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Anime Reviews: Voices of a Distant Star
Beautifully written and masterfully crafted by a single man, Voices of a Distant Star proves that you don't need several hours to deliver bittersweet genius.
Title: Voices of a Distant Star a.k.a. Hoshi no Koe
Film Length: 25 minutes
Air Dates: 4/19/2002
Age Rating: 7+ (brief mild language, mild violence)
Summary: In the year 2039, the Mars Exploration Project was destroyed by an alien race referred to as the Tarshians, whose origins and motives are unknown. It isn't until 7 years later that the U.N. is prepared to launch a deep-space counterattack, using the aliens' own technology against them in pursuit of their home planet. On Earth, Mikako and Noboru are two ordinary teenagers who have graduated from middle school together with the intention of going to the same high school, but Mikako's interests in joining the military leads to her being drafted as a pilot for the U.N. Now, the two lovers' only connection comes in the form of their text messages, but the sheer distance from Earth to Mikako's unit threatens to tear them apart...
The Good: Wonderful backgrounds and music; heart-breakingly beautiful story with relatable characters
The Bad: Awful character designs
The Ugly: It comes to an end
Makoto Shinkai is some kind of wizard. He has to be. The man does nothing but pump out extremely powerful, heartfelt movies about overcoming extreme obstacles in the face of utter loss, he does most of them by himself, and every single one is brilliant. He knows just how to get under your skin and tap into your insecurities, whether it's the suffocating feeling of living alone (She and Her Cat), the inevitable fact that you'll outgrow your childhood (5 Centimeters Per Second), or the horrific pain of being separated from your loved ones (The Place Promised in Our Early Days and this film). Something is evidently very wrong with this man, but whatever it is, I'm glad he has it(?), because the stuff he puts out is great. Now, let's take a look at why Voices, in particular, is my favorite of his films.
Firstly, jaw-droppingly beautiful backgrounds are a staple of every Makoto Shinkai movie, and Voices is no exception. From softly-lit classrooms, to sweeping shots of railroad tracks, to huge swaths of sky that can occasionally bring a tear to my eye, you could count the number of times a frame without something awe-inspiring present appears on a single hand. The backgrounds are a nonstop parade of beauty.
And to complement the gorgeous background art, Shinkai's close friend Tenmon provides the musical score. And it, too, is gorgeous. Using nothing but a keyboard, Tenmon expresses a veritable wealth of genuine emotion on tracks like the beautiful and subtle "Introduce," the equally beautiful and subtle "Ame no Boss Tei," the even more beautiful and subtle "Mikako Kara no Tayori," the--you get the idea. Throw in the film's heart-wrenchingly beautiful (but very Engrish) theme song, "Through the Years and Far Away," and it all comes together. And really, that's not even where the movie shines brightest.
That would be in the film's storytelling department. To put it bluntly, Voices does more in less than a half hour than roughly 95% of anime could do in 26 episodes. All the exposition I used to write the summary is given only via a couple sentences by Mikako or by newspaper headlines featured as part of the background. The story isn't shoved into your face, yet it remains easy to follow. Voices does follow the time-old traditional story of war separating a young couple, but while many others focus on the war itself and its consequences on a wider scale.
In fact, Voices is far more concerned with its characters and their development, which is a (surprisingly) fresh take on this kind of story, and it works well because Mikako and Noboru are genuinely likable. While they're not super-unique little snowflakes, they remain memorable because they're just normal people. That may sound strange, but when every movie hero needs to be unique and/or special in some way, it's refreshing to see a couple who lack that generic specialness that most films seem to rely on. It's hard to put into words, but you'll know exactly what I'm talking about when you see it. (Note my use of the word "when.")
Really, the only bad thing I could say about Voices is that its character designs are abhorrently bad. I understand Shinkai basically had to do everything except the voice acting and music on his own, so he can't be perfect at everything, but would it have killed him to get a couple guys to rework his character designs? As it stands, Mikako's face looks like an upside-down teardrop with big squarish eyes while Noboru's face is a big square block of putty with some facial features thrown onto it. And that's not even counting the many anatomical mishaps that occur along the way. It's such a shame to see a film so beautiful in every other aspect fall embarrassingly on one very important one.
But really, that's no excuse for anyone to ever skip out on Voices of a Distant Star. Yes, the characters look ugly, but everything else is so beautiful and lovingly crafted that you'd be crazy not to check it out. Along with Makoto Shinkai's other movies. If you're looking for a great romance anime, or if you want to find something a little off the beaten path, or even if you just want a good way to kill half an hour, then there's very little you could find that's better out there. You certainly have nothing to lose.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Subtle, beautiful, and heartfelt, Voices of a Distant Star perfectly encapsulates the essence of what it means to be young, in love, and desperately trying to be together despite the impossible odds that may come.