I was not a particularly active youth, but I think I must have seemed like a mountain child compared to kids of this generation. I spent time outdoors most every day, and all morning and afternoon long during summertime. I walked trails cut in the desert near my home, searching for rattlesnakes and horny toads. I enjoyed laying on my grass and staring at the clouds during the hot afternoons, and chatting with my parents on our patio while stargazing on cool nights. And I frequently went camping, and most enjoyed specially trailed “nature walks” with informational paneling to feed my curious mind.
I don’t take the time to do any of that these days, or really anything comparable. And it doesn’t just have to do with the busyness of life—it has to do with a loss of my love for nature, a missing wonderment of the skies above and the seas below, of vast mountain ranges and beautiful valleys. I held nature in awe as a child and daydreamed about our beautiful planet; now, I rarely think about such amazing sights.
But one thing seems to connect me to those wonders, and it’s not visiting a ranch for vacation or slipping outside to peer at a lunar eclipse: It’s our cities and landscapes and skies as envisioned in anime.
Makoto Shinkai is now perhaps as beloved to a new generation of anime fans as Miyazaki was for the previous because of the success of Your Name. But many of us know that he’s been animating incredible visuals for years. While he animates practically everything beautifully, it’s his focus on nature that strikes me most, like the cloudscapes of The Place Promised in Our Early Days or the lush park setting of Garden of Words.
I picked up a wonderful art book by Shinkai several years ago as well, another refuge for my scenery and landscape-pursuing soul.
Seeing the best of a natural landscape animated in a way that adds a further layer of beauty is thrilling. It also evokes youth and connects me to a place of innocence, to the wonder of being young and the values of that time when life was simpler, when nature was bigger, when I was overwhelmed by the grandness of the world and not by the money (or lack of it) in my accounts.
Thankfully, I can connect to such visuals most any time—my collection of Shinkai DVDs, streaming video, BBC-produced nature documentaries, and fan art ensure as much.
Adult life has a way of destroying the precious things of youth, not only through the process of maturation, but also ruthlessly through teaching us that the world just isn’t as important as ourselves. Without thinking, I’ve bought into it, and for many a reason, my heart is unwilling to go back to a place where it sees the world as being as big and grand as it really is. But in the smallness of digital artistry and hand-drawn cels, and the creative hands of giant directors, aspiring animators, and hobby artists, I get a glimpse of what I once felt and in sudden and striking ways, this hardened heart softens just a bit—and for that, for those tiny but moving moments in time, I am ever so thankful.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Garden of Words, and A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai are available for purchase.