Even before it was called Your Name, Makoto Shinkai knew he wanted his film to be different from its predecessors.

Director Makoto Shinkai’s hit anime film Your Name is finally set to come out on Blu-ray and DVD later this month, letting fans see lead characters Taki and Mitsuha whenever they want. But while the anime stars’ faces have become familiar to anime enthusiasts all over the world during the last 12 months, three years ago they looked very different.

On July 15, Shinkai himself tweeted a pair of concept sketches for Taki and Mitsuha that were part of his initial formal project pitch submitted to distributor Toho on July 14, 2014.

▼ The right illustration’s caption reads “By switching bodies in their dreams, the two came to know each other’s secrets.”

Both characters have sharper facial features and serious expressions, with Mitsuha wearing a blazer instead of the summer uniform in which she appears for much of the final film and Taki gripping what almost looks like a pistol, but may be just a smartphone. While the comet and lake that feature so prominently in Your Name can be seen, the artwork makes it look like at one point it was Taki who would be living in the countryside, with Mitsuha residing in the big city.

The illustrations also bear the film’s original working title: Yume to Shiriseba, or If I’d Known It Was a Dream, an excerpt from a poem by ninth century poet Ono Komachi in which the passage “I fell asleep thinking of you and saw you in my dream, and if I’d known it was a dream, I wouldn’t have woken up.” Yume to Shiriseba is also the name of a 1977 Japanese movie, which once again suggests that Shinkai is a bit of a classic cinema buff.

Shinkai also shared other early production documents, one of which shows that body-swapping was always going to be a key part of the story.

A portion of the document reads:

“Thinking ’I wish I was the opposite gender’ at some point during puberty is a nearly-universal experience that almost anyone can remember having. I believe this desire to switch bodies with someone else isn’t limited to a gender issue, but speaks to something deeper and broader. ‘Why aren’t I someone else?’ ‘Why do people desire other people?’ ‘Why can people empathize with others?’ These questions of identity are integral to a coming-of-age story, and they’re questions that a body-swapping story is well-equipped to address. In a story of a man and woman switching bodies, putting a heavy focus only on the sexual scenes is a technique that won’t quite hit those thematic marks.”

As anyone who’s seen Your Name knows, it isn’t completely averse to silly “girl trapped in a boy’s body” gags, or vice-versa. But from the start, Shinkai wanted to keep these elements from being the primary focus, unlike so many other anime that have used opposite-sex body-swapping as a plot device.

“This new animated work, If I’d Known It Was a Dream, will be a new style of male/female body-swapping story. Though it will make use of the comical and exciting opportunities of teens switching bodies, the goal is not to depict differences between the sexes. Since the male and female character will be switching bodies in their dreams, the element of having to act like a guy or girl in daily life will by simple and light-hearted, like a video game or virtual reality.”

Instead of chuckles, the director was going for much larger, more powerful emotions.

“The camera follow the actions of the girl and boy, showing their development as people. But at the same time, it also shows the adults around them, and the environment and history they create. This movie is an attempt to retain the simple appeal of a story that depicts the development of ‘you and I’ while connecting that to a larger world and history.”

Considering that Your Name has gone on to make history of its own, it’s safe to say Shinkai’s attempt was a success.

Source: Twitter/@shinkaimakoto (1, 2) via IT Media, Twitter/@shinkaimakoto
Top image: Your Name official website