My first brush with fan fiction came during my earliest high school days on the Serebii Forums, back when that had a population greater than a supermarket open for the graveyard shift. A sprite artist on the forum was mortified that Grovyle evolved into Sceptile and so made up their own fakemon alternate evolution and wrote a fan fic about it. I couldn’t tell you what it was about or what happened, but I only got nine or ten chapters in before my teenage self, who didn’t believe in reading anything longer than the textbox in a video game, got bored and wandered to some other part of the thread to harass anyone who thought Arceus was a goat.
After dropping that and not getting past the first chapter in any of the fics I tried my own hand at writing, fan fiction was nothing I took with any seriousness. I was aware that fans of an anime enjoyed shipping together two straight men together, but I never asked myself why someone would write or read a fan fic. The source material was there, so why bother with a work that didn’t have half the polish but had Levi beating on Erin with BDSM overtures?
As my last two columns hinted at, I’ve been on something of a Your Name kick. My eyeballs have become cavernous stomachs for words and images portraying the body-swapping misadventures of Mitsuha and Taki, and rewatching the film or rereading the manga or light novels only does so much to satiate that appetite. I wanted something new, something I hadn’t experienced in the series, even if it wasn’t an official release. That was when fan fiction took its long arm, wrapped it around my shoulder, and said to me, “I’m here for you, buddy. What you need I got,” like some falcon grinning because he just found himself his next loyal client.
To take care of my grumbly appetite, I read four fan fics on Fanfiction.net, one novella and three short stories. If you’ve read literally anything on this blog, you’ll know that I’m a highly opinionated individual, so it’s not too necessary to mention that I came away from all four stories with thoughts and opinions, and if I shut them inside myself without sharing them with the world, they’ll keep banging on about how dark and oxygenless it is in the lockbox I stuffed them in.
First up on my reading list was Beginnings, an alternate reality novella where there’s no time difference. The story kicks off after Taki returns from his hunting trip in the countryside for Mitsuha, who moves to Tokyo and transfers into Taki’s class. Unlike the movie, where seeing one another affirms that they’re who they’re looking for, here they just look at each other and go, “Mrm.”
Normally, I’d continue with describing the plot, but it’s as bare-bones as a house frame made with fallen branches. Mitsuha’s drafted into the Idol Club, which is a misnomer, because they spend most of their time cheerleading, and Taki’s the president of the student council. Of all the adjectival phrases I could use to describe Taki, “possessing the levelheadedness and patience to govern school functions and uphold the documented rules” is not one of them. It’s a simple slice-of-life story where the days slide by, the characters do things, and that’s about it. Not the most thrilling series of events, but it’s written competently enough that I wasn’t speedreading through paragraphs to get to the lines where stuff actually happens.
But I also call into question some of the stuff that happens. For starters, why do Mitsuha and Yotsuha live with their father in Tokyo? They land their Tokyo apartment because he’s old pals with Taki’s father—that Red Thread of Fate is working overtime to pull off coincidences like this—but their grandmother is off trying to crowdfund a Miyamizu Shrine in Akihabara, so why don’t they crash with her? Does she refuse to live with their father so adamantly that her founding a new shrine is actually a veil for having an actual roof over her head because she’s living in a cardboard box? And speaking of boxes, why in the world does Mitsuha still have boxes of unpacked stuff months after moving to Tokyo? That’s just lazy.
Somewhat late in the story Mitsuha gets into a fight with her father, but nothing comes of it. It does inspire her to call Sayaka for the first time in months, something you’d think she would’ve done, y’know, the day she arrived in Tokyo to check in with her. This escalation of tension with her father doesn’t lead to her dropping out of the Idol Club or moving in with her grandmother in her box. The fight’s just kinda there, then the story promptly forgets it happened in the first place. I think I wrote about this exact thing once.
Something I should bring up is the loads and loads of characters shoved into this fic. It has the names I mentioned already, but the lot of them play second fiddle to the original characters namedropped exactly once and never mentioned thereafter. Three other girls join Mitsuha in cheerleading hullabaloos, but I couldn’t tell you who’s who, except for the one girl whose defining trait is her crush on another original character, who’s got the hots for Mitsuha and whose debut paints him as something of a stuck-up jerkface but is apparently really kind and sweet? Too bad there’s no way for us to make that judgment call, since this story zooms past any and all scenes that could shine a light on those quoted qualities.
In case I haven’t spoiled enough, this novella ends with Taki asking Mitsuha out. It comes out of nowhere, not bothering to linger on the moment, build it up, or let it sink in, so we’re blindsided by this awkward finale that isn’t as celebratory as it should be. The awkwardness could have its own charm, since it’s teenagers dealing with love for the first time, and redeem itself with that celebratory climax in the epilogue, but that’s just a visit to a festival where all the minor characters get shipped together because no story is complete until everybody has someone they can have sex with.
