Your Name and Makoto Shinkai’s Magical Portrayal of Online Relationships

And how depending on the person, either real magic can come from it or it can turn into a broken mess.

For all the acclaim thrown at Your Name whether it be for its visuals, its Japanese culture, or its unique take on that (spoilers) time travel stuff people can’t get enough of, I think the most important aspect to draw from it is its portrayal of online relationships. No, the movie doesn’t actually integrate social media into its plot beyond text-messaging, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that the body-swapping thing isn’t just a more involved method of online communication. Anyone who’s watched 5 Centimeters Per Second would know that Your Name is basically an evolved form of that, but the evolution goes beyond the characters simply being more lively, the scope being more expansive, and the movie recreating scenes from its predecessor except with more detail. The very core of 5/cm‘s story, the growing distance between two close individuals as time passes, has gotten an upgrade too to the point that it now specifically targets the millennial generation. And while most movies that have targeted said generation have come off as pandering to a very specific stereotype (cough Jem and the Holograms cough), Your Name walks the line between criticizing and embracing it in order to deliver a story that is both so similar and yet so different from Shinkai’s 2007 hit.

Oh, and just for the record, this post assumes you’ve watched Your Name or at least familiar with its plot. So if you haven’t gotten to checking it out yet, you might want to close this browser window right now.

How many people in today’s generation have made friends through the power of the Internet? You’ll be hard-pressed to find an anime blogger who didn’t, and even someone as antisocial as me has had moderate success with using this blog as a social media site. How many people have found their significant other through the power of the Internet? It’s not common, but it does happen.

Usually what draws us to form bonds with these people despite never seeing their face or even really getting to know them because it’s easy to withhold information or be a tough guy on the internet is a certain aspect that we find appealing. Even if what we’re seeing is fake, we like the Internet personality that anonymous dude has constructed for himself. Or maybe we actually did see an online photo they took of themselves, find them attractive, and then just try to kiss up to them. Or maybe you like playing with them in an online game. There are over a thousand ways you can become friends in RL, and the online world is just as vast.

Thanks to the many forms of social media platforms we have in this day and age, not only can we become friends with people from across the world, but we can see into their lives through the various photos and comments they upload. Even live through them like say when someone visits France and tweets photos about that. And the guy who’s sharing his life definitely doesn’t mind posting pictures of the food he cooks or talking about tragedies in his life to those who are willing to listen. There’s a certain sense of openness when it comes to the online world that most people embrace, and the fact that there’s still an anonymity on the Internet that you can only overcome through physical interaction helps too.

When we first meet the main characters, Taki and Mitsuha, their descriptions are pretty simple at first glance. The former is a normal Tokyo boy working as a waiter in a fancy restaurant in order to make ends meet whilst crushing on an older employee. The latter is a country girl who dislikes how restrictive her life is and wants to be reborn as a handsome Tokyo boy. The two pretty much complement each other, but given how you need to ride a few hours on a train to get from the countryside to Tokyo along with the schedule for said train being kind of strict…actually it’s hard to meet up in Tokyo in general because of how vast it is, so the only way they could meet up was through a chance meeting across long distances.

As soon as the two discover they’re physically living each other’s lives, they can’t help but want to take advantage of it because they’re drawn to certain aspects of said person’s life that they themselves do not get to experience often. Plus they don’t quite know who it is they’re “possessing”, so why should Taki care if he fondles his own boobs or Mitsuha care that she’s spending all his money on sweets? It’s only after anonymous messages to each other as the phenomenon continues that they start to treat the other’s life with more respect. Help each other out with their problems. Argue over trivial things. Basically act like real anonymous buddies do, only with more physical involvement. Of course, there’s a limit to how much someone close to you can lend their aid, and when you account for the distance factor between the two leads, it’s really no wonder that Taki’s “help” will end up leading to Mitsuha getting confessions from girls.

Then there are those rare instances when genuine attraction can come from seeing a person’s shadow. And honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that in the same vein that there’s nothing wrong with asking out that random woman in the supermarket because of a chance encounter. But of course, you’re going to have to actually meet with that person sometime because let’s be honest, online relationships are fickle things. I’ve seen so many seemingly nice people suddenly reveal themselves to be SJW nuts. People can disappear from social media and you soon start to forget they even existed beyond a passing “oh yeah I remember him”. And when you get down to it, there’s a reason that an IRL meeting is considered a prized accomplishment for online friends. So naturally, once their desires grow stronger, Taki and Mitsuha would want to actually stop living each other’s lives and meet said life head on.

