Anime Body Swap
Your Name is directed by Makoto Shinkai and stars the voices of Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi, Masami Nagasawa, and Etsuko Ichihara. It went on to become the fourth highest-grossing film of all time in Japan and the highest grossing anime film ever.
The use of body swapping in Your Name is certainly one of the more unusual ways to tell a romance story, especially a YA romance story. Normally, body swapping is a means of telling a story in which two different people somehow switch places and learn to be better people thanks to having someone else in their body for a stretch of time. You know, like the mother-daughter make up in Freaky Friday. And while Your Name has that "make the other person's life better" angle, it doesn't run with it very much so as to seem like any standard body swap film. The golden rule for any film is not what its concept is, but how the film executes its concept, and the how is what makes Your Name a memorable and emotionally touching anime treat.
The story focuses on the lives of high school girl Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi/Stephanie Sheh) and high school boy Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki/Michael Sinterniklaas). Mitsuha lives in the town of Itomori and Taki lives in Tokyo. The two don't know each other at all in person, but one day, they find themselves switching bodies. Slowly but surely, the two begin to realize what's going on, communicating by leaving notes for one another, whether it's by writing on each other's hand or by leaving text messages on each other's phones. During a day when the two are in their normal bodies, Taki tries to call Mitsuha, but he is unable to reach her, and the body swapping suddenly ends. Taki decides to visit Itomori in hopes of meeting Mitsuha in person, but the trip proves to be much more complicated than Taki could possibly imagine.
Without spoiling specific details, Your Name also introduces elements of time travel into its story, and oh boy, are you walking a very thin line when you bring time travel into your story. I mention time travel because I'm using it as a segue to mention that, as wonderful as Your Name is in certain places, it isn't without flaws. Those flaws, however, were not detrimental enough to prevent Your Name from dethroning Spirited Away as the highest grossing anime film ever, which is even more astonishing when you take into account Your Name not being a work of Studio Ghibli.
- Your Name's animation is traditional, hand-drawn cel animation, and boy does it convince you that not all great animation is CG nowadays. The visuals, especially shots of a comet flying through the sky, are melt-your-eyeballs gorgeous, the character designs seamlessly fitting into any and all backdrops they're placed in front of. There are also a series of wide, landscape shots where the movie really flexes its visual animation muscles, but the best part is that never does Your Name give you the impression that it's trying to show off, using exactly the right amount of establishing shots so as to not let the story's momentum wane.
- There is also a very strong emotional core at the heart of Your Name, with the movie doing an excellent job of showing us why it would make sense for two high school students like Mitsuha and Taki to have their lives intertwine and what the perks and setbacks would be of the two getting to go through life in the other's shoes. Mitsuha dreams of living in a big city like Tokyo, and lucky for her, Tokyo is where Taki lives. Meanwhile, Taki is at a total loss when it comes to dating and talking to girls that he likes, until Mitsuha manages to get Taki together with Miki (Masami Nagasawa/Laura Post), a girl that Taki works alongside with. The movie builds up Taki and Mitsuha enough that when the two finally do meet in person, it's a reward that the movie has earned the right to give us. This is a romance worth caring about, because the two people involved matter and the emotion behind the two meeting is as genuine as any YA romance could be. Also, for me personally, the way the story is told in Your Name reminds me a lot of Sleepless in Seattle, still to this day my favorite rom-com.
- All of the nice things that I've said already can't hide the fact that Your Name has a sloppy third act, one in how the movie keeps dragging out its ending and two in how the movie begins to stop making sense once all of its time travel components kick in. There are about three different times when the movie ends, and in the final twenty or so minutes, the thought going through your head is more of a, "What the hell is going on?" instead of a, "Oh my gosh, now I really hope the two get together!" because where exactly Taki and Mitsuha are and exactly how their timeline works by the end is about as much fun as trying to piece together the entire timeline of The Terminator franchise.
But in conclusion, Your Name is a pretty rock solid anime film that only starts to show some cracks during its third act. Spectacular, colorful animation and heartfelt emotion elevate this film to more than just a standard, get-the-job-done anime picture. The story is certainly one of the more unique ones you'll find, using body swapping and time travel to tell a YA romance story that is not the least bit saccharine. People of all ages can enjoy this film, and I have no doubt that Your Name will be an anime film that people will remember and talk about for years to come. If people like Makoto Shinkai can keep coming up with works like Your Name, then I'd say the world of anime is in great hands, even without Studio Ghibli.
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