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Light Novel Review: your name.: Another Side – Earthbound

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now for those who can’t get enough of the your name. universe, Yen On presents your name.: Another Side: Earthbound novel.

Back Cover Blurb

This hardcover edition tells the story of the hit novel your name. from the perspective of Mitsuha’s friends and family as they deal with her strange new quirks–and avoid disaster. Featuring side characters Tak, Tessie, Yotsuha, and Toshiki, Mitsuha’s father.

Mitsuha is a young girl living in a rural town named Itomori and is fed up with her life. One day, her family and friends notice she’s suddenly acting strange. Little do they know, a high school boy from Tokyo named Taki Tachibana found himself randomly switching places with her when he fell asleep. But he has no clue how to act as a high school girl in an unfamiliar place!

The Review

your name.: Another Side: Earthbound is not so much a novel as it is a collection of four stories, each from the POV of a different resident of Mitsuha’s hometown Itomori. Earthbound reads very much like fanfiction in that it expands upon details glossed over in the original works and offers alternate perspectives of the story’s events.

Earthbound begins with “Thoughts on Brassieres.” Those who loved the hilarity of Mitsuha and Taki switching bodies will get more of the same with this story, which delves into Taki’s struggle to live as a girl. As you might guess from the title, it’s got a LOT about boobs and bras throughout and, yes, more self-groping from Taki. It also expands upon the movie’s glimpses of Taki (as Mitsuha) playing basketball and confronting classmates talking smack about Mitsuha. In addition to the body-swap comedy, the story also includes Taki’s growing fondness for Itomori and his reflections on the girl whose body he inhabits but whom he’s never actually met.

Next is “Scrap and Build,” where we get the perspective of supporting cast member Tesshi. The movie presents him as Mitsuha’s friend, but this story makes clear that he’s more than a childhood buddy. He, like Mitsuha, has certain responsibilities because of his family’s standing in Itomori, which means he understands her position better than most. So while there’s the comedy of him baffled by Mitsuha’s periodic “fox possession” behavior, he also shows how the pressures within Itomori can lead to a real love-hate relationship with the tiny community. In addition, we learn about the influences that enabled him to help Taki (as Mitsuha) evacuate the townsfolk the day of the disaster.

After that is “Earthbound,” which follows Mitsuha’s little sister Yotsuha. She provides observations of the body swaps from the perspective of a family member and a grade schooler. For some reason, breasts feature largely in this story, which strikes me as odd. It’s one thing for Taki, a teenage boy, to be obsessed and baffled by them, but it feels like a tired old joke when Yotsuha also goes on about them. However, a unique thing in Yotsuha’s narrative is her perspective on Miyamizu Shrine. As a shrine maiden, she shares her sister’s intimacy with its traditions, and that intimacy allows for a surprise encounter with a long forgotten past.

Finally, we have “What You Joined Together,” which dives into the memories of Mitsuha’s father Toshiki. Included in the initial part of the story is a conversation between Toshiki and his future wife Futaba about the purpose and meaning of the Miyamizu rituals. Unless you’re acquainted with Shinto folklore or academic analysis, this dialogue —although it does point to the coming comet strike—is a slog. Fortunately, after this first meeting, the narrative simplifies to that of a man falling in love. For those curious about the Miyamizu family, it provides an extensive look at Mitsuha’s mother, who receives only brief mention in the original works, and the circumstances that estranged Toshiki from his daughters.

By the way, regarding the translation, it flows satisfactorily for the most part. However, there are parts where the formatting (specifically punctuation and italicizing) gets awkward, and a couple sentences seem to be missing a word. In addition, the Itomori residents speak in dialect, but for some reason, Futaba speaks normally for her initial academic conversation with Toshiki and then drops into dialect for the remainder of the story.

Extras include fold-out color illustration, character sketches, and nine black-and-white illustrations.

In summary

This book was written expressly for fans of your name. so if you haven’t seen the movie or read the light novel, do that first. Then if you’re hungry for more details about the town of Itomori, Mitsuha’s family, and the traditions of the Miyamizu Shrine or if you just want to revisit the your name. characters, pick up Another Side: Earthbound. There are bits that do get tiresome, but overall, it balances comedy and drama as well as the original.

First published at The Fandom Post.

