A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai

A Sky Longing for MemoriesCreator: Makoto Shinkai
Translator: Maya Rosewood
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220436
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2008

I was introduced to the work of Makoto Shinkai through his animated film 5 Centimeters per Second, which left a huge impression on me. The beautifully melancholic story about lost and unrequited love was simple enough, but the visuals were stunningly gorgeous. A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai is an artbook that was originally released in Japan in 2008, the year after 5 Centimeters per Second debuted. I was very pleased when Vertical Comics announced its intention to publish an English-language edition. That volume was ultimately released in 2015 with a translation by Maya Rosewood. Vertical hasn’t released very many artbooks, but A Sky Longing for Memories is a good fit for the publisher. Not only has Vertical published other nonfiction works about Japanese film, it has also released two Shinkai manga: 5 Centimeters per Second and The Garden of Words.

A Sky Longing for Memories primarily consists of stills and background artwork from four of Shinkai’s projects initially released between 2002 and 2007. Prominently featured are three of his animated films—5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and Voices of a Distant Star—as is the television commercial he created for Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, “Say Something Important.” More than half of A Sky Longing for Memories is devoted to 5 Centimeters Per Second, the volume opening with some of Shinkai’s most visually refined and impressive work. The three sections that follow are dedicated to each of the earlier films and “Say Something Important.” Also included in the volume is a glossary—useful for readers who are unfamiliar with some of the technical terms used in the animation industry—as well as “Makoto Shikai’s Colors,” a section exploring the methods and techniques used by Shinkai, and “Testimonials of Makoto Shinkai’s World,” a collection of brief interviews with Shinkai and ten other members of Shinkai Works.

Although A Sky Longing for Memories can simply be appreciated and enjoyed as a collection of stunning artwork, the volume also provides insight into the creative processes and artistic direction required to achieve such impressive images. Many of the individual pieces are accompanied by brief descriptions of the decisions that were made in their overall design in addition to the specific considerations and techniques used in their creation. It’s unclear who actually wrote much of the text in A Sky Longing for Memories, but from the context it would seem to either be one (or several) of Shikai’s staff members or someone else who was close to the work being done. Either way, I was glad for the inclusion of the various descriptions and explanations; I don’t have a strong background in visual art or design and so found A Sky Longing for Memories to be illuminating and intellectually stimulating as well as beautiful to look at.

One of the key components of Shinkai’s style is his use of color. With this in mind, Vertical has taken great care to faithfully reproduce Shinkai’s artwork in A Sky Longing for Memories; the volume uses thick, glossy paper on which the colors in particular are beautifully presented. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous book of gorgeous illustrations. A Sky Longing for Memories reveals Shinkai not only as a talented artist but also as a skilled director. While he solely handled almost every aspect of Voices of a Distant Star except for the film’s music, by the time 5 Centimeters per Second was produced Shinkai was guiding and coordinating the work of an entire staff. Interestingly, most of the team members were traditionally trained artists from outside of the animation industry who had to learn digital techniques and illustration methods on the job. As can be seen from A Sky Longing for Memories, the result of their combined efforts is spectacular.

My Week in Manga: October 8-October 14, 2012

My News and Reviews

Two in-depth reviews for you all this past week, one for manga and one not. First up was my review of Yukio Mishima’s breakthrough, semi-autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask. More than six decades after it was first published, it’s still a potent work. In some ways, it reminded me a bit of Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. The second review was for Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Volume 14: Last Blood, which is part of my Blade of the Immortal review project. Last Blood marks the end of one major story arc and the beginning of another. I’m still loving the series.

I’ve previously mentioned the Manga Out Loud podcast several times here at Experiments in Manga. The latest episode, which features a fantastic conversation about Osamu Tezuka’s Barbara with some big names in manga scholarship, will also be Manga Out Loud’s final episode. It’s my favorite manga podcast, so it saddens me greatly that the program is ending. Manga Out Loud was a fabulous show and the archives are well worth listening to even if there won’t be any new episodes added.

