Voices of a Distant Star asks you if you’ve ever had a long-distanced relationship. With the internet having become an integral part of our daily lives, more and more people are connecting with each other virtually. Some end up meeting each other and sometimes they even get married. What used to be shunned as something that would never work out is becoming far and far more common. We can easily reach people in other cities, in other states, even in other countries.
But what if the person you love was in another solar system all together? That is the basis for Makoto Shinkai’s 2002 release, Hoshi no Koe, or better known by its English title, Voices of a Distant Star. When I reviewed 5 Centimeters per Second, I talked about the tragedy that love can experience because of distance and everyday life. Here, distance is used as a theme again, but on a much grander scale.
While this anime had a movie’s budget, it did not have a movie’s length. It ended up being roughly twenty-four minutes in length, about the size of a standard anime episode, but what was told within those twenty-four minutes was pretty darn good, if you ask me.
Like with most of Makoto Shinkai’s productions, this feature revolved around a very small cast of characters. In this case, it was two characters: Mikako Nagamine and Noboru Terao. In fact, I will be skipping the characters section as the story will essentially explain who they are anyway.
Mikako and Noboru have been friends since middle school and it’s pretty obvious that they like each other. They planned on taking the high school entrance exams in order to get into the same school so they could be together. All of that changes when Mikako, thanks to her high grades and her athletic ability, gets accepted into the space expedition in order to combat an alien race that was discovered on Mars called the Tersians. If you have to re-read that last sentence, go ahead, but remember, this is anime, people, and randomness like this happens a LOT.
So, essentially, we are dealing with a science fiction setting in Voices of a Distant Star. We are in the year 2046 and after discovering the Tersians on Mars, we learn their technology and they learn ours. It seems like a utopian partnership until relations begin to sour and they become hostile towards us. They waged war and caused devastation to our space colonies so we are using their own technology against them in order to strike back. We even get treated to some nice space-battle action scenes as a result of this conflict. While this space war between two civilizations is rather enticing, it’s not really the focal point of this short feature. Instead, it’s more or less a prop in which to help the real story move along.. and here’s where you have to use your imagination a little bit.
Remember those cheap Nokia cell phones with the dial pad right on the front, the small screen on top and that annoying pull out antenna? Well, apparently these phones still exist in 2046 and they are capable of sending text messages to Earth from outer space. This is how Mikako and Noboru communicate, but they at least try to be semi-realistic about it. With the technology we learned from the Tersians, we can traverse our Solar System in a fraction of the time it takes us today. We are able to reach Pluto in just six months.. and that’s actually stopping at places like Mars and Jupiter. I’m sure if we went straight there, it would take us far less time. In fact, I know it would because we have the ability to warp light years away!
When they were near Mars, text messages didn’t take long to transfer to Earth so Mikako and Noboru kept in touch with each other frequently, but as the space expedition tracked the Tersians further and further into the Solar System, it took longer and longer for the messages to arrive. In fact, by the time they reached Pluto, it took the messages over one year to travel in one direction. While they were stationed at Pluto, however, they were attacked by a Tersian fleet. Their only hope to escape was to warp 8.6 light years away to the nearest star system with a habitable planet. Mikako sends a text message right before they warp, but it takes so long to get to Noboru, he had almost given up hope that he would hear from Mikako again.
Then, out of the blue, Noboru receives the text message and makes the decision that he will steel his heart until it grows cold, saying that he will live on and become an adult alone, forever waiting for the next text message from Mikako to appear. When she reaches the new star system, she sends a text message that has an estimated time of arrival of 8 years, 224 days. She prays with all her might that it might reach Mikako and sends it. Then, as soon as she sends the message, the Tersians find them and attack.
We fast forward 8 years into the future. Noboru is living his life alone, fulfilling the promise he made to himself the day he last received Mikako’s text message. He still kept the original phone that he used to communicate with her, hoping that one day, it would ring again. That day finally comes and when he receives it, the message can only display the first two sentences and the rest is complete static. Back in space, Mikako is fighting for her life as she sees her fleet being destroyed one by one. The final scenes of the feature show Mikako defending the main ship alone against the Tersians. The feature ends without revealing Mikako’s fate at the end of that battle, but rather, they show Mikako and Noboru each talking to themselves, saying that no matter what, they will always remain bonded like lovers.
