Traditionally, the primary effect science fiction as a literary genre has sought to create in the reader or viewer is a "sense of wonder." Not merely a suspension of disbelief (which is the case with almost all fiction) but an actual moment of "wondering awe." I choose this religious phrase quite deliberately, because it is an almost religious experience the author of a given work is trying to stimulate. One might describe this as the emotional response that occurs when one recognizes that a concept that was heretofore utterly alien is also brilliant and mind-blowing -- and the reader or viewer will never be completely the same having encountered it.
The very epitome of this sort of moment is when astronaut Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey looks into the monolith and exclaims, "Oh my God! It's full of stars!" I won't give away any spoilers, but one of the strongest personal encounters I ever had with this effect was while reading the book Eon by Greg Bear. When I arrived at the central concept of the book, I felt like my brain had literally expanded.
Which is the very antithesis of Friedrich Nietzsche's concept that "the abyss gazes also into you." We are not diminished by such encounters; rather we are elevated by them, taken mind and soul someplace new and profound and wondrous.
HAL 9000: "What is going to happen, Dave?"
Dave Bowman: "Something ... Wonderful."
This attempt at achieving "sense of wonder" was very much a driving purpose during the "golden age" of science fiction, when authors frantically sought to create stories around new concepts -- sometimes merely a gadget or new sort of life form, but at other times utilizing entire philosophies and sciences. Careers were made by the ability to do this: A.E. Van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, etc.
In some sense we live in a post "wondering awe" world. I wouldn't go so far as to say there is "nothing new under the sun" (also a religious phrase), but gadgets and aliens and new worlds seldom surprise us, let alone result in mind altering experiences.
Which leads me to say this of Voices of a Distant Star: there is nothing new here. A young girl named Mikako is drafted as a pilot to fight faceless aliens at the outer reaches of the solar system and beyond, and she and her friend Noboru keep in touch via text messages. As she travels farther and farther from Earth, the communication takes longer and longer to travel back and forth. At the level of science fiction, Makoto Shinkai simply borrows concepts from a wide variety of sources, both in anime and western SF. Voices has mechs and starships and war in space. Even the concept of messages taking longer and longer to arrive due to time dilation is not original.
So it might surprise you when I say this is an absolutely brilliant short film.
In some ways, the reason that sense of wonder in the traditional sense has lost a bit of its luster is that the desire for divertissement can take us only so far before we become jaded. Just as any facile pleasure is transient by its very nature, so the constant pursuit of new and surprising experiences within stories eventually takes us to a place where we can no longer experience the truly unexpected -- like the horror movie fan who no longer has the capacity to experience jolts of fear.
So it is to the deeper joys and pleasures that we must turn to find our wonder. And these joys, in order to be lasting, must connect with the deepest parts of what it means to be human. With this as our pursuit, the ability to achieve a sense of wonder is restored to the realm of science fiction. It's not about hardware and ideas. It's about people.
And this is where Shinkai succeeds masterfully. From the opening moments to the touch of hope with which it ends, this is a film full of humanity, pathos, devotion and love. The story of Mikako and Noboro is a bittersweet story about all of us. And that is a wonder in itself.
It should be noted (for those who don't know) this film was written, animated and produced by one man. That's not a hobby -- that's genius.
The animation in Voices is excellent. The artwork is always exceptional -- the backgrounds are particularly stunning -- and at times utterly breathtaking. There is so much attention to detail here, so many layers of motion that this never feels like a two dimensional world on a television screen. When the guard poles at a train crossing vibrate as a train passes, when grass responds to a ephemeral breeze at sunset, when tears float in the cockpit around our heroine, I am enchanted by and immersed in this world. To think one man created this film from the ground up is nothing short of amazing.
The color palette is vibrant and the images are filled with light. There is a lucidity to the images that is a pleasure to behold.
The shot selection and "camera work" (composition, movement) are also excellent. In an interview in the DVD special features Makoto Shinkai talks about his inability to achieve all he wanted with this film, how he had to cut corners in his filmmaking -- which leaves me to wonder at his actual vision for this film, as the current work is superb.
My only quibble -- and it is relatively minor -- is with the character designs. I found them rough, and somewhat distracting at moments, especially as faces sometimes took on strange shapes.