Next up on the chopping block is Happiness, a short story taking place about 195/6 hours after the film ends. Taki takes Mitsuha on a camping trip to Itomori to poke around and see if they can’t find their memories lying around like collectibles in the Legend of Zelda.
The first thing that slapped my face to get my attention was the verb tense. If asked if this story is written in present tense or past tense, my reply would have to be yes. One sentence will be in the past tense, and the very next one will start in the present tense but end in the past tense, and I’m not being comically hyperbolic when I say the entire story is like this. An ornery linguist would purchase a loaded revolver after reading such grammatically tortured verbs.
But arguably the biggest offense has to be how this fic takes the film’s lore and leaves it at Miyamizu Shrine the day the comet swings into town. On the surface, it seems like a more faithful adaptation than Beginnings, even advertising itself as a direct sequel to the film, but the details are chilling with the devil.
If you’ll recall from Mitsuha’s grandmother’s exposition, entering the shrine god’s body leads to the Netherworld, or the next world, which one can’t exit without offering up the thing most precious to them. On Mitsuha’s (really Taki’s) first visit, the kuchikamizake suffices, but since neither of them has some spit-up rice for the return trip, their memories of each other are nicked instead. And so far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter if you’re visiting on official shrine business or there on a Sunday afternoon walk. The admission is your most valuable possession, and there’re no refunds.
The fallout from this is that Taki, while he recalls becoming obsessed with Itomori for a spell, has absolutely no recollection of his parading around in a stranger’s body beforehand. So if that’s the result, how in the world does he know what musubi is? Shouldn’t that have gotten wiped along with everything else, since he was, y’know, in Mitsuha’s body when he learned about it? And even if you want to argue that he did somehow remember that one super specific detail, why that one super specific detail? Why doesn’t he remember that table he built or those times he showed that trio of bullies who was top-dog? And why is it that when he brings up musubi, Mitsuha goes cross-eyed and says, “Musubi? Wuzzat???” Even if the trip up the mountain to offer the kuchikamizake was the first time their grandmother taught them about musubi, you’d assume that at some point in the eight years after that she would’ve grumbled about it while at the dinner table.
So Taki knows what musubi is through some contrived plot convenience, yet neither he nor Mitsuha aren’t 100% sure it’s each other they’re looking for. They bolted off their trains and dashed halfway around Shinjuku after making three-second eye contact on adjacent trains, yet they second-guess that whole episode. Kinda takes away from the magic of it, don’tcha think? It’s like seeing your child jump for joy over their brand-spanking-new Switch on Christmas, then forget about it two weeks later.
Wanna know who doesn’t forget anything in this fic? Mitsuha and Taki. Not only do they not lose anything after poking their noses about in the shrine, but they regain their memories of each other after staring at their palms. Guess the guy in charge of accepting payments was on sick leave that day.
Now, here I can’t criticize the fic so much as I can debate it, because we’re stepping into the theory territory of what Mitsuha was about to write on Taki’s hand. This fic suggests that she was about to write her name as it is in kanji, 三葉, based on the horizontal stroke she started writing before pulling a Houdini. One popular theory posits that she was about to write I love you or すきだ, same as him, and there is plenty of grounded rationale for this.
You’ve got three pieces of evidence: the stroke itself, the placement of the stroke, and how she wrote her name previously.
Mitsuha’s name written in hiragana is みつは, which does begin with a horizontal stroke, but it’s tiny, leading into a downward dash. It’s much too small for the line she left on his palm. Her name in kanji does begin with a single stroke of about that length, but you have to consider the second piece of evidence if you’re going down that route.
Next is the placement, and this is the weakest piece of evidence. The first time she writes her name on Taki’s palm, she starts at the top and works her way down, but where does she lay the marker on his palm during half-light? In the middle. This would suggest that she was about to write すきだ on his palm, but that doesn’t leave her a whole lot of room to do so. Taki had to start in the corner and work his way diagonally to fit in the three characters, but Mistuha also has small handwriting, so it’s possible for her that she could’ve fit すきだ on. She could’ve also fit 三 onto his palm, but that doesn’t leave much room for the 葉, which isn’t the easiest thing to cram into a confined space with a thick-tipped marker. If she were planning on writing her name in full, it would’ve made more sense to start higher up, on the base of his thumb. But why would she write her name in kanji when there’s the last piece of evidence?
After her first body-swap with Taki, right before retiring for a kip, she recalls the message in her notebook asking Who are you? and leaves an answer on his palm: みつは. Her name in hiragana. If this is how she wrote it once, why would she write it differently a second time? They were on a time-crunch, so why take the extra effort to jot down an extra 9 strokes? Names written down in kanji are actually more prone to misreadings due to the infallible nature of their readings. A simple two character combination can have multiple readings, which is why you get that joke so much about anime characters misreading a classmate’s name. So if Mitsuha wanted to know Taki to remember her name clear-cut with no room for error, hiragana would’ve been the way to go.
