The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Still being busy with exams and project, I temporarily turn over the helm to my buddy Blue Highwind (bluehighwind.blogspot.com), who wrote this review of the anime “The Girl who Leapt through Time”. Please enjoy.



Last week I received a movie in the mail through Netflix. It was flavorless, entirely unremarkable, lacking any real characters, and completely unable to deal with the major issues it brought up. Recreating the human body through nanomachines might actually be the next stage in human history, but this movie was hardly mature enough to consider that, instead relegating the entire concept to the work of a Japanese Dr. Insano. It had just one good idea: metal sandworms (in fact I only rented this movie because I saw metal sandworms in the trailer). The rest of it was completely junk that nobody should have to suffer through.

Luckily, that was “Vexille“, and has absolutely nothing to do with the movie I have for you guys today.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is a movie about a teenage girl… who leaps through time. No, that title isn’t some kind of complicated metaphor that in no describes the story at all, its exactly what this movie is about. If you don’t want girls leaping through time, say you’re morally opposed to the idea, this isn’t your film. I, however, being one who is rather fond of the idea of girls leaping through time, immediately rented this movie when I heard the title. And since this is indeed a movie about a girl who indeed leaps through time quite a bit, I was not disappointed. That it also turned out to be a generally good movie with a touching love story and beautiful animation – that’s all a nice bonus. I don’t know about anybody else, but all I need for my movies is just a girl and for her to leap through time, at least once. Can’t go wrong with that formula I say. But since I doubt you guys share my love for girls leaping through time, I guess I should go ahead and explain why this movie is worth a watch.

(Disclaimer: Obviously this being a work of fiction that deals with time travel, things can get very confusing and paradoxical if you think about it too much. Thinking too much about time travel is usually a bad idea in of itself, unless you want to go cross-eyed.)

Makota Kanno, the girl, is the main character. She’s an average high school student that enjoys playing baseball with her two (guy) friends… but its totally not romantic, seriously! having a really bad day: she overslept, her sister ate her pudding, she didn’t study for a pop math quiz, some idiot knocked her over, etc. Also, her bike brakes failed and now she’s about to get run over by a train and die horribly*. Then Makota suddenly discovers that she has a superpower: she can leap through time. After saving herself from what will certainly be a very painful death, Makota now has a new problem: what to do with this power? Obviously you go back and eat that pudding, study for the pop quiz, gracefully dodges the idiot, and – of course – avoid that train that almost ran you over. But things start getting a lot more complicated for Makota once romantic entanglements start entering the picture. Can you just leap back in time and avoid the haggles of growing up, and simply keep on playing baseball?

At first “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” seems to be following a very familiar theme: you can’t go back and change things through time travel, or else you’re just going to make things a whole lot worse. Lots of movies have handled this issue before, including the unbelievably horrible Aston Kutcher movie “The Butterfly Effect” – less said about that one the better. However, around the half-way mark a few major twists break the movie off this path towards something a bit more interesting. Honestly, what king of advise is “don’t go back in time”? Its completely useless, as time travel is not even an option in the real world! Fiction of this type can only be fantasy, nothing else.

Instead, “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is trying to make something of a metaphor through Makota and her super powers. At one point her best friend asks her out on a date, shocking her straight to the core. Despite Makota’s repeated jumps to the path, the relationship between these two characters is markedly changed throughout the rest of the movie – even though the moment itself has been erased from existence thanks to Makota’s time leaping. Even if you had the power to go back to the past, you can’t keep your relationships simple, and you can’t help but move forward in your life. The only other possibility is to stay behind and watch everybody else find some level of happiness. Its a stirring metaphor, perhaps even a brilliant one. Though beyond even all this, this movie is still a love story in the end, and it ends on a very ambiguous note, even if that note was meant to be hopeful.

Another thing I cannot help but praise this movie for is its impressive animation work. Most 2D animation is very static, with characters often standing still while only their mouths move. You can spot dozens of tricks animators use at times in order to avoid fully animating the motion of people, often giving a very limited view of what their actual actions are. “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” actually goes ahead and produces extremely natural and fluid motion in its characters, something you’d usually only see in 3D animation or live action. Its so well-done that I’d really like to know if motion-capture or computers were used in the process of this movie’s development, even though as far as I can tell this is indeed traditional hand-drawn animation. There is comedy, but none of it is overtly cartoony, i.e. character’s faces never morph, there are no giant beads of sweat, or any of those other anime cliches. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of visual comedy, but it definitely does not fit the emotions of this movie and I’m glad to see that the producers did not include any of it.

However, all this realism leads me to a rather odd question: why is this movie animated in the first place? Everything that happens here happens in the what is essentially the real world, there aren’t many fantastic elements (beyond the time travel bit). Since the animation is so fluid as to almost be live-action, why not have it be live-action? “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is a beautiful movie with lovely landscapes despite taking place in the “real world” (see the picture above), and I have no problems with its visuals. Shots like the one above give a fantastic poetic vision, even when taking place in the temporal world, not a fantasy Miyazaki landscape. However, those same shots could easily be found through traditional live action. Actors and actresses could easily have played the roles of Makota and her friends. What’s the point of animating this world in the first place?

I’m not saying that live-action is in any way superior, but I think this is a question that needs to be asked. As both 2D and 3D animation grows more and more life-like, eventually it will be able to perfectly replicate that of live action. At that point, what would the point of animation even be? Once its lost that element that separates it from live action, what makes it a special and unique medium for visual representation? I just think that these sorts of questions need to be asked at some point. Despite my love of animation, I really don’t know what makes its special beyond live action. That’s a question I’d really like somebody to answer at some point.

But all that is a purely secondary concern which in no way hurts this particular movie or makes it any less enjoyable or thought-provoking. If you are the kind of person who cannot take animation seriously, considering it just to be a medium for children, “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is an irrefutable counterpoint to your simple-minded position. This movie has the most original themes and original answers that I’ve seen in a movie since 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”**. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, or “Eternal Sunshine” either for that matter.

Plus, it has a girl who leaps through time. I can’t argue with that.

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* Something like this actually – no joke – happened to me when I was ten years old. I was on my scooter riding around and crossed a street. However, some idiot was driving incredibly fast and was just about to hit me then…. I don’t know. I blacked out for what felt like hours. When I came to, the car was driving past, only inches away. He drove past calling me “idiot”, and I slowly walked back to the curb and cried. I don’t know if it was adrenaline or what, and I have no idea what happened. Did I get run over? Did something save me? Or perhaps… just maybe… I leapt through time.

** I seem to have forgotten about “Eternal Sunshine” in my countdown of the Best Movie of the Decade. Sorry about that. I was certain while writing that post that I would forget something along the way, and look I did. Oops! It is patently impossible to list the best of anything, sadly. Also, this movie too probably should have been on that list. It just goes to show that there’s always something you forget or do not know about. Never be 100% certain about anything.

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