It’s been five years since I first saw Makoto Shinkai’s blockbuster anime Your Name. on the big screen, and it’s getting difficult to recall exactly why that movie felt so fresh & unique at the time. That’s mostly because the years since have been flooded with shameless Your Name. knockoffs, from Fireworks to I Want to Eat Your Pancreas to the director’s very own Weathering With You. The cost of breaking box office records is that other movie producers smell chum in the water, diluting the uniqueness of your product with countless cash-in copycats. At least, that’s how I’ve been thinking about all the recent anime romances that combine big-teen-emotions with supernatural sci-fi & fantasy phenomena. Maybe I’m giving Your Name. too much credit for its uniqueness in that genre. Maybe I just haven’t seen enough teen-marketed anime in general to understand how all of these Your Name. “knockoffs” are just part of a much longer, more popular tradition that I’m just personally unaware of.
I’m mostly wondering about my genre ignorance here because I was outright shocked by the release date of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Its own indulgences in soaring teenage emotions and far-out time travel sci-fi make the film feel like a contemporary or direct precursor to Your Name., but it was released an entire decade earlier than Shinkai’s international hit. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was seemingly met with much quieter fanfare than Your Name., so it’s less likely to have inspired an entire subgenre of copycats in the same way, but its director Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children, Summer Wars, Mirai) is a big enough name in the industry that Shinkai would certainly be aware of, if not outright inspired by his work. I’m not saying that Your Name. is a carbon copy of what Hosoda achieved in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. If nothing else, the earlier film is working with much lower stakes and lacks the post-emo Radwimps soundtrack that makes Shinkai’s film so perfect for teen summer viewing. Their cross-decade parallels just suggest a much larger world of romantic teen sci-fi anime that I feel completely ignorant to, an oversight I desperately want to correct.
The title The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is almost hilariously literal. Our heroine is a high school student who stumbles onto a time machine device that allows her to physically leap through time. More specifically, she can travel backwards through short bursts of time like a rotary dial, using her newfound supernatural power for petty, small-minded goals like acing a pop quiz, catching a missed baseball, and avoiding Mr. Bean-style slapstick mishaps. Her “time-leap” abilities initially save her from riding her bicycle into an oncoming train, making her out to be a cutesy superhero variation on Donnie Darko. However, she mostly uses them to repair her reputation as a forgetful, clumsy, unlucky, hopelessly tardy nerd. That is, until the source, rules, and mechanics of her time-leap abilities are revealed in a mindfuck twist ending that ramps up the emotional, temporal, and romantic stakes of everything we’ve been watching her adorably stumble through.
For most of its runtime, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is low-key charming & cute. After its third-act twist, it pulls off a surprisingly powerful time-travel Teenage Romance that’s been slowly simmering until that point, to the extent where song lyrics like “Some feelings are more powerful than time” feel more appropriate & heartfelt than cloying. I honestly have no clue how much of an anomaly the film is in the larger teen sci-fi anime canon, but I do know that the soaring emotions of that third-act romantic shift felt remarkably close to what impressed me in Your Name. so many years ago. I like to imagine there are more films out there that pluck those same emo-teen heartstrings that I just haven’t discovered yet. I’m pretty much guaranteed to enjoy them if so, whether or not they dilute the uniqueness of the first film that turned me onto the genre.