Unfortunately, online relationships are fickle for a reason. Not only can the online persona change at a moment’s notice, but unless we live in close proximity of each other, we can’t just meet up whenever we want. Hell, I have trouble meeting up with my real life friends who live forty minutes away minimum (though to be fair, Dallas’s shitty highway doesn’t help, and apparently going to meet up with buddies who live two hours away is more common these days), and I don’t even live in Japan, where life outside the workplace is considered a rare achievement. So how exactly are two people separated by the very fabric of time, let alone a strict train ride away from each other, going to arrange something like that?

And as time goes on, you’ll slowly move on to other things and forget about that person. You probably won’t even know said person had died until their funeral has long since passed. I’ve already lost most of my memories regarding when psgels and 2DT were around after they left the Internet, and as far as I know, they might as well have been caught in illegal activity that I won’t elaborate on because the insensitivity levels are so high that they make Daniel Tosh’s act look clean. Hell, they probably forgot about me too. There are a lot of people still existing in the online anime community that no longer acknowledge my presence for various reasons, so why should I believe the ones that aren’t hanging around are any different when they’ve got higher priorities in the real world to think of than a small-time blog?

I know that sometimes online relationships can turn out great success. Unfortunately, while I’m not without my victories, my experience with them has been generally crap in the same vein that most long-distance relationships don’t work out, even with Skype and shit. And like all real relationships, I have to keep maintaining them in-between everything else I’m doing without ever truly getting close to them on account of a plane to the East is expensive as fuck, and that’s not even taking into account if the other party member will actually let me or not. That was something that really touched me when Taki tried his very best to meet Mitsuha one last time in the scene preceding the climax, using everything he learned about her through their interactions in order to do so. Here’s a guy who’s going further out of his way to keep his established connection than I or most normal human beings would ever do, which makes it all the harder when the inevitable happens and the fragility of long-distance finally takes its toll.

You can’t always explain when or why it happens. It just does and it sucks. No longer am I in constant communication with various Internet folk I met at the formation of its blog, and I barely even recall them aside from when someone else I still follow on Twitter casually mentions them or if they start creating fucking pineapple pizza memes. And honestly, I don’t want to go back either. As 5/cm has proven, those who cling to the past destroy their futures. You shouldn’t abandon it, but you definitely can’t let it hold you down either, less you want to drag other people to your level in the process.

While Your Name may definitely end happier than than 5/cm does, it sure doesn’t do it by having the characters return to that day. For you see, there is one other aspect of relationships, whether they be online or real-life, that Your Name wants to showcase: that sometimes it’s not too late. Just because a relationship is broken over time and can never go back to the way it was doesn’t mean it can’t start anew as something else. If divorced couples can remain friends after all is said and done in real life (which is hard in of itself, but I’ve seen it happen), then there’s no reason why I couldn’t recognize that one person who I used to know years ago, strike up a conversation, and laugh at what happened in the past while inviting them out to ask how they’re doing. It can be awkward. It can leave you with an inferiority complex when said person ends up accomplishing a lot more than you have since your separation. But in the end, it’s all worth it to get that person’s new number in your phone book.

However, chances are good that if you want to form a new bond, you’d best do it face-to-face. Expose your real self to the other person. Because one other truth to the Internet is that everything you’ve done on it remains there for the rest of your life. And in order to start anew, you must first discard the old. Use what you’ve learned from it to move forward and see where that path takes you. Let out your feelings to fulfill that emotional catharsis that’s been eating you up for so long. It doesn’t matter if it works or not, because at that point, you’re past the point when you’ll have regrets. That is the truth behind why Taki and Mitsuha’s final scene was such a powerful emotional release that puts general audiences in tears, and what elevates it above the Nicholas Sparks novels that I’ve seen Your Name get compared to, Mari Okada’s teen dramas in general, and even The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the most obvious comparison if you’re just going with the whole young romance mixed with teenage issues and quantum physics deal.

Would Your Name have been better off with a more bittersweet ending? Is it weird that Taki and Mitsuha never seem to notice that technology in each other’s timeline is a little more advanced/primitive in theirs? What exactly happened to some of the characters like Mitsuha’s father after he was confronted one last time? At the end of the day, I honestly think the accomplishments that Your Name’s narrative achieves in regards to portraying the struggles I myself go through with long-distance relationships in a well-animated, romanticized, and magical way are strong enough to brush off those niggling doubts and questions. And honestly, in a medium constantly plagued by unchallenging mediocrity and out-of-context gifs that people will drool over for various reasons, we need anime that can bring up discussions like this in order to avoid the dreaded comfort zone that will one day kill this medium forever.

When you get down to it, Taki and Mitsuha aren’t me, and I definitely don’t want them to be me either. I’m not exactly a wedding guy, but if they ever invited me to theirs, I think I can spare some time.

Speak Up

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.