Last Updated 16/06/2020
“Good animators can make a good story a knockout. There is not much that the best animators can do with bad stories”- Walt Disney
Anime has the potential to give us unique experiences. Japan’s animation industry is filled with culture and perspectives that are missing from Western films. However, this culture is too often used as fancy dress on familiar archetypes. Many popular anime tropes simply show or sometimes celebrate ugly sides of human nature as opposed to exploring them. This is part of what makes anime directors like Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda good. Their films are full of rich meaning and they often subvert and scrutinise harmful anime tropes. This context makes Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name disappointing. Shinkai’s film is technically excellent but severely lacking in meaning and humanity. Pretty visuals are its key focus and are meant to distract from its hollowness. It’s not an awful film, but it’s not a very good one.
Your Name tries to sell itself as a character drama, in the same vein as something like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. But Shinkai’s characterisation is severely lacking. Let’s compare the characters in Your Name to the ones featured in Miyazaki or Hosoda films.
Chihiro, Hana and Mitsuha
Chihiro is the main character in Spirited Away. Her design helps establish her personality and her place in the story. She has a chubby face, oversized shoes and a baggy shirt. She looks like a kind of lazy, average kid and she is. Her clothes are mismatched- as though they’ve been chosen with no real care. Her dumpy and expressive face shows immaturity but her expressiveness also allows Miyazaki to show her character develop through subtle character acting.
When she’s forced to work in the bathhouse Chihiro wears a pink traditional Japanese uniform. The costume is intricate, made up of several parts- it looks difficult wear. It clashes with the carefree personality set by her first costume and reflects how the bathhouse is trying to reform her personality. Chihiro’s design plays an important role in defining her character.
Chihiro’s model sheets.
Hana is the protagonist of Wolf Children. She has a more varied wardrobe than Chihiro or the protagonists of Your Name but usually wears light and unassuming clothes. Her clothes make her blend into her surroundings, conveying her self-effacing and introverted personality. As her character develops we see that her clothing choices reflect humility rather than a lack of strength, making this design choice a kind of red herring. While it’s not as communicative as Chihiro’s, her design adds meaning and her variety of costumes add realism that helps to set up her character and the film’s tone.
Hana’s Model Sheets.
Mitsuha is the female lead of Your Name. She usually wears a sailor fuku school uniform and ties her hair in a bun with a red ribbon. This ribbon is the only notable part of her design. Her outfits don’t tell us much about her personality. She goes between her school uniform and traditional kimonos/yukatas during certain scenes. But these costumes don’t convey much information that isn’t already obvious (e.g. Mitsuha is a school student, Mitsuha is performing in a ceremony). They are worn with no personal flair.
Compare this to Makoto from Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Makoto wears her school uniform sloppily, implying a laid back personality. A basic character trait but one that’s at least shown to have an impact on how she looks.
Mitsuha’s uniforms might represent conformity and lack of freedom. However, she wears the same uniform after she’s “freed” by her male counterpart, making this design choice clumsy if true.
In short, Mitsuha’s costumes add little to her character. The ribbon is her most defining visual characteristic, but is only meant to show her “ties to fate”, a vague and generic story concept. Her design lacks personality.
Mitsuha in 3 costumes.
This difference in detail extends to their personalities.
Spirited Away begins with Chihiro sullenly clutching a bouquet of flowers. She’s lying down in the back seat of a car, moping and sticking her tongue out at passing scenery. Her dad describes the surrounding scenery with fake enthusiasm, trying to cheer her up, but she easily sees through this. We feel Chihiro’s frustration with the lack of control she has over her life in this introductory scene.
Her hesitant personality is shown in her animation. She wrings the bottom of her shirt when she’s nervous, stumbles awkardly over rocks and clings to her parents whenever they’re close. We understand in the first few minutes of the film that Chihiro is a cautious but outspoken child who is having trouble adapting to her new situation. Almost all of this is communicated non-verbally because it doesn’t need to be explained. Miyazaki uses implication in dialogue and character acting in the animation to set up characters in natural and engaging ways.
Hana’s character in Wolf Children is deceptively simple at first but becomes more interesting as the film goes on. At first she just seems shy and inexperienced. When she becomes a mother, the work she puts into raising her kids and her lack of fear when she finds out the truth about her partner implies her great inner strength. Her meek personality being forced to deal with tragedy after tragedy makes the movie engaging as she is constantly forced to find that inner strength despite how outmatched she feels. She keeps her pain to herself and struggles to stay seen as a strong and happy mother for her children despite the reality of her situation. This makes Hana deeply sympathetic, and makes her fragility in the face of increasingly more traumatic life events more affecting.