Both the New York Comic Con and Yaoi-Con took place over the weekend. Being stuck in the Midwest, I wasn’t able to attend either convention, but I was very excited about some of the manga license announcements to come out of the events. At NYCC, Kodansha Comics announced it will begin releasing Makoto Yukimura’s Vinland Saga in October 2013. I’ve wanted Vinland Saga to be licensed for years, so I’m thrilled that it will finally be making its way into print in English. JManga has licensed Aoi Hana by Takako Shimura, the creator of Wandering Son. I’m glad to see a digital release of Aoi Hana, but also a little sad since it means it’ll probably be less likely to be picked up for a print license now. Vertical also had some great licenses to announce at NYCC: Osamu Tezuka’s Twin Knight (the sequel to Princess Knight) and Kyoko Okazaki’s Helter Skelter.

Over on the other coast at Yaoi-Con, Viz Media’s boys’ love imprint Sublime had a slew of new licenses to announce, including a license rescue. I’m particularly excited to see more manga by Yaya Sakuragi and a series by Kano Miyamoto scheduled for 2013. And the license rescue? I had most of my bets on Youka Nitta’s Embracing Love and was delighted to be proven correct. Plans are to release the series in two-volume omnibuses beginning April 2013. I already own the five volumes of Embracing Love that were originally released in English by Central Park Media, but I’ll happily be double-dipping for this series.

Quick Takes

5 Centimeters Per Second written by Makoto Shinkai and illustrated by Yukiko Seike. I tend to avoid most anime-to-manga adaptations since they often leave something to be desired. But after watching 5 Centimeters Per Second film, which I loved, I wanted to spend more time with the story. I’m glad I gave the manga a try because it’s a beautiful work. Seike’s art is lovely and conveys the characters’ feelings well. This is particularly important since pages and pages may pass without any dialogue at all. 5 Centimeters Per Second is a quiet and melancholy work—love and loneliness are closely tied together. The manga is a marvelous adaptation as well as being a wonderful work in its own right.

Berserk, Volume 36 by Kentaro Miura. Berserk is one of my favorite series and so I’m always excited when a new volume is released. I do prefer the earlier story arcs over the more recent ones, but I still love the series. Guts and his companions continue to be pursued by demonic powers. The pirate captain Bonebeard, who is no longer human, won’t let them be and he’s got plenty of monsters in tow. Monsters and demons aren’t the only things that Guts is battling against. His berserker armor, even when it can be held in check, takes a tremendous toll on him. The artwork in Berserk is great and Miura has a talent for creating creepy monster designs. The fights, which are rather chaotic, are engaging even if they can be a little difficult to follow at times.

Cardcaptor Sakura, Omnibus 4 by CLAMP. I’ve been looking forward to the release of the final omnibus of Cardcaptor Sakura a great deal. Despite the adorably sweet characters, there’s actually a significant amount of tragedy, sadness, and sacrifice in the series. But, much like Sakura’s mantra “I’m sure everything will be all right,” I ultimately find the series to be comforting. In the end, even though there is plenty that has been lost, love and friendship do win out. It’s not entirely unexpected since it’s been one of the manga’s strongest themes from the very beginning, but it does make me happy. I like the emphasis that is placed on the concept of love and how it isn’t limited to a single interpretation of what love is.

Girl Friends, Omnibus 1 by Milk Morinaga. Mari is a shy bookworm who is befriended by the more outgoing Akko. Suddenly, Mari has not one but an entire group of girl friends to hang out with. Slowly, Mari comes to realize that Akko means much more to her than just a friend, or even a best friend. So far, Girl Friends is a very realistic portrayal of young love. Mari trying to come to terms with her developing feelings for Akko is particularly well done. I honestly care about all of the characters in Girl Friends, not just Mari and Akko, but their friends (and boyfriends), too. I do worry about them; I want everything to work out well for all of them and I want them all to find happiness. I’m really looking forward to finishing the series.

