More noise than signal

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Makoto (Riisa Naka) seems to be, in most respects an ordinary teenage girl. She muddles through school adequately enough, and plays baseball with her best friends, the dependable Kousuke and more flighty Chiaki. Mundanity continues until one day, while riding her bike, Makoto’s brakes fail and contrive to engineer an unfortunate train / flesh interface that by rights should have killed her, if she hadn’t reflexively jumped back in time to that morning.

On discovering this handy skill, at least after a short period of understandable shock and surprise, she uses these powers to, well, have a better, less death-filled day, mainly. Seeing as “not dying” is a low bar, she goes further, seeking to avoid pain and embarrassment to herself and her friends as she attempts to engineer a better day for them all, while avoiding changes to the interpersonal relationship status quo as far as possible. As is usually the case when meddling with this sort of thing, changing one small event may lead to many unanticipated changes elsewhere that seem to continually hamper her efforts.

Indeed, the whole time-travelling gimmick is little more than a hook to hang what is for the most part a melancholy exploration of friendships, love and missed opportunities as the dynamics of the main trio’s friendship changes in various ways for various reasons. The take home message appears to be that change is inevitable, and even if you could head back in time, you can’t stop it marching right back on again.

I liked this a lot, a decade or so ago, but haven’t thought about it much since. However, I’m happy to report it holds up about as well on a second viewing. The characters are all still utterly charming, and the film has an endearing sense of understatement. Indeed, one of Makoto’s main reasons for returning in time appears to be to prevent her sister stealing her pudding.

The characters feel very real and restrained, apart from an understandable but ill-advised ramping up of cheese and saccharine at the very end of the film to attempt to give a dramatic emotional punch that feels out of keeping with the rest of the film. Also, whoever was given the job of animating tears needs to back off the drama just a smidgen, given how wildly out of place it looks in an otherwise beautifully animated and drawn piece of work.

If it has an outright flaw it’s actually the time-travelling mechanism itself. When it’s an inexplicable McGuffin it’s fine, but the explanation for it is something of a stretch and rather dull to have explict’d to you. For me, at least, there’s enough goodwill built in the hour-twenty-odds before that to excuse the last ten.

Another winner from Madhouse, the studio responsible for the sublime Metropolis, the affecting Perfect Blue and the laughable Wicked City.