Let it be on the record that Garden of Words, from the time I’ve finished watching it, is now quite frankly my favorite Shinkai Makoto production. This coming from a very skeptic viewer of his many works over the past few years. So do expect me to praise this little wonder every now and then over the course of this review.
Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa) is the latest project of Shinkai Makoto (Voices of a Distant Star, 5 cm/s) which had its premier on May 31, 2013 in Japan. Interestingly, the Blu-Rays were readily available during the initial screening (with North American support no less) so us fans outside Japan were subjected to a real treat to a relatively early viewing as supposed to the regular 4-6 month wait for a physical release of the sort.
Now, technicals aside, I did mention my forthcoming attitude towards Shinkai Makoto’s works and I’m willing to bet some of you guys feel the same way about ’em. I want us to be real here and admit that a good portion of the reason (if not entirely so) why we watch his productions is for the unique, stunning, awesome-tier animation. That being said, Garden of Words is on a completely different level (don’t let my grain-y screencaps fool you). I swear, you can even trick people in saying a snapshot of a scenic view and passing it off as a photo taken in real life. Not saying that realism in animation is the way to go here (i.e. rotoscoping anyone?) but seeing such lush and outright gorgeous scenery, in an anime no less, is nothing short of impressive, and it’s a true testament to Shinkai Makoto’s skill.
Visuals are one thing, but story is another – and here, dear reader, is where I become “that one guy” who can potentially hate on Shinkai Makoto’s works. If you’ve seen, say, Voices of a Distant Star, and 5 cm/s, and The Place Promised in our Early Days (and if you’ve seen Garden of Words already for that matter) you should be fully aware of the over-arching theme among them. If not, well, I’ll cut to the chase and say the theme is that of separation. Distance, for that matter. Almost, if not all, of Shinkai Makoto’original productions share scenarios that involve a romance that is destined to not work out. You might even say it’s expected. Personally, I’ve never been a fan – not because I dislike failing romances, but I found it hard to empathize and even sympathize with his characters. Which is really what turned me away from 5 cm/s (or at least the anime, I hear the novel is loads better)
A big however though with Garden of Words is that the whole romance-distance thing actually works. The whole age gap thing aside (which probably isn’t that big of a deal really), the relationship of our MC’s here weren’t so much helplessly in-love with each other but rather the emotions here are a bit more self-preserved. Garden is really, in my opinion, more so of a coming of age story than a romance; and in that context, it hits the mark excessively well.
I can only say so much, but in the end, it’s a different thing seeing it for yourself. I may just be over-hyping it myself, but this truly is my favorite Shinkai Makoto work for the time being.