This week’s review is on Shinkai’s second short film, 星の声 Hoshi No Koe known in english as Voices of a Distant Star.
This 25 minute short was actually one of the first films I had watched by Shinkai before I knew about Shinkai. Released in 2002, I don’t think it is an exaggeration that it is one of the most recognised films of Shinkai by anime fans in the west.
Voices of a Distant Star is a short story about two middle school friends who are separated by time and space. Mikako the female protagonist of this tale is selected by the United Nations army to fight intergalactic threats to Earth and to go on an expedition across their solar system. Noboru, our male protagonist is left back on earth to live a normal life but has difficulty in moving on.
Voices of a Distant Star had quite solid themes such as loneliness, distance, longing and time. It all played out well especially in Noboru becoming an adult longing for his childhood with his middle school crush. When things were much more simple. Becoming an adult myself I could easily connect to the growing delay of messages he was receiving from Mikako. One minute you are constantly around someone, the next you are simply messaging them everyday, everyday turns into every other day and before you know it 5 years down the line you are messaging them “Long time no speak”. So much has changed about them and in their lives while for you it feels like you haven’t and nothing has changed.
The idea of being able to communicate by the heart through a common item was a great tool in this story and using the mobile phone as a method for communication has greater importance in 2016 than over a decade ago, because at least 90% of our communication is done through our mobile phones, even though we have advanced in other ways such as video messaging, social media etc. Noboru hangs delay onto his old cellphone in order to receive messages from Mikako and Mikako hangs onto hers because it is the only things that connects her to earth.
While the story has its sweet moments there are plenty and I mean plenty of nonsensical parts to it. Such as why would Noboru be stubborn and choose to not love someone else because of a crush he had on a 15 year old girl whose relationship he had with her lasted as long as his time in middle school? This is probably the most infuriating part of the storyline as it is human nature to change your mind and/or display impatience. Also, I am glad that the film could poke a bit of fun at itself at the ridiculousness of a 15 year old girl being chosen by the UN to go on a planetary expedition all of a sudden because she got good grades and was good at sports. Noboru’s comment, “ It seems, somehow, kind of like a stupid story.” hit the nail on the head and it was nice enough for Shinkai to acknowledge this through one of his characters.
I can’t get rid of the feeling that maybe the story would have been more believable if it had taken place just as they were finishing high school or college. Then you would have had this history between the Noboru and Mikako that would have lasted years and in turn would have been more meaningful. But at the age of 15, you’ve barely started your life. But lets ignore the story long enough to appreciate the design.
I wasn’t too crazy about the character designs, at times it looked awkward and unrefined, something that didn’t happen with She and Her Cat. Because of this you can very easily notice that this film has AGED. However, the strengths lied within the set design and the wondrous settings the movie took place in. While the locations on earth were limited and that 30%-40% of the film took place within the vacuum of space; When the film did venture to new terrain, it really was a sight for the eyes.
This time Shinkai didn’t perform a one man juggle but he did work on it as director, writer and co-producer. Shinkai’s landscapes are wonderfully fantasy like and it only becomes more stunning as you go through his body of work. Trust me it only gets more amazing from this point onwards.
The animation was a mixture of 2D and 3D. With the mecha and planets being made via 3D software called lightwave and everything else using after effects and photoshop on a power Mac G4- A POWER MAC G4. Unfortunately this is one throwback I would have been too young to remember. The character animation can feel stunted and awkward at times so it does make the 3D feel even more out of place despite how cool it is, but it is forgivable as an earlier work.
I complained about it in the review for She and Her Cat and I will complain about it again… can the text messages disappear anymore faster?! These huge long winding pieces of text hardly get a couple of seconds of screen time and so much of the story is in their messages . There is nothing spectacular about the character animation that I can talk in depth about and there’s nothing too bad about it that distracted me from the story being told, so it makes a pass.
The score is touching and was composed by Tenma, who is a well known collaborator of Shinkai’s and composes gorgeous pieces of music for other works and anime I am familiar with. The aforementioned composer has composed music that really bring out the feelings of longing and it really suits Shinkai’s stories really well.
To conclude I actually much prefer She and Her Cat as a gateway to Shinkai, just because it really is impressive that he worked on that all on his own and proved that independent animation can make those all important breakthroughs. But saying that I still need to give credit where credit is due, as Voices of a Distant Star is the perfect set up to familiarise yourself with the themes and style of Shinkai that has trademarked him as the next Miyazaki. It will be here that his work only becomes more and more captivating as he plays around more with fantasy and space in his beautifully rendered films that not only captivate the eyes but also the heart and truly inspire just not a generation of animators but filmmakers as well.