Melancholic with an Undercurrent of Hope: “The Garden of Words” Review

Garden of Words

The novelization of famed director Makoto Shinkai’s 2013 anime film The Garden of Words has finally been released in English. Available from Yen Press, The Garden of Words is an ethereal study of how a chance encounter on a rainy morning changes not only two lives, but influences many others.

I am a big fan of Shinkai’s recent films your name. and Weathering With You, but I haven’t yet delved into his older works. When the opportunity to receive a copy of The Garden of Words came up, I jumped at the chance. The novelization, written by Shinkai and originally serialized in Da Vinci magazine, has additional scenes not present in the film.

In a note from Shinkai at the end of the book, he talks about how he wanted to expand the narrative a bit. The “film” has a runtime of only 46 minutes and focuses on the main pair of Takao Akizuki and Yukari Yukino, but the novelization features chapters from the perspective of Takao’s brother and mother, Yukino’s ex-boyfriend, and a female student attending Takao’s school.

Shinkai has the same skill with words that he does with visuals, though he reveals in his afterword that he considers visuals to be a superior means of expression. Regardless, there is a beauty in the prose that brings forth images of the beautiful art and fantastic cinematography that his films are known for. For all he believes that atmosphere is more easily conveyed in visual form, there is an overwhelming sense of atmosphere in this book – from the description of the weather to the intricate details that bring life to a character.

Characters are almost always what makes a story worthwhile. Takao and Yukino are eclectic in their individuality, yet they are also extremely relatable. Takao is a first-year high school student who wants to become a shoemaker, and Yukino is suffering from a mysterious ailment that has robbed her sense of taste. But they are also two people who are struggling just to get through the days, seeking comfort in the tranquility of nature. They meet by chance when Takao skips his morning classes on a rainy day and seeks refuge in the Shinjuku Gyoen gardens and finds Yukino already there.

From there, the two begin an unlikely friendship that consists mainly of existing in the same space. For a while their conversations are superficial – they don’t even learn each other’s names until near the end of the book – but there is a lot of soul-searching in their interactions. Yukino’s sense of taste slowly comes back as Takao starts bringing food to share, and he confesses his desire to make shoes and convinces her to help him.

I haven’t seen the film yet (although with it being less than an hour and streaming on Netflix, I have no real excuse), so I can’t compare how the added scenes affect the story. I will say, though, that I could not imagine the novel without them. Their placement, disjointed as it makes the timeline, gives breadth to the emotion behind the characters, particularly Yukino. What happened to her – the cause of her ailment – is explored in some of these additional chapters, and it’s simply heartbreaking.

This story, these characters… I was absolutely enchanted. Shinkai has a gift for storytelling and world-building, and I was completely engrossed. I’d like to say that I guessed the outcome, but I should know by now that it’s difficult to accurately predict where a Shinkai story is going. And for a book with an overall melancholic feeling, there’s also an undercurrent of hope, particularly with the last couple of chapters.

Chapter breaks are accompanied by snippets of Japanese poetry, which help to enhance both the atmosphere and the story itself. The poems are something important to Yukino, but they also serve to echo the developing relationship she has with Takao. I love when authors do things like this; I feel it adds more to a story and rounds out the world. Not to mention, it gives meaning to the book’s title.

The Garden of Words is the perfect book to read on a rainy day, curled up in an armchair or on your couch with a fluffy blanket and a mug of tea. It’s about the sense of joy and rebirth inherent in a rainy day, but it’s also about the importance of persistence and overcoming obstacles in order to find your own purpose.


The Garden of Words by Makoto Shinkai is published by Yen Press and is currently available wherever books are sold.

*I was provided with a free copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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