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Makoto Shinkai is the best director for theatrical anime still active today. If his next work, ‘Kimi no Na wa’, meets his usual standards, he might just become the best director for theatrical anime ever. In fact, he also makes a rather decent claim to being the best scriptwriter and storyboard artist since he does most of that for his projects too. As a master of short-to-medium length films telling stories that are as simple as they are beautiful. Makoto Shinkai is a one man army who makes anime a truly unique experience.
It is therefore a tall task for me to determine a list of anime with as many meaningful traits to compare favourably with ‘5 Centimeters Per Second’, particularly when it is most iconic of Shinkai’s self-contained and nostalgic stories. As such, I meet this challenge by presenting you six anime that are similar because they also capture the best aspects of storytelling in anime that makes them special among all others.
Similar Anime to 5 Centimeters Per Second
1. Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: May 2013
It should not be a surprise that one of the most similar works to Shinkai’s best film is another one he directs. However, what connects ‘5 Centimeters Per Second’ and ‘The Garden of Words’, two films with stories that are not only different in tone, pacing and even the most fundamental emotion that it instills upon its viewer, is a very specific aesthetic-style that no other director has been able to pull off. What Shinkai brings to the table is the ability to construct, through jaw-droppingly beautiful visuals and an absolute mastery of audio cues, a perfect representation of the real world in anime.
The Garden of Words takes place in modern day Tokyo and tells the story between a teenage high school student and an adult young woman. What connects the two is neither a platonic friendship nor an intense romance, but rather the simple joy and comfort of being in each other’s presence where they can escape reality and truly be themselves. They sit together, speaking only when they feel so inclined and pay no heed to each other’s presence when occupied, accompanied only by the unobtrusive sound of rain.
To such a transparent story of pure, honest feelings of love between strangers, Shinkai shows his proficiency the most in the background of the world that we see his characters wander in. The stations of Tokyo are full of ambient sound that almost hurry people out of the trains as much as they hurry the trains away from the platform. The movement of trees and the rain is so effortless that it never catches the uncritical eye. The characters themselves are so well integrated into their plane of existence that there is never any doubt that they belonged there in the first place.
However, the Garden of Words is the film that exhibits Shinkai’s capacity as a storywriter the most, in which he proves that he is not a one-trick pony who can only obliterate the hearts of his audience, but can tell uplifting tales that inspire us to continue trusting in the goodness of one another.
2. The End of Evangelion
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Jul 1997
You should not watch The End of Evangelion if you have never watched the TV series. Simple as that. If you have watched the Evangelion TV series and chose not to watch the film for any reason, quite frankly, you are missing one of the most unique, most entertaining anime films to date.
‘5 Centimeters Per Second’ sets itself aside from other romance anime because it understands the exact story it wants to tell and, perhaps more importantly, does not give a hoot whether it follows genre conventions or not. Similarly, ‘The End of Evangelion’ is part of a franchise known to have deconstructed the mecha genre and tells a story so horrific and disturbing that it remains controversial even to the franchise’s fans. Instead of making use of known storytelling elements, Shinkai and Anno construct stories that are complex, challenging and may even turn off viewers who are unprepared for some of the movies’ themes.
The End of Evangelion does tend towards the graphic side of things, depicting violent battles that are more graphic than the usual mecha affair and showing familiar characters at their very worst. Regardless, what awaits the curious viewer is a climatic end to a beloved franchise that stands on its own as a thought-provoking work that just might require a few rewatches to digest.
The End of Evangelion Trailer
3. Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: Jul 2013
No self-indulging list about anime films will leave out the prestigious Studio Ghibli. On the same token, no one who knows more than nothing about Kaze Tachinu will see it as a representative of what Studio Ghibli films are traditionally about, which is a shame because many people end up ignoring an emotional, affective story worth watching.
Just as 5 Centimeters per Second follows the life of Takaki, Kaze Tachinu depicts a fictional interpretation of the real-life historical figure Jiro Horikoshi, now remembered for being the chief engineer whose work culminated in the prolific Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane. But that does not really matter. What matters is that Takaki and Jiro are characters with sympathetic motivations and are as susceptible to the forces of love as anyone else, and their respective films thrive at showing this.
Jiro meets Naoko, a brave and kind-hearted girl, during the train ride right as the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 hits, setting off a romantic bond between the two that is underlined throughout the entire movie. The passionate love for planes and attachment to Naoko, both drive his actions in a subtle, invisible way. Yet, the common beauty of 5 Centimeters Per Second Kaze Tachinu is their ability to communicate to us through brilliant directing and without any senseless monologue who each of the characters are what they feel. Takaki’s longing for Akari mirrors Jiro falling hopelessly in love with Naoko and even without dramatic lines or Hollywood climaxes, the credits are shown with the viewers knowing exactly how strong their feelings are.
【ジブリ】風立ちぬ 劇場予告 完全版 "The Wind Rises" Trailer Full Ver.
Any Animes Like 5 Centimeters Per Second ?
4. Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan - Tsuiokuhen (Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal)
- Episodes: 4
- Aired: Feb 1999 - Sep 1999
The Tsuiokuhen OVA series is a prequel to the famous Rurouni Kenshin TV anime series in the 90s, made in such a way that anyone is bound to enjoy it even if it was their first entry into the franchise. It is one of the two anime in this list that did not come out as a theatrical release, but it might as well be with its more than remarkable production values.
Tsuiokuhen tells the story of Kenshin Himura during his time as a political assassin as an instrument of the Meiji Restoration historical period, around ten years before the TV anime series takes place. Without fully realising it, Kenshin grows weary of the violence he partakes in and is visibly on his descent to madness. One fateful night, Kenshin meets Tomoe, a young Japanese woman wandering in the vibrant Kyoto night and in a twist of events, end up having to escape together as Kenshin and his organisation are attacked.
Tsuiokuhen is considered by many to be the best part of the Rurouni Kenshin franchise, and it is easy to see why. Kenshin and Tomoe’s relationship transcends romance as the circumstances tying the two together are best described as fated and inevitable; there is no doubt that their meeting have changed the two irreversibly and Tsuiokuhen thrives at convincing the viewer exactly that. As such, Tsuiokuhen is an anime that matches the themes of 5 Centimeters Per Second remarkably well despite being so different in so many other ways. Regardless, for any Shinkai fans looking for the best works that depicts the most powerful stories about male-female relationships, Tsuiokuhen is your best bet.
5. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 3: Hangyaku no Monogatari (Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part III: Rebellion)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: October 2013
Although the controversial Rebellion movie is third in the Madoka film series, it is the only one that provides new content and serves as a sequel to the TV series, of which the first two movies retell in a more compacted form. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory for the uninitiated, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is about a group of young girls who are contracted to serve as defenders of justice who wield magical powers. Unfortunately, the world they live in is harsh and tragedy occurs more often than not, in the process of which a promise is made between two of the characters.
Just as 5 Centimeters Per Second builds onto an unfulfilled romance and an unsaid promise between Takaki and Akari, Hangyaku no Monogatari is a peek into the world that Madoka and crew are left in after overcoming the challenges of the main series, one where Homura, who becomes the protagonist for the film, notices that something is amiss and sets aside her comfortable surroundings to figure out the truth of her circumstances. Both films are an exploration of how a moment in their characters’ lives can be a causal factor to how everything that follows fall awry and Homura’s continued suffering resembles much of Takaki’s spiral into depression.
Shibou’s involvement in the franchise is clear as day with abstract imagery used in excess, but in a very appealing, well-integrated fashion that characterises his style. This leads to a bombastic sensual experience further enhanced by the involvement of Yuki Kajiura and Kalafina on the auditory side, whose additions to the film cannot be understated. Compared to Shinkai’s directorial efforts, everything is more in the face rather than subtle.
Madoka as a franchise is among the best that anime has produced in the 2010s that is likely to be talked about in the distant future and Hangyaku no Monogatari is a development to the overarching plot that no one could have foresaw. If 5 Centimeters Per Second was not to your aesthetic preference, the Madoka franchise might be the breath of fresh air you need.
6. Hoshi no Koe (Voices of a Distant Star)
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: February 2002
Although 5 Centimeters Per Second has become Shinkai’s most iconic film, Hoshi no Koe is the work that defines his reputation as the anime director most apt at telling stories about raw human emotions. It is essentially 5 Centimeters Per Second stripped down to showing the inner turmoil of the two main characters and the cloud and sky imagery, much beloved by Shinkai.
Noboru, a junior high school student, is made to separate from his classmate and romantic partner Mikako, who is chosen to serve as a pilot in a space expedition mission. The pair’s attempt to stay in contact through their mobile phones becomes more difficult as the distance between them grows insurmountable and time passes mercilessly. It is very possible that 5 Centimeters Per Second was really an attempt to revisit the key themes of Hoshi no Koe, as the difficulties that the character face is embodied by the same notion of distance that prevents them from having a fulfilling relationship. Whereas 5 Centimeters Per Second represents this distance through realistic means, Hoshi no Koe shows it much more literally. Either is powerful in their own ways.
Even though there are many sound opinions of Hoshi no Koe being just as, if not more emotionally affecting as 5 Centimeters Per Second, the best mindset going into it is to realise that Shinkai worked on it nearly entirely on his own with his iMac, relying only on his wife for voice acting Mikako for Hoshi no Koe’s first release. No matter how impressive an anime director is, few can claim to be a miracle maker that Shinkai clearly is.
Anime films are different enough from TV series that it really should be made clear that they are their own medium. Even among the great anime films, 5 Centimeters Per Second stands out as a masterpiece that is likely not to be matched by many other works as a complete package that deconstructs human beings and pushes the boundaries of technical skill in anime production. However, watching a masterpiece should never be a reason to stop watching anime. Coming to believe that there is no peer for your very best should be a motivation in wishing for even better, as there really is no telling how good that can be, even if such an anime may deal with a topic that is completely unexpected.
Hopefully, this list makes clear that it is not necessarily the plot elements or the character traits that make an anime a masterpiece, but the techniques and talent of the people behind the production that create the distinction between the good and the ones that deserve never to be forgotten.
Is there an anime that you think is a masterpiece? Maybe there is an anime here you would like to contend? Let us know in the comment section below.