Opening Remarks - Just because this is a beautiful work I am proud to say I have seen does not mean I cannot rant about it.
Story - Mr Shinkai Makoto, WHAT THE BLOODY HELL WAS WITH THE THIRD ARC??!!?? The melancholy of the first two, is plain beautiful, there is no other way to describe them. The third arc is like a slap in the face.
I'm going to guess that Makoto simply ran out of money or time, because that final story has a rushed feel to it, as though entire segments had simply been amputated in a mad effort to meet completion.
The man is known for his works regarding relationships and physical separation, prominent recurring themes here in 5cm, as well as Voices of a Distant Star and The Promised Place. And it may be argued that Makoto hit a creative-emphatic high point in 5cm with its first arc, with the male lead stuck in a train and the his girl waiting for him at the end. Wonderfully poigant, simple to relate to, and full of promise. If the production had ended there I would had given it 9/10 for Story.
Arc 2 seemed to distract a bit from the main thrust of the anime, but it was well-done overall so I shan't complain. But Arc 3. What the hell. Arc 3. I was hoping to for the final episode to be told from the girl's perspective, and disappointed when it wasn't, but the ending was realy the slumps for me. It's like he built himself a house of cards and deliberately knocked it down without completing the final topmost level.
I have other more specific complaints as well. Why 5cm? It doesn't seem to play any significant role in the premise or theme of the anime. Voices and Places were both very appropriately named, but not so with 5cm here. And why are the cherry blossoms given such a prominent spot if they don't mean anything at all at any point? Also, what's the whole point of the premise behind this anime if they just stopped exchanging letters after the first year? And after such a landmark moment too!
Animation - Top marks. The character designs may seem a bit uninspired, but given how that's almost a trademark of Makoto's work, I won't give him stick for it. But the detailed effort paid to setting the background and animating every motion is astonishing to say the least. The urban environment is breathtaking, and the tempo of motions and actions perfectly in sync. A classic exercise in paying attention to the little things.
Sound - Voice acting was very satisfactory without being particularly praiseworthy. Music accompaniment is well-merited in its own right, but pales in comparison to Voices.
Characters - They are basically all blank slates with very little depth or development to any of them. I suppose it's a way to make them easy to emphatise with, as well as avoid distracting the audience from the key theme.
One character does receive some development though. In the accursed Arc 3, the male lead has an epiphany of some sort, quits his job, then goes wandering Tokyo searching for lost memories or the like.
So this is what I've got: Mr Makoto took his genius for creating characters that viewers will genuinely care about, played around a bit, came up with a male lead we all empathise with for 40 minutes, then turns him into another jobless street bum drifting the roads of the city. Except this particular bum prefers chocolate milk to beer. The man's a hobo, and he doesn't even get to see his girl a final time either. And we don't getthing from her point of view so we can know what caused her to change her mind, feel the internal struggle. Nope.
Closing Remarks - Screw you, Shinkai Makoto. Screw you.