The sound design is solid. The sound effects don't stand out, but then again they don't distract either. They simply fill in the world in such a way that verisimilitude is achieved.
The music is always serviceable, and at times wonderfully full of pathos and longing. The love theme is excellent -- subtle and yet moving. The solo piano tracks are particularly compelling. I also very much enjoyed the title track, "Through the Years and Far Away." It really captures the emotional essence of this film (more on that under Characters).
During the action and battle scenes the music sinks back to the realm of merely serviceable, as the synth elements don't really allow the music to rise above the utilitarian. But they do the job.
Upon reflection, we don't ever know very much about these characters. Which comes as something of a surprise, since Makoto Shinkai manages to achieve so much empathetic response in the viewer -- at least in this viewer. Rather than give us backgrounds, interests, traits, personalities, and development, Shinkai eschews all of these in favor of cutting to the very core of human experience. We identify with these characters not because they are fully realized human beings, but simply because we all know what it means to be lonely and long for someone we love. This is the central theme of the film, and is the very core of the characters themselves.
Which is not to say these are somehow stick figures or cardboard cut-outs. Though we know little about who these characters are, in order to believe the connection Mikako and Noboru share with each other their actions and dialogue must in some ways be even more compelling and honest than a character drawn in more detail. And they are. The dialogue never says too much, never assumes the viewer somehow won't "get it." It is merely the natural expression of human thought and emotion.
These characters also do what every great character needs to do -- they grow over the course of the story.
Like an ink painting, Shinkai use a minimum of strokes to bring his characters to life, to show them change, to fill out this world, and by so doing has created a masterpiece. Indeed, this short film achieves more in twenty-five minutes than many anime titles manage over the course of an entire series.
Hoshi no Koe (Voices of a Distant Star)
Plot: "Nagamine is a young high school student who lives a fairly typical teenage life: hanging out with friends, attending class, and falling in love with a wonderful boy. But when she enlists in the galactic army, who is desperate for candidates to fight an alien war, she finds herself drifting farther away from her first love, Noboru. In the depths of space, where a simple email takes eight years to be delivered, will their love truly flourish, or simply fade away?" (site synopsis)
Story: Another one of the animes made by Makoto Shinkai and produced by CoMix Wave Inc. studio. Again my expectations for a good story was well founded, since the previous movies Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Bashou and Byousoku 5 Centimeters (check my reviews) were briliantly made. It proove to be as i expected probably a bit more, but i got to say that the ending was abit dissapointing in my opinion, had a feeling that it might ruin this anime, which in my opinion would have been a real waste. However i did enjoy it until the end, and as well as the other movies that i mentioned above, the deep emotional feelings that characters reveal are reall touching, it makes you simpathize with the main protagonists (the situation is too damn similar with the one from Byousoku 5 Centimeters more exactly the situatuion of Akari and Takaki). The story of this anime revolves around two middle-school students named Mikako Nagamine and Noboru Terao. The years they spent toghether on Earth were memorable, they developed deep feelings towards eachother and a strong relationship (from what i seen they seem deeply in love even though the anime does not give us details refering to the state of their relationship). After graduating middle-school Mikako Nagamine is hired/recruited by the UN space army in a war against a group of aliens called Tarsians (named after the Martian region, Tarsis). Mikako becomes a tracer, wielding a huge robot and she was atached to a fighting squadron of the spacecraft carrier called Lysithea. When Lysithea leaves Earth with Mikako on board, she leaves everything behing, including her friend Noboru. However they kept in touch, Mikako kept sending mails to Noboru about her current state, but as Lysithea travels deeper into space, the mails take longer to be received by Noboru (from months to years more exactly). A very touching anime, i have to admit the ending might be missunderstood by many people, some may concider it sad, sorrowful, other may say that it was left unfinished. Want to know my opinion? Well in my opinion this anime hides a message, "no mather how big the distance between us is, our thoughts and feelings are always connected". By believing this, i think that this anime was well done.