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Light Novel Review: your name.

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now Yen On brings Shinkai’s your name. novel to English readers for a new perspective on the events of the movie.

Back cover Blurb

Mitsuha, a high school girl living in a rural town deep in the mountains, has a dream that she is a boy living an unfamiliar life in Tokyo. Taki, a high school boy living in Tokyo, dreams that he is a girl living in the mountains. As they realize they are changing places, their encounter sets the cogs of fate into motion.

The Review

Confession: As of the writing of this post, I have not seen the your name. movie.

Therefore, I am unable to draw any comparisons between the film and the novel. That doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s work. His name got stamped into my otaku consciousness when Voices of a Distant Star came out, and since then, I’ve associated Shinkai with two things: breathtaking skies and the longing of separated lovers. While novels can’t provide dazzling visuals of the heavens, filmmaker Shinkai displays his mastery with words as he depicts the angst of his lead couple.

For those completely unacquainted with your name. that lead couple is comprised of two modern-day high school students, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana. Mitsuha lives in the rural community of Itomori in her grandmother’s house. As the granddaughter of a Shinto priestess, Mitsuha’s life is steeped in tradition, but she’s dying to leave her tiny town for Tokyo. Taki lives in Tokyo and works part time at a fancy Italian restaurant. The two don’t know each other at all, but for some unknown reason, each starts dreaming about living the other’s life. Then they realize that they are actually switching bodies when they feel the consequences of the other person’s actions.

It’s a complicated set-up. That brings me to the one weakness of the light novel. It’s written in first person, and the viewpoint switches frequently and sometimes mid-scene between Mitsuha and Taki. If you don’t know the story involves body-switching, the first few pages can be really confusing. However, if you can get through that hurdle, the rest of the book is spectacular.

The cover flap touts the novel as “in turns funny, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching.” Sounds like a lot, but Shinkai actually delivers on all fronts. The comedy comes as a natural outgrowth of the circumstances Shinkai has laid out. In addition to the awkwardness of inhabiting a body of the opposite gender, there’s also city-versus-country humor, and I did literally laugh out loud in places. The heartwarming part comes as the two start appreciating the experiences of the other, and then hearts get wrenched when the swaps stop and Taki goes in search of Mitsuha armed with nothing but his hand-drawn sketches of Itomori’s scenery.

So the guy goes, finds the girl, and they live happily ever after, right? Not exactly. Shinkai throws in a couple major twists that turns Taki’s efforts to find the girl into a desperate quest to save the girl. It’s a dramatic shift in tone from the first chapters of the book, yet it works. Thanks to the groundwork laid by Mitsuha’s  shrine maiden duties and Grandma Miyamizu’s explanations of the family’s traditions, readers are easily carried along as the supernatural aspect goes from a comical glitch between two individuals to something much bigger.

But even as forces push Mitsuha and Taki together toward a seemingly cosmic goal, other factors tug them apart. From the onset, the memories of their body switches are hazy. It’s only when they find workarounds to communicate that they are able to get a sense of each other. However, once the swaps stop, the precious knowledge they’ve gained starts to evaporate from their minds. Shinkai does an amazing job with these scenes, making the agony of those disappearing memories worse than the pain of separation.

In addition to the breadth and intensity of emotion, Shinkai skillfully weaves in foreshadowing and symbolism, and he interconnects the details of events and characters in seamless fashion. Some nuances of the story do require knowledge of Japanese culture, but the book does not contain a cultural notes section. However, even if you’re unaware of the significance of the “red thread of fate,” you can still appreciate the role that Mitsuha’s hair cord plays in connecting our main characters.

By the way, even though I haven’t seen the movie, my husband saw it on his last flight to Asia (thank you, All Nippon Airways). Once he got home, he dived into the book. As for me, I’ve really got to see the film…

Extras include an afterword from the author and a short essay from Genki Kawamura, who produced the your name. movie.

In summary

Over a decade ago, Makoto Shinkai wowed me with his filmmaking; now he wows me with his writing. your name. is about lovers brought together by fate, but it’s much more than a romance. The story incorporates goofy humor, reflections on the fragility of human memory, and a heart-pounding, race-against-time to thwart disaster. And the amazing thing is that it all works. Hats off to Shinkai!

First published at The Fandom Post.