There is a brief intro section in Your Name where we see glimpses of an adult Mitsuha. But in her proper introduction we see Mitsuha throwing her hair ribbon to Taki in a flash forward, setting up their destiny to be together.
In the next scene we see Taki, in Mitsuha’s body, groping her breasts and taking off her clothes to stare at her body in the mirror. The first character development she has comes when she’s walking to school. Her quiet voice acting implies a broadly quiet personality. Generic bullies say that her father, the mayor, is corrupt. Then her father, in the middle of a town talk, tells her to stand up straight. Townspeople say this is embarrassing for Mitsuha and Mitsuha says she’s embarrassed.
Soon after we see her performing in a traditional Japanese ceremony. Bullies in the audience talk about how weird the ceremony is. Mitsuha doesn’t appear to have any problems aside from these two isolated incidents of bullying. While she appears to have issues with her father, these issues are not shown outside of that one scene in town. Her father doesn’t appear in the movie again until the very end. She is not shown to have problems at school and has a group of friends. As she says, her main problem is that she thinks her town is boring. She yells into the night that she wishes she was a boy in Tokyo as her town doesn’t have a café or many shops.
She gets her wish when she miraculously starts body-swapping with Taki, a boy in Tokyo. Mitsuha is happy when she visits a café. Her male counterpart Taki makes her more popular in school whilst in her body but popularity isn’t something that makes sense for her quiet character to want. Her newfound popularity also doesn’t affect her life as she maintains the same group of friends and demeanour. In fact, this popularity doesn’t affect the films plot or characters at all.
Mitsuha then visits a matsuri festival where she dies in a meteor crash. Late in the movie it’s revealed that her father chose to not take care of her when her mother died. We are not shown if or how this has impacted her. In the climax, she has to confront her father to get him to evacuate the town before the meteor hits. Given they survive its implied she persuaded him to evacuate but we do not get to see her persuading him.
Mitsuha’s characterisation is typical of many other shallow love interests. Her attractiveness is the focus of her early scenes where intricate animation is given to her breasts being groped and the appeal of her movements. Compare this to the focus on Hana’s introversion or the detail in Chihiro’s actions in their first scenes which first and foremost highlight who they are as people. Mitsuha’s personality is never given much importance despite her being the main character in a character focused drama.
Mitsuha’s traits are usually shown by being literally told to us. “We aren’t given a reason why she hates the town she’s in other than the fact she finds it boring. It doesn’t seem to impact her life. In fact, the town is usually depicted as beautiful, clashing with what Mitsuha seems to believe about it. We are never shown if or how hardships like a strict father or bullies affect her personally. They are minor inconveniences who’s impact doesn’t extend outside of individual scenes. A major strength of animation is the ability to fine tune a character’s personality without the need for dialogue. By not capitalising on this and telling instead of showing Shinkai relies on the prettiness and dictated traits of his characters to create a connection.
Taki and the Self-Insert Character
While Mitsuha’s character is poorly developed, Taki’s (the male lead of Your Name) is barely existent. He is a self-insert character- someone the director, and in this case target audience, is meant to identify with. This is implied through his role in the story. Taki is not given personality other than that he likes girls and works in a restaurant. We do not know if he likes his job and are not told anything about his life outside of work. He’s good at drawing which is of use in one scene where someone recognises his drawing of Mitsuha’s hometown but this is the only time it comes into play. His friends and co-workers do not have personality. Their dialogue is almost exclusively describing what’s happening in a scene or recalling past events- they have no continuous character traits. His lack of characterisation implies we should care about him because he cares about Mitsuha, who we are meant to care about. This is what makes him a self-insert character.
There is nothing wrong with self-insert characters but there are unfortunate implications when we are meant to project ourselves onto someone who is unlikable. In the movie’s first full scene, while in Mitsuha’s body, Taki squeezes her breasts erotically. This happens several times throughout the movie and is presented as comedic despite the intricate detail of the animation. Comedic groping is a staple of anime but should not be an appealing character trait. Taki’s character plays into an unhealthy and often seen fantasy in anime where sexual abuse is acceptable.