Animation and Sound : As expected this anime has a very good animation quality and definition, nothing to complain only to praise as well, the only thing that is abit obvious is that years kinda damaged but not very much this anime, since compared to the other movies i mentioned above this one has a lower animation quality, however not too low one give the fact that it was released in the year of 2002, still a very good animation concidering the release date. Relaxing, enjoyable, at least decent.Nothing that is out of common, but nothing that realy catches your atention, no big deal. The same like in the other movies the sound is more orchestral, classic, just to fit the anime environment, however i found it relaxing and enjoyable.
Characters: Since this anime has only two characters, and it revolves only on them, we must not expect a great character development, infact there is no character development at all. Individualy instead this two were developed and revealed quite well, we know abit about their past and stuff about their future.Decent in terms of characters as well, given the fact that this OVA has a short lenght (only 26 minutes) i doubt that it could have been better then this.
Overall: A must to watch, in my opinion this OVA has a place of its own, enjoyable, with a bit of action also, with a very touching and sorrowful drama aspect, this anime easily goes to my heart, and especialy the message that it sends. Only one regret i have, the fact that the ending could have been abit more clear, if it was like i said then for sure i would have given it a 10 out 10 without hesitation.It wasnt a dissapointment at all just that i cant name it a masterpiece at this state.Even so we must not ignore the good points of this anime, the excelent animation, the nice individual character development, and the relaxing sound.
~Enjoy and Cya Around~
“And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
The sheets of rain curtained onto the barren streets, while a single boy runs for shelter into a bus stop. He looked skinnier than usual, as the white fabric clung to his pale flesh and the shadows plastered to his features. Sliding onto the bench, he slipped out his cellphone, fiddling with it for a bit before the screen came chirping to life. The beep ricocheted through his heart like a jolt of electricity, bringing his attention to the email he received. He had waited a year to see her name typed, “From: Mikako”.
Voices of a Distant Star doesn’t have ambitions to be some theatrical space opera or intergalactic epic of Star Wars-like proportions. It’s a romantic heart dressed in a science-fiction dress, trimmed with mecha and aliens that seek to destroy all of mankind. Exciting isn’t it? But we all know love is about personality, not the looks. Through the smokescreen of whirring missiles and the winding tentacles of Tassarian battleships lies a tale of two star-crossed lovers torn apart by deep-space combat.
Makoto Shinkai debut effort sets the motif that threads together his future work, two lovers sundered by the realities of society, its framework and how love’s pale fingers can stretch to the limitless boundaries of remoteness. It’s a microscopic mirror into the mind of Shinkai, who develops these themes in much greater depth in 5 Centimeters per Second and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, but the sense of separation between these particular characters feels the most immense, caulked by vacuum of the heavens. His two actors, Mikako and Nobura, are middle school students that fancy spending high school together, trading dreams of Kendo club and buying ice cream at the local convenience store. These daytime reveries shatter when Mikako reveals she will be a pilot, helming a mech to combat a threat to humanity.
The narrative hinges on the emails exchanged by the two friends, as the dividing light-years cause their messages to take longer and longer to deliver. Minutes and hours quickly precipitate into months and years. As the breadth of day grow, Mikako’s gloom and isolation become palpable as she flounders in her heartache. Her outcast from the account of earthly time is distressing to watch, frozen in her fifteen-year-old frame as Noboru ages across an eternity. The exchanges delicately nurture the climax, Nobura receiving a wandering text many years later, as the layers of melancholy and rejection sweep over the viewer. It’s bittersweet, but that’s how I take my chocolate.
The frames of Voices from a Distant Star are torn from the pages of a sketchbook. Frayed lines crisscross one another, actualized into shape by a wash of pastel watercolors. It’s breathtaking, yet curiously unassuming, asking the audience to focus on the interaction of the characters instead of the hushed hallows of ‘Random Japanse Suburb 1’.
The placid humdrum of the town is broken up by hyper technological CGI sequences involving giant robots, deviant aliens, and a mobiles of heavenly bodies. The sections seem obtrusive, jarring even, compared to the tranquil hues of earth. Reason being, the 3D sections are of amateur quality, textures are grainy and the rendering is poorly aliased, caked up in overembellished lighting effects. The animation is comparatively clunky, as the steel clad titans stumble through each scene. My homesickness quickly dissipated when the camera traveled back to the dulcet foyers of ‘Random Japanese Suburb 1’.
