I spent a large part of my childhood in the north eastern part of Scotland which, to those who aren't familiar with the area would describe as “the middle of nowhere”. Those who are would likely nod and then call it something much worse. Summers were short and hot, the hills abundant and green and the winters biting and long. Water pipes froze, roads closed, and snow drifts towered over children sledging carelessly into them.
they wander from the warm light of the station into the vast, frozen night
It has a romantic appeal, being snowed in snug and warm beneath a blanket next to a crackling fire, until you actually want to do something productive like eat or travel anywhere. That child-like nostalgia persists however, so whenever a video game or anime does winter, I’m always searching for that ephemeral feeling that only a quiet, snowy vista can elicit.
Just having a good scene set during winter though doesn’t automatically make it a good winter scene - Guts versus Griffith (part two) takes place on a crisp, white morning and it’s understandably evocative, but doesn’t tickle memories of the past. Similarly neither does just setting a scene, or even your entire series, during winter - so Non Non Biyori, WWW.Working!! (the northern one), Noragami and Primsa Illya 3rei all feel frosty but don’t make the grade. And just faking winter snow is cheating, yes I’m looking at you Nagi no Asukara, salt flakes doesn’t count.
So to lead be example, here are six perfect winter scenes in anime.
On first watching Five Centimetres Per Second, the overbearing sadness of Takaki's journey from lovestruck adolescent to downtrodden adult is depressing; the piano music that follows him through the three stories of the film is a heartbeat of yearning for times gone by. Subsequent viewings but build upon this and more than before, the wistful smile in closing moments means more than the emotionally infused montage that preceded it. Makoto Shinkai manages to evoke emotions that are difficult to grasp but more than being a straightforward story, the feeling one leaves the film with is a reflection of themselves more than what the movie has shown.
not a yearning for a particular person but an ache for a clear, unspoken understanding with someone
Split over three sequential stories, they follow Takaki Tohno from his time in elementary school through to adulthood and his relationship with the reticent Akari Shinohara which forms the core narrative of the film. The first story, The Chosen Cherry Blossoms, describes their lives: both constantly moving schools due to their parents, weak bodied but strong minded and inexorably smitten with each other. When Akari moves away, Takaki plans a journey to see her after a series of letters; unfortunately, due in part to the inclement weather, the trip is beset with problems. The second story, Cosmonaut, takes place when Takaki is a teenager and he has once again moved school. The focus is on an otherwise unrelated girl, Kanae Sumida who is infatuated with Takaki but is unable to express her own feelings, not helped by his introverted and sullen nature. The third story, Five Centimetres Per Second, follows Takaki as a young man, now working but unhappy with his situation, not helped by his standoffish relationship with a young woman from his workplace; that is until a fleeting encounter during cherry blossom season with a woman who bears a stark resemblance to Akari.
Words seem almost inadequate when trying to convey the wistful nostalgia evoked by 5 centimeters per second. Every scene in the petite one hour movie is visually arresting, the sparse dialogue secondary to the unspoken emotion loaded into each moment; it is beautiful, moving and amazingly personal film. Separated into three chronologically sequential stories, the film follows Takaki Tohno and his relationship with childhood friend Akari Shinohara.
each sky, each train car, each snow swept vista is beauteous and beyond the capabilities of real life to produce
The first story, Oukashou, comprises Takaki's fraught train journey to see Akari after they were separated due to parental employment. Occupying the bulk of the movie's timeline, the subtext of distance and solitude will be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen Makoto Shinkai's previous works: Voice of a Distant Start (Hoshi no Koe) and The Place Promised in our Early Days (Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho). Even in such a short time-frame, Takaki's journey is sentimental and emotive, cutting straight to his fears and expectations unconcerned with exterior bravado. Scene by scene, poise and grace is established by valuing silence as much as dialogue and the ever present melody of the piano. The first story culminates in a serene landscape of snow and darkness before Takaki heads home in the fresh morning sunlight, starting the narrative cycle once more with the second and then third stories.