Voices of a Distant Star by Makoto Shinkai (Review)

This is just one of those special works of art, one that leaves you feeling humble and blessed to have seen it.
Voices of a Distant Star

I just finished watching the domestic release of Voices of a Distant Star and once again I need to reiterate what should be obvious… this is one release that anyone remotely interested in anime needs to watch. This is just one of those special works of art, one that leaves you feeling humble and blessed to have seen it. To be honest, I found myself suppressing a sob at several points.

The storyline is that poignant and moving, the artwork that lush and vibrant, the music that haunting… there’s a sense of heartfelt passion that permeates every second of this 25 minute film, and I’m grateful to Makoto Shinkai for spending all of those months hunched in front of his Power Mac. I can’t wait to see what he does with The Place Promised In Our Youth.

Once again, I just want to urge everyone out there to seek out anime however you can. However, once the anime is finally available domestically, do everyone a favor and plunk down the cash. Like any self-respecting otaku, I’ve bought my fair share of bootlegs, imports, and fansubs. As I’ve said before, they’re a great way to discover anime that isn’t available here in the States. But if it’s something I really love to watch, the best way to show my support — aside from a glowing review — is to put my money where my mouth is.

There are some incredible anime releases coming up in the near future — e.g., Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, Yukikaze, Witch Hunter Robin — so let’s support them as best we can, alright?

My Original Review

Set in the year 2046, Voices of a Distant Star follows a young mecha pilot named Mikako as she travels throughout the solar system battling a mysterious alien race. When she can, she sends e-mail to her high school boyfriend Noboru, who is still on Earth. However, as she travels farther out into space, it takes longer and longer for Noboru to receive her messages. They both begin questioning how their relationship is going to survive the time and distance between them, and if they’ll ever see eachother again. Even if they do, Mikako will still be a teenager while Noboru will have grown old (due to Mikako’s faster than light travels).

Now, you might have noticed something in the previous paragraph. I mention mecha, aliens, and space battles, but only barely. That’s because those things are not the focus of Voices of a Distant Star. They’re in there, but they serve as a backdrop for the anime’s true focus. The core of Voices of a Distant Star is the relationship between Mikako and Noboru and how they try to keep it alive despite the barriers between them. This is what makes Voices of a Distant Star truly resonate with the viewer.

With Voices of a Distant Star, Makoto Shinkai, who wrote, directed, edited, and animated the film on his Power Mac (go Apple!), has crafted a tender story of romance and hope. Even with a running time of less than 25 minutes, Shinkai invests considerable depth into the two characters and their relationship. Rather then dive right into the action, he takes his time building things up. Small details and interactions are what Shinkai focuses on — a rainy afternoon spent in a shelter, a bike ride together, going to the convenience store — and it’s these little details that make the couple’s romance so involving.

As Mikako heads deeper into space, she often thinks back to her time with Noboru, as well as what he will be doing when he receives her message years after she sends it. Thanks to Shinkai’s patient development, these scenes are poignant and heartbreaking, but never melodramatic or saccharine. When the anime ends, it does so on a bittersweet note that feels both satisfying and saddening. Admittedly, some might find the open ending a bit of a cop out, but I found it quite beautiful and true to the work.

I got the same feeling watching this that I did when I saw Donnie Darko. Not because the two films are similar (far from it) or because both feel fresh and original (which they do), but because the same sense of passion and creativity flow through both. It’s apparent that Voices of a Distant Star is a labor of love. It shows in the production and animation, as Shinkai obviously has the technical skills. But more importantly, it shows in the characters and their plight.

I also found myself thinking of Hayao Miyazaki’s work at times. I know it’s pretty presumptuous to compare a relative unknown to animation’s master, but Shinkai shows the same ability to create a rich emotional experience through his animation. While I was watching an interview with Shinkai, it became obvious that this is a talented young man who takes anime seriously as an artform, who wants to create art that is both inspired and inspiring. With Voices of a Distant Star, he’s off to an excellent start.

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