Mitsuha is not given a reason to love or even like him. He makes her popular at school whilst in her body but as stated earlier this is not something she wants and this does not affect her life. Mitsuha seems inexplicably drawn to Taki despite his lack of personality and his lecherous actions, which she brushes off. Taki does save Mitsuha at the end by travelling back in time. However, they declare their love for each other before a relationship is developed. The lack of a felt connection between the two makes their relationship feel forced and unnatural.
The further implications of this relationship are discussed in the following section:
Themes and Message
The main themes of Your Name are:
Love– The movie is about a romantic relationship between the main characters.
Loss– The movie depicts characters dealing with personal loss (the death of a friend).
These themes convey unclear and sometimes inappropriate messages.
In Your Name the main characters develop a relationship after they begin swapping bodies. While they don’t meet, they live each other’s lives and leave written messages to each other to communicate. This is an intimate idea. However, it is shown as comedic- the characters are annoyed with each other. There are no scenes where they bond or develop a relationship. They learn cursory things about each other like that Mitsuha likes cafes or that Taki doesn’t work as hard as her. Potentially interesting events such as the two developing their method for communicating with each other are only briefly mentioned in a montage. They are not shown to have a meaningful relationship outside of the fact that they body swap with one another.
You could say that body swapping in itself is an intimate idea that could let them know each other more than anyone else could. However, this idea is not explored. The body swapping scenes are unserious in a way that is similar to the first few loop scenes in Groundhog Day. Your Name could have capitalised on its premise by having the characters learn personal things about each other by living each others lives or learning more about themselves by living as someone else.
While it might be corny by today’s standards, Romeo and Juliet’s relationship is more interesting despite their lack of deep character due to one of the play’s messages. Juliet doesn’t die because of a freak accident. The feud between her and Romeo’s family dooms their relationship. By doing this the play comments on the evil of petty feuds by showing us that they can destroy something as pure as Romeo and Juliet’s love.
In Your Name Taki’s declaration of love for Mitsuha comes before he saves her but is reciprocated by her. This reciprocation is not implied to happen because he saves her. Instead the characters’ bashfulness towards each other at the climax implies a connection that wasn’t developed. Like Romeo and Juliet, it also seems to also rely on the idea of star crossed love- that two people are destined to be together. This is a problematic message in Your Name due to their absence of a reason to like each other. Not only was a romantic relationship not developed, they declare their love for each other despite the fact that the last time they interacted they were comically angry at each other.
Your Name’s romance is shallow. Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso explores the effects that having a romantic approach to life can have on your personal relationships. Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time talks about the effects of selfishness on relationships and the importance of spending time wisely. In Your Name Shinkai perpetuates the unfortunately widespread idea in anime that love is a prize you get regardless of your personality or actions. This clashes with the realism that Shinkai tries to set with the film’s detailed art.
Your Name’s perspective on loss is similarly shallow. Hosoda’s Wolf Children provides a great example of the theme of loss in anime.
In Wolf Children, the main character, Hana, becomes guilt stricken after her son almost drowns in a river while she plays with her daughter nearby. Her son’s personality changes after the incident and he becomes withdrawn. Unlike his sister, he can’t make friends in school and prefers to live as a wolf in the forest. Throughout the movie, Hana sacrifices her wellbeing for her children, doing everything she can to make them happy despite her efforts not always being rewarded. Because of this it is heartbreaking to see her efforts go to waste when her son starts to hate his life. She’s fears that she’ll lose him in the same way she lost her husband- the incident that set her misfortunes in motion.
The movie brings these elements full circle in its conclusion. Her son runs away from home and she runs desperately after him. We feel Hana’s pain because we’ve seen the effort she’s gone through to prevent this. As her son runs into the wilderness for the last time she breaks down, blaming herself as raising her kids has been her only goal. Then, her son howls happily back to her and she has a realisation- that the only way she can make her child happy is to let him leave her. Loss is tragic and unavoidable despite our best efforts. However, we must to accept loss if we are to be happy. Hana and her son can finally be happy once she accepts that loss is unavoidable and not something to fight against. This is a legitimately difficult message for anyone to accept and the lengths the movie goes to paint loss as heartbreaking make its message far more poignant.
