The Garden of Words (Story by Makoto Shinkai, Art by Midori Motohashi) (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

May 9, 2015 by  


Artist Midori Motohashi managed to capture Shinkai’s OVA on manga with efficacy. Capturing the emotion, while the anime does give us a more visual and vibrant perspective. Nevertheless, the manga compliments the film and has a short two-page story after the main storyline. The manga is definitely worth reading and revisiting if you did enjoy the original manga series.

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© 2012 by Yuto Tsukuda, Shun Saeki. All Rights Reserved.

MANGA TITLE: The Garden of Words

STORY AND ART BY: Story by Makoto Shinkai, Art by Midori Motohashi




RELEASE DATE: October 28, 2014

Words are powerful. Insults and rumors can derail a career; a bit of encouragement can give someone the strength to pursue their dreams. When a high school boy skipping class to sketch shoe designs and a taciturn woman drinking a morning beer meet in a Tokyo park, they say little, but the woman bids farewell with an ancient tanka poem. Will the boy figure out the poem’s meaning – and its corresponding response – before it’s too late?

Just the mere mention of Makoto Shinkai’s name and fans of his work go crazy.

The former Falcom graphic designer, who took the anime industry by storm back in 2001 when he released his anime OVA titled “Voices of a Distant Star”, which he created on his Power Mac G4 and using several software and voice acted by he and his wife Miko and music provided by his friend Tenmon.

The OVA inspired many for the fact it was independent, created on a small budget but looked significantly better than some major anime series by well-known animation studios.

Suffice to say, the person who grew up inspired by Miyazaki films was now given a chance to create more animated films and he would eventually achieve success with “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” (2004), “5 Centimeters Per Second” (2007) and in 2011, he directed, wrote and produced “Children Who Chase Lost Voices (“Hoshi o Ou Kodomo”).

In May 2013, Shinkai’s latest film “Kotonoha no Miwa” (The Garden of Words) was released and the manga was serialized in Kodansha’s Monthly “Afternoon” magazine with artwork by Midori Motohashi from June through October 2013.

The graphic novel was released in the US on October 2014 courtesy of Vertical Inc.

“The Garden of Words” revolves around a 15-year-old student named Takao Akizuki.  Takao lives with a mother who wants to be young and an adult brother about to move out of the home.  Dedicated in pursuing a goal of making his own shoes, both his mother and brother feel that he won’t succeed.

For Takao, he loves sketching out shoe designs and when it rains, he tends to head to the park where he can find peace and quiet.  One rainy day, he skips the first class of school and heads to the park to create some sketches and notices a young woman drinking a beer in the morning.

The two don’t speak to each other at first but with each rainy morning, Takao finds the young woman named Yukari Yukino and both begin talking to each other and enjoy their discussions.  When she sees his sketches, she talks to him about shoemaking and for Takao, he wants to make a pair of shoes in her size. He measures her feet and both have fun.

But the truth is for Yukari, outside of her discussions with Takao, her life is not fun.  She is quitting work and we get a sense that something bad has happened to her.  She looks depressed and she feels the only time she has any happiness is talking with Takao.  But Takao does sense sadness within Yukari for some reason and he always hopes he can comfort her in some way.

But with the rainy season ending, both realize it’s time to pursue their regular lives but as the days go by with no rain, both realize how happy they are to be around each other.

After the summer break from school, when Takao returns, he sees Yukari and he is surprised.  Takao’s friends tell him that the woman is Miss Yukino who tool a leave of absence from school and talked about how she had troubles in the school because one of the male students had a crush on her, so the girlfriend of the guy, she and her friends began creating rumors about Miss Yukino and started to bully her.

Takao feeling hurt about what happened to Yukari, decides to confront the teenagers who caused problems with her.  But finding out that Yukari is actually a school teacher, it doesn’t stop him from wanting to see her.

In 2013, I first heard of “Kotonoha no Niwa” (The Garden of Words) reading Japanese newspapers and eventually seeing the flyer from Tokyo Anime Fair and just seeing the lush greenery used for the promotional poster and seeing two individuals, I knew already that Shinkai has returned to the more realistic type of storyline that made me love “5 Centimeters Per Second” so much.

And for the most part, the storyline of “The Garden of Words” nearly worried me.

Why?  Well, when it comes to student/teacher relationships and let me first preface that this is not about a student and teacher having a romantic relationship, Japan has flirted with the storylines quite often and have had great results in TV ratings.

Japan tends to visit a storyline known as “Kou Kou Kyoushi”  every 20 years via TV drama, originally starring in 1974, the series about an ill-fated relationship between a male teacher and his student and engaging in forbidden love.  With the last incarnation made in 2003, one can expect a new series in 2023.

In 1999, the drama “Majo no Jouken” surprised fans with its story of a female teacher and a high school boy engaged in forbidden love, another dark storyline about a doomed relationship.

And while Japan has flirted with the student and teacher relationship many times, fortunately, “The Garden of Words” is not about that type of relationship and Shinkai managed to come up with a storyline that isn’t too dark or ominous, let alone banal.

If anything, it’s about a teenager and a young woman who engage in discussion during the rainy days at a local park.  A teenage boy who dreams of creating shoes experiences his first feelings of love towards someone, while a young woman is lost in the dark after an unfortunate incident that has left her not wanting to live.

Both of these individuals needs that other person, for Takao it’s about needing that person that makes him pursue his goals of making shoes, something that his mother and older brother do not support.  And then there is Yukino, a woman who needs Takao, because he is the only person that has made her feel there is hope for living.

The story is not as emotionally complex when compared to his 2007 masterpiece “5 Centimeters Per Second” but “The Garden of Words” is no doubt entertaining and emotional.

Artist Midori Motohashi managed to capture Shinkai’s OVA on manga with efficacy.  Capturing the emotion, while the anime does give us a more visual and vibrant perspective.  Nevertheless, the manga compliments the film and has a short two-page story after the main storyline.

The manga is definitely worth reading and revisiting if you did enjoy the original manga series.


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