I won’t say this fic is wrong, but I will say I strongly disagree with its assessment that Mitsuha was about to write her name in kanji on the caldera rim. While the evidence generally points to her intending to write すきだ on Taki’s palm, I’m reluctant to believe that she would subvert his idea right after hearing it. It’s possible, since she’s spontaneous enough to skip school and take the train to Tokyo, but I dunno. Something about her character tells me that she wouldn’t think to do that. I have no logic or evidence supporting my position, just a hutch. There’s the possibility that if she was planning on writing I love you on his palm that she would’ve written it in kanji, 好きだ, the first stroke of which is downward, but this isn’t evidence in favor of my baseless opinion.
Mostly inconsistent would have to be my flash review of this fic. The only thing consistent about it is that it’s written with the clunkyness of a twelve-year-old who decided to write his first novel after finishing something with more words than a picture book.
If Happiness wasn’t bad on its own, it has a sequel, which is about Taki and Mitsuha’s first date. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I got it in my head that the awful writing from before would, with the wave of a wand, poof itself into Shakespearean dialogues.
Nope. Writing’s still awful and the verb tense as rebellious as before, but now that there’s been a 4,000-word buff, filler gets shoveled in in spades. Where Happiness would use nineteen words where three would do, Forevermore uses five-line paragraphs where three words would do.
The minuscule details of mundane actions are listed out, but there’s no weight behind them. When Taki takes the elevator up to Mitsuha’s apartment, he doesn’t have any nervous thoughts or notice how his heart’s grooving to allegro or rehearse what he’s gonna say after he knocks or how he should knock or if he should ring the doorbell instead, but what if nobody answers, and what if he knocks at the wrong door? Oh, gosh, that would be embarrassing, and—Ah! T-The door’s opening!
Instead, he just pushes the call button, waits, goes in the elevator when the doors open, rides it up, walks down the hall to her apartment, knocks, and waits. But if we cut out the first six of those seven actions, we wouldn’t have to wait for the plot to stop staring at the floorboards.
Dialogue’s stiff and unnatural as before, but there’s the added caveat of side characters chanting gratuitous Japanese or going down the list of breakfast pleasantries when they aren’t on about how wonderful it is that Mitsuha doesn’t have to be alone and unhappy now that she has a man in her life, because apparently nobody can just talk about what they saw on Netflix last night. Heaven forbid we have humans speaking and not robots struggling to compute human emotions.
The writing’s so bad and uncared for that it reminds me of Square One. It’s not as bad as that heap of unfortunate words that thought it was deserving of a lifetime achievement while wearing the grease-stained shirt it’d been wearing for the last two weeks, but I get the feeling I would be writing a spin-off to that column if I read the sequel to this short story, a nearly 100,000-word tome about them being a couple. I barely got through a tenth of that without drowning myself in my toilet. By the time I finished that monster, I’d be asking that linguist if I could borrow his revolver.
Last up on the chopping block was Meanwhile, With The Fourth Leaf, a third short story, and this one has the distinguishing quality of being a comedy, and also having decent quality.
It takes place from Yotsuha’s perspective as she recounts her older sister’s descent into madness and her encounter in the future with Mitsuha’s new beau, Taki. There’s not much in the way of a full beginning-middle-end scene, as Yotsuha mostly skims over the details in favor of breezy dialogue and trimmed summarizing, so while it doesn’t take its time with anything, that also means it doesn’t doddle like the first two shorts. Also unlike Forevermore, in which Yotsuha made an appearance yammering on about how happy she was that her sister finally has a man to bone, this short captures Yotsuha’s snark and skepticism and has her tailing Taki to ensure he’s not plotting to stuff her into a body bag during their first date.
What had me raising a brow as I read it was its comedy label. For the bulk of the prose, nothing made me want to lie down on the floor, cradle my ribs, and roll about as my lungs wheeze out every last gram of air via bursts of laughter. It had me thinking that comedy in this case was a synonym for casual, but the plot twist is that everything is actually setup for the punchline of a final scene. It did get me laughing, but there was this surreal aspect to it, with how Taki and Mitsuha don’t freak out when Yotsuha catches him performing an inspection on her apartment’s plumbing, if you catch my drift. I was expecting her to shoot up outta bed, declare gratefully it was only a dream, get up for a glass of water, and find Taki helping Mitsuha voraciously with her leaky kitchen sink.
Despite my tidal wave of grumblings, I would score my fan fiction reading experience as three stars. It was far from perfect, but so is a t.v. dinner, and it can hit the spot when you got the hungries. I was hoping for something that covered more of their body-swapping ground, but the popular piece seemed to be where Mitsuha and Taki restart their relationship, so I liked stories like Beginnings simply for being contrarian.
Meanwhile, With The Fourth Leaf was easily the best of the bunch, and even though I panned and nitpicked it during my review, Beginnings was a cute read in spite of its flaws. Even Forevermore bestowed upon me a moment of bliss when a typo had Mitsuha saying that rather than hoping to be with Taki, she wanted to be him. It goes to show that even the worst things can shine lights in our lives.