A companionless piano is kept by a metronome’s heartache, as its solitary steps pave an upsetting chant. The instrument stands on it’s feeble as it’s chord echo Mikako’s alienation and Noburo’s fortitude. It’s the glue that holds together the collages Shinkai assembles with his imagery and dialogue, which at times falls flat. Shinkai and his fiancé in the original did the voices of the leads, and professional seiyuu were employed for the mass distributed version. In either, Mikako’s voice is a monotone murmur, absent of any sort of emotional inflection till the very end. Noburo suffers from a similar affliction, but atleast his voice is audible. Like the Animation, the sound and music stands on uneven footing, faltering from time to time.
Both protagonists don’t have much bulk to them, reflected by their flip-book style of artwork. Most of what we know comes from the events that unfold within the twenty-three minutes, back story ignored. Most of the character development is driven by the communication between the two students and how it fuels their catharsis in the final moments. I couldn’t ask for more from a short film, and was surprised at the magnitude of effect their romance had on me.
I’ve had these feelings before, sitting at the airport as my girlfriend kissed me on the apple of cheek instead of saying goodbye. I thought about how the Rockies, the desert, the Great Plains, and Wisconsin separated us. My heart pelted against my chest as I as the final few seconds wound down from the Quicktime counter. Voices of a Distant Star is a powerful work of art and a stunning display of storytelling which I highly recommend.
The animation itself in this is really a let down, it almost blinded me. BUT that is to be expected, since it was made by one person. If you can get past that though the plot idea is interesting and believable. The idea of communication over long distances taking longer and longer was sad as you saw the male lead growing older and the heroine barely aging. This movie got to me on a personal level and is a bit ofa downer in some ways. Overall, what's good; plot is straightforward, characters are good. Bad; animation sucks bad and the sound isn't much better.
Split by distance, two close school friends exchange text messages and as they get further apart, they take longer to get there.
Voices of a Distant Star is one of those series that get's viewers simply because of its reputation. And if there was any anime out there that deserved that, then Voices is certainly the one. Its hard for me to talk about the story without having spoilers, as being only 20 odd minutes in length, everything in the anime is somewhat critical to the plotline. But that's what makes it so good. The story is a simple, yet beautiful tale of how two people who love each other are split by distance and despite being unable to see each other, can still have a relationship that literally extends to the stars.
Its remarkable as well that the entire storyline was thought out by a single person and the script written is one of the best out there. Take my word for it, Voices is simply gorgeous and take 20 minutes out of a busy day and enjoy a real story for once.
Remember how I was saying that Voices was written by one person? It was also produced and drawn by that one person. There should be a limit to how good someone can be when it comes to making anime and Makoto Shinkai shows that there is always someone who comes close to being a god of it. The characters depictations are believable and the spaceships seem to have a somewhat mystical quality about them, yet somehow could be real. Its a beautiful looking anime and once you take into account it being made by one person, it becomes special.
Originally, Voices stared Makoto Shinkai and his fiancee as the two lead characters. When people realised just how good it was, it was redone with professional voice actors. Voices has an amazing sense of depth and the casting was nicely done. When you then throw in the soundtrack you realise just how fitting it is. The song which everyone who's watched it which comes at the end is perfect for the finish and 'Through the Years and Far away' not only helps bring to Voices to its fitting conclusion, but also stands brilliantly as a stand alone piece. However, the soundtrack is filled with hidden gems including the 'Rainy Bus Stop'. Enjoy it.
Theres only two characters of importance in this anime and despite having only spent 25 minutes max with them, you are left feeling as though you know and understand what they are going through and how their lives and linked in a special and unique way. The relationship which forms the basis of the anime is brilliantly portrayed and its no wonder that Voices get a 10/10 for characters, simple because of the development that we see.
Is it possible to go on and on about how good an anime is? I think it is and if it weren't for the fact that most people would have stopped reading it had I continued on for another 12 pages, I would have done so. Voices of a Distant Star has this strange yet beautiful ability to not only draw you into the world of these two school friends, but will keep you quite happily in there to enjoy it. Honestly, don't take my word for how good it is, just watch it and make your own mind up.