There are interesting things to say about dealing with unexpected death as happens in Your Name. However, Taki is able to overcome his loss by bringing Mitsuha back from the dead. Loss is something you can get over through convenient supernatural intervention in Your Name. This is all the movie has to say about this major theme. Considering the recent Tohaku earthquake this message is also inappropriate. Shinkai had the opportunity to say something interesting about loss to an audience that was forced to deal with it. Instead Your Name takes place in an unhealthy fantasy where its character do not have to learn to deal with issues- they can wish them away.
There are also some issues with Your Name’s plot. While the plot in character driven dramas doesn’t need to be great if the characters work, Shinkai makes dramatic events happen without build-up or logic to make them interesting.
In some early foreshadowing one of Mitsuha’s teachers says up that twilight is a time where men can meet monsters. It is meant to set up that twilight is an important supernatural event, the symbolism of the statement is discarded. It comes into play when Mitsuha and Taki are able to see each other at twilight on the night she dies even though they are 2 years apart. However, it is not explained that Mitsuha and Taki will forget each other after twilight unless they write their names on each other and that they will never be allowed to body swap after this time- this is what happens. Why can’t he go into the past again if he fails to save her? Why did they forget each other after they met? They didn’t forget each other after she died the first time. Why didn’t they figure out they were two years apart when they had been body swapping for so long? Even Taki knew Mitsuha was seeing the Meteor in the sky, which happened years ago from his perspective.
Worse than a lack of logic is a lack of meaning. If we scripted Wolf Children the same way Your Name is written it might sound like this: Hana is now a slightly nervous woman with two children and a husband. Her child runs away from home at the climax despite him enjoying his home life. We are also told that it’s the 5th solstice of the winter moon at the time he leaves which means that he can’t come back and that Hana will not remember his face. There is nothing in the movie that explains this. By doing this the movie would simply be saying “sometimes people leave and that’s sad” without the enriching meaning that the real film provides us. It is not difficult to write “sad things happen to people because of a supernatural event”. It’s impressive when you are able to give events significance by tying them into broader themes. This is something Your Name’s plot struggles to do.
The art design of a movie can greatly enhance its other qualities; however, Your Name makes mistakes in art design that further muddle its message.
The animation in Your Name is technically impressive. There’s a lot of secondary movement (extra detail such as moving hair or accessories) and fluidity. However, it suffers from a common problem in anime. Moments of “character acting”, where a character’s personality or emotion is given emphasis in the animation, are poorly directed. I’ll use the clips below illustrate what I mean.
This first clip uses few frames but the emotion and tone are clearly communicated. It feels like observed behaviour.
This second clip is more fluid and has more secondary movement- the character’s eyes and hair move a lot more. But this does not emphasise the emotion. In my opinion it distracts from the character’s sadness by making it aesthetically pretty. The focus in the second clip is on making the animation more fluid. The effect is that attractiveness is preferred over emotional realism.
Your Name’s animation has this shortcoming. Although it’s a character driven drama there are no impressive moments of character acting that enhance a character’s emotions. A sequence of animation by the realist animator Hiroyuki Okiura is part of the climax but his smooth and intricate detail is put into making a character’s arms flail smoothly as she runs and her clothes move more realistically. Compare this to Okiura’s sequence in Evangelion 3.33 where he makes the emotion visceral and the focus of the scene through his staging and cinematography.
This animation style is typical of Your Name. Your Name treats character animation the same way it treats action animation- the more movement the better. This makes the emotions conveyed less engaging than those in better animated films. The animation is technically impressive and pleasant to look at, but hampers the already weak elements of the film by choosing attractiveness over meaning.
Backgrounds and Atmosphere
The backgrounds in Your Name have been widely praised. Several reviews cite the backgrounds as one of the best aspects of the film. When I rewatched Your Name I noticed something. When I watch the movie from the beginning I don’t like it, but when I rewatch individual scenes I can enjoy it. The visuals and atmosphere are pleasant without context. However, this kind of appeal is shallow and far from what background art can offer a movie.
Backgrounds are more than window dressing. Look at the above still by Kazuo Oga- a Studio Ghibli background artist. His use of colour helps set the focus- the viewer’s eye is directed to the hut and the tree because of the muted colours around them. The intricate details do not draw attention to themselves and instead enhance the overall sense of romantic realism. More importantly there is a sense of atmosphere in this.
Let’s contrast this with the above background from Your Name. Sunlight messily covers the scene unevenly and the oversaturated light reduces the detail we can see. Light in this movie often obscures detail. Many digital lens flares and rays of light are added in post-production in an attempt at making the movie appear realistic. The effect is that the atmosphere in these shots is reduced. We are only shown backgrounds that look pretty as opposed to ones that communicate a tone or sense of place. Saturated lighting effects appear at night, in the city, in the country side and even indoors.
