I agree with everyone who says this is a gorgeously animated film. The movement of the train, the blowing snow, the gloriously detailed sky—exquisite work. I also admired the lifelike detail of even the more mundane objects, like computer mice and telephone poles. Everything in this world is so tactile, and the colour palette—alternating between warm and cool tones—lends it a vibrancy that is eminently appealing to the eye. You’d be crazy not to want to walk in this world, so sublimely captured and rendered as it is.
The fairly short length is, I think, a problem rather than an advantage here, especially with the vignette structure being employed. I never felt like I got to care about the boy at the film’s heart to a satisfying degree, which is a critical component to emotionally connecting with its three strands. There’s also so much internal monologuing that’s hampered by being exposition-driven that the brief glimpses into his heart never feel truly earned, because they’ve been signaled from miles away. In fact, there’s almost too much dialogue here, most of it being relentless in its bluntness. It does not compliment the visual terrain, but more often than not detracts from it, creating the feeling of ill-proportions as the eyes and ears battle for supremacy. In all honesty, this could have been amazing on mute and without subtitles, even if the bridge between the first and second story would not be as clear.
The end result is, sadly, something of a mixed bag. Visually, 5 Centimeters per Second is practically faultless; narratively, it overfeeds you, which paradoxically makes one feel starved, craving for that pang of hunger lent by the unknowable mysteries of life.