Gin Tama, Collections 3-4 (Episodes 27-49) directed by Shinji Takamatsu. I still get a huge kick out of Gin Tama. It’s definitely not a series for everyone; some of the comedy can be pretty stupid at times. The episodes can be a little hit-or-miss for me, but even the episodes that are only okay manage to make me laugh. And the episodes that actually click with me I find to be absolutely hilarious. Take the final episode in the first season—the game of strip mahjong was so epic, I was almost in tears. There’s a ton of Japanese history and pop culture references and parodies in Gin Tama. The more of these you can catch, the funnier the show is. I do pretty well, but I know that there’s plenty I’m missing out on.

My Week in Manga: December 5-December 11, 2011

My News and Reviews

Last week I posted December’s first in-depth manga review: Breathe Deeply by wife and husband creative team Doton Yamaaki. It’s the second manga to be published by One Peace Books. I quite enjoyed it and look forward to future manga releases by the publisher. I also posted the Give Me Some Gin Tama! Winner. The entry also includes a great list of recommended manga titles to make you laugh. And finally, apologies for the exceptionally brief news section this week! I’m still trying to get back into the groove of things after whatever bizarre illness I had.

Quick Takes

The Beautiful Skies of Houou High, Volume 1 by Arata Aki. I’m not as offended by The Beautiful Skies of Houou High as I know some people are, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the first volume of the manga, either. Kei Saeba, who literally gets sick in the presence of men, has been enrolled in a prestigious all-boys school by her mother after being dumped by her girlfriend in order to “fix” her daughters preferences. Even worse than that, if anyone discovers that she’s a girl while attending the school, Kei will find herself “disappeared.” I like that Kei likes girls; I like her bifauxnen character design. But that’s most of what I like about the manga. I’m not really enjoying the actual story at this point.

Dragon Girl, Omnibus 1 (equivalent to Volumes 1-3) by Toru Fujieda. Rinna Aizen’s dream is to lead Shoryu Senior High School’s ōendan, or cheering squad (not to be confused with a cheerleading squad). Fortunately for her, the all-boys school has recently gone co-ed. Nothing really stood out for me about Dragon Girl. Rinna and her friends are likeable enough, but the manga uses so many cliches and doesn’t do anything new with them that I actually found it to be rather boring. Long lost childhood love interest? Check. Evil student council? Check. (I could keep going, but I won’t.) However, I would like to thank Fujieda for introducing me to ōendan. That’s some cool stuff right there.

Megatokyo, Volumes 1-3 by Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston. Megatokyo is a webcomic that began way back in 2000 and is still going. (You can read it here.) Personally, I prefer reading Megatokyo in print. I’ve been following Megatokyo for quite some time, but it’s been a while since I’ve gone back to the beginning. I now realize how many of the Japanese pop culture references went completely over my head the first time I read the comic. I get them now, but even if you don’t, Megatokyo is still great entertainment. Gallagher actually lives in the next town over from me and I’ve even met him on a couple of occasions. I like supporting local creators, which is yet another reason I appreciate Megatokyo.

Saihôshi: The Guardian Omnibus by Kôsen. Saihôshi is probably my favorite publication by Yaoi Press that I’ve read so far. Sure, there is plenty ridiculous about the comic, including odd clothing design choices, gratuitous magic tattoos, and one of the main character’s weapon of choice is basically a giant pair of scissors, but to me that is part of its charm. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, though. There are a few brief sex scenes, but Saihôshi‘s focus is on the story. Many of the fantasy elements used are fairly typical, but the plot is actually pretty decent. There was more humor in Saihôshi than I was expecting, too. High art it is not, but I honestly enjoyed Saihôshi. Kôsen is a two-person creative team from Spain made up of Aurora García Tejado and Diana Fernández.

5 Centimeters Per Second directed by Makoto Shinkai. 5 Centimeters Per Second is a gorgeous film. The animation is beautiful and frequently breathtaking—the snow, the rain, the sky, the cherry blossoms, the color and lighting, everything. The film is just over an hour long and consists of three shorts with Takaki Tōno at their heart: “Cherry Blossom,” “Cosmonaut,” and “5 Centimeters Per Second.” 5 Centimeters Per Second is suffused with melancholy and loneliness as its characters deal with intense emotions of love, longing, and loss. Be warned, if you’re looking for resolution and closure, you won’t find it here. 5 Centimeters Per Second left quite an impression on me; I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.