There is little attempt to give scenes distinct visual personality as they follow the same design philisophy. There is a scene early in the film where Mitsuha is with her family in a peaceful garden. The background in this shot glows with sickly light from several places, including a nearby lake, drowning out the peaceful atmosphere.
Digitally added lens flares, saturation and rays of light may make the movie look more live action. However in my opinion they take away from the personality the movie can give us.
Backgrounds in Your Name do not complement the realism of the characters or story as these elements are not realistic as previously explained. Instead they sometimes clash with the intentions of the scene in their attempts to look pretty at odds with the tone scenes require.
The detail in the backgrounds in Akira make the already grand story seem larger by having so much intricate detail. Spirited Away has some similar kinds of backgrounds to Your Name where the lighting of the bathhouse at night glows with thick hues that make it appear unnatural and otherworldly. As Chihiro learns to live in the bathhouse it is seen more in natural light, a reflection of her changing feelings towards it. These are examples of ways background art can enhance the story of animated films.
The backgrounds in Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast don’t stand out very much but they convey a broad range of tones.
Response to Questions and Criticisms
You can’t expect a movie to be perfect.
Yes, and Your Name is not a bad film in many ways. What I hope I’ve done in this article is point out its flaws and show how other films overcome these flaws to make something better.
What is the purpose of this post?
I’m writing this as a response to good reviews of Your Name. I’ve analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the film through comparison to similar works. This paper is a response to the argument that Your Name is well made, not an argument that it is a bad film or that people shouldn’t like it.
I felt that the characters had personality, I cared about them.
As I explained in the Characterisation section the characters in this movie are not well developed. Their traits (if they have any) either barely affect the story or do not at all. Their voice acting implies some basic character traits but their personality is not shown to play a role in their life in any way. In my opinion they are not relatable people.
You’re wrong about X.
What I’ve said is my opinion. The section about artistry in particular is hard to argue because a lot of people just like this movie’s style. However, I hope I’ve shown a lack of meaning and intention in this film compared to those of other filmmakers. Shinkai’s elements do not gel well and instead feel like a mishmash of nice looking things that don’t come together smoothly.
You’re missing the point of Your Name. The movie works well because of its visuals and style. The characters are nice and it is well presented, making it enjoyable for most people. It is also different from most Western films which is refreshing. You just didn’t have the same response to it as other people.
I agree. However, I don’t think pretty artwork and inoffensive characters are enough to make a movie good. Shinkai puts less artistry into this film than many other directors, anime or live action. I also don’t agree with the shallow and pandering messages this movie brings across. I think Your Name is an average film but that there is a danger in encouraging filmmaking this shallow.
Watching Your Name again, I appreciated its good parts. There’s a lot of detail in the drawings, a relaxing atmosphere, and a story with a happy ending after so many films these days are cynical. When I rewatched the scene where Taki is on the road with his friends, despite the issues I had with it, it felt nice.
It is the context Your Name is made in that makes it disappointing. Film has the potential to add meaning to our lives- to teach us about ourselves, the world, and others. Filmmakers like Miyazaki, Spielberg and Scorsese weave aspects of the human condition into their movies- greatly enhancing their entertainment value. The human aspects of Your Name are shallow and stereotypical. Little effort was made to make the characters interesting or the message of the film worthwhile. Instead pretty visuals are meant to distract from poor filmmaking. The movie is a dressed-up skeleton, having many dramatic and affecting moments without any of the meat that makes them interesting. Anyone can write something that sounds tragic, the hard part is giving it meaning.
There is obviously nothing wrong with liking Your Name and it is not an awful film but I do think there’s something wrong in overestimating its worth. The movie represents the appeal of shallowness that makes films forgettable eye candy and not something worthwhile. Especially in the otaku culture of anime where sales of lewd character merchandise is sometimes as successful as the series they are from it is disappointing that we’re celebrating a movie that encourages this dehumanising perspective on life. We shouldn’t praise a film for having sad moments, but for having effective moments, sad or happy. We shouldn’t say a movie is good because it looks nice, we should encourage visuals that help communicate a worthwhile experience. Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name puts visuals before storytelling and in doing so chooses to be something less than it could have been.