. As the characters progress through their independent lives, they would have to endure hardships, which can also take a form in love, sadness, and longing for others.
The characters have gone through their lives without being able to accept reality. It is essential to know that Akari Shinohara introduces the idea that cherry blossoms fall at the speed of five centimeters per second, a theme which explains the difficult journey between Takaki and Akari, a story of proximity. At the same time, they are young individuals, and their bonds grew closer together. The cherry blossoms represent the two individuals as they grow older, they began to move away from each other slowly but remain in contact. From the episodic tale of Love in Shanghai, Xiao Yu metaphorically expresses her love for sunflowers. The sunflowers represent their lives as they begin onward to their future. In the short tale, Xiao Yu wishes to live her life with no regrets in the past. However, regrets are shown when Li Mo listens to the final cassette tape, as he wants to undo his past mistakes.
Both films share an aspect of tragedy in the Romance; the theme of separation. The films’ couples are separated from each other as they move on with their lives, growing more distant while their love for each other is slowly fading away. Near the end of the episode Cherry Blossom, Takaki left his old town and discovers that he will have to move further away in the future. Therefore, he wishes to see Akari before the time comes. When Takaki arrives at the station and saw his love for the last time, the creator, Makoto Shinkai, makes the viewers believe that everything will be fine at that point; Akari and Takaki will be together forever regardless of the distance and obstacles they must face. Furthermore, both characters shared a kiss to which the kiss can be represented as a new beginning of a relationship. However, Shinkai reveals Takaki living in a fantasy, believing that his affection for Akari would be eternal while the kiss is meant as a farewell from Akari’s perspective. She knew their distant love would eventually fade away as their separation had grown longer. Thus, the kiss shows that she’s moving on with her life, and with the letter she was planning to give to Takaki, which she kept to herself, also implies it. After moving away from Akari and his old home, the Cosmonaut episode shows that he had slowly lost the love he had for Akari. Takaki has shown to move on as he stopped being in contact with her. He has matured; thus, he was able to make decisions for his future. However, his regret was not being able to let go of her at the final moments of the film. The third episode, 5 Centimeters Per Second, introduces a withering-hearted Takaki. In the ending scene where Takaki encountered Akari at the train tracks, he was shown to be smiling. This scene shows that he is finally letting go of his lingering love and understanding that his dream of being with Akari at the end, is over. 5 Centimeters Per Second strives to illustrate the concept of their relationship crumbling and beauty behind the separation. The film follows Takaki through his childhood, as well as his adulthood. During his growth, the film shows Takaki struggles with life while bearing many emotions that every individual feel at some point in their lives. Takaki only shows his true happiness from the beginning and end of the film, the onset of Cherry Blossom, and the final shot of the ending.
For the Love in Shanghai, Li Mo’s separation with Xiao Yu was led to miscommunication between the individuals’ feelings for each other. Like Takaki, Li Mo acted naïve; if he were to listen to the cassette tape during his studies for the entrance exam, he could’ve stayed with Xiao Yu. Nonetheless, Li Mo suffers by moving away from home as both characters have made decisions that caused their separation– Li Mo wishes to follow Xiao Yu in hopes they will be together in the future. In contrast, Xiao Yu had thought it was best to stay home to be with Li Mo. Due to their thought misconceptions, Li Mo left the town, and Xiao Yu remains; thus, their roles were reversed. In both films, the world seems to be against their relationships—they were never meant to be together, and their separation was the world’s answer to their relationship. Furthermore, Li Mo and Takaki Tono have made naïve decisions in the past, which continues to haunt their lives until adulthood. Li Mo had decided to study hard for the sake of his future with Xiao Yu. However, she also was naïve to choose to fail her entrance exam to stay with Li Mo.
In 5 Centimeters Per Second, Takaki Ono longing for Akari was soon withering away as he slowly became mature. He believed it was better to let her go since he didn’t want to become a total burden to her and wishes for her to move on with her life. However, the last episode, titled 5 Centimeters Per Second, shows how Takaki has not moved on with his life, and his love for Akari still lingers. Li Mo also felt the same as he revisits his past by listening to his old cassette tapes. As Li Mo transitions from a child to a teenager, he returns to his old town to visit his grandparents and Xiao Yu. While doing so, he seems to be a changed person than he was previously before. He is shown matured and quiet towards Xiao Yu as it was a sign that he was moving on with life. It was until adulthood that his memories of his old life came back and his affection for Xiao Yu remained. Nonetheless, both male protagonists were restricted to personal growth due to their feeling of longing and loneliness for their love interests.
5 Centimeters Per Second and Flavors of Youth are realistic in portraying Romance—being rewarding and painful at times, while idealized Romance only focuses on the viewers’ satisfaction. The films share a sense of realism through a tragic tale of distant love through its major themes– Childhood, Reality, and Separation. Furthermore, they also provide many moments and events that helped contribute to the realistic portrayal of Anime Romance. The protagonists are reminiscing their childhood memories of which their affection for their love interests, still lingers. The development of these characters helped connect the viewers with the emotions they have felt for their love partners, which is the essence of Romance. Anime creators will strive to make anime films and shows which will eventually fall into the category of Romance. The fans will view them in hopes to not only find their sense of satisfaction but to connect with their favorite characters and delve deeper into a world of greater emotions and love.