Voices of a Distant Star has a nice, quaint story, but I really couldn’t get into it all that much and I’ll detail one of the reasons when I review the art and animation side of the movie, but the voice acting.. well.. it didn’t seem all that believable.. and this is coming from someone who doesn’t understand a lot of Japanese. The voice acting was very monotone and showed some emotion, but not a lot to really make you really connect with the characters. This ended up giving the characters a very flat and emotionless feeling and that really hurt the overall quality because I thought that a sci-fi twist on distance relationships was a pretty interesting choice that grabbed my attention.
It made me wish that not only the voice acting was better, but that the feature was longer. The time skips felt necessary just to get the feature to fit into the time allotted. I really wanted to see what this could have become if given the proper time to develop. I wanted to see how the government decided who got selected for the space expedition. I wanted to see what kind of training was involved.. more back story on the Tersians.. more reasons to care about why Mikako and Noboru were friends.. how they became friends, etc. I know a lot of that isn’t necessary given what we got with this, but sometimes fleshing the finer details out gets you to become more familiar with the characters and really makes them appeal to the viewer a lot better.
Art and Animation
I know this came out in 2002 and CG was starting to become all the rage back then and, honestly, CoMix Wave did a pretty decent job with the CG for the time. If you want to compare it to the CG of today, then this movie can’t hold a candle, even to basic TV anime here in 2015, but for a feature from thirteen years ago, the CG portion of the artwork was pretty well done, even if it stuck out like a sore thumb.
The biggest issue I had with Voices of a Distant Star was the character animation. You could definitely tell these characters were hand-drawn and boy did they look pretty rough. Some of the perspectives and facial expressions seemed a bit off and they, sadly, looked like they were drawn by people who were just learning how to do anime for the very first time. Some of the animation frames were either awkward, or in one case, completely missing. There was one scene where Noboru slammed his fist into his locker out of frustration and there was no animation from the side of his body to the locker. The fist just went from hip to locker in one frame of animation. I had to do a double take just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, but sure enough, there it was. I couldn’t help but just facepalm after seeing that.
The animation also didn’t seem very consistent either. There were some scenes that were pretty fluid and others that were jittery or missing some key frames. It almost felt like this feature was being rushed to completion or they were behind deadline and decided to just half ass it in some points. I know a lot of times, art and animation don’t make the show, but when you have glaring issues like this, it’s a little bit distracting and can affect the overall quality of the product.
The character designs themselves were just… flat. You didn’t have to worry about picking Mikako or Noboru out of a crowd because they were the only two people featured in the anime, so I guess it was okay to go with the generic school uniform look and standard anime face for both of the main characters, but being the future, with all this awesome technology, you would think that Mikako would be wearing some futuristic military uniform instead of regular every day school clothes when piloting something that looks like it was taken straight out of Robotech. They certainly did fall pretty short when it came to the character design and it honestly made me feel that this anime was more about the story than anything else. I guess that’s fine for some people, but there’s a difference between slapping a bow onto a package that’s gift wrapped and slapping a bow on top of a UPS box and calling it done. Voices of a Different Star was a UPS box with a bow slapped on top in this regard.
In other words, functional, but ugly in some regards.
The animation, character design, and voice acting all really needed some work here to smooth things out. The story is what drags you in and despite its “out there” nature, it still is symbolic and drives the whole distance relationship message home to the viewers, allowing them to relate and connect to the overall plot. It’s not a tear-jerker so you can save the Kleenex, but the fact that they left it so open-ended, really makes you want to see more. Did Mikako and the ship survive? Will they ever return to Earth? Will there be peace between the Humans and the Tersians? There’s a lot of unanswered questions here and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I stated this could benefit more from a longer time allotment.
With all of its issues aside, Voices of a Distant Star is not a bad anime. It’s far from terrible, but it’s not a masterpiece by any means. If you have a half hour to kill, this is a satisfying watch. It is one of Makoto Shinkai’s earliest works and to see his films in order, it really shows off his improvements as the years go by. I really want to give this a 7 for a score, but the flat voice acting, the length, and the artwork and animation issues really weigh down this feature, so I’ll be a bit fair and give it one score lower, meaning it’s just slightly above average because while the animation was choppy, the overall art had that painting look to it that Makoto Shinkai is really know for and some of the scenes were really beautiful.
There’s only two of his works left to cover so next time, in part VII of the Makoto Shinkai series, I will be reviewing Children Who Chase Lost Voices.
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Voices of a Distant Star
Unpolished would be the word to describe this. It takes long-distanced relationships to a new level, but that was the only thing well-done about this feature.