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?
StoryTraditionally, 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. AnimationThe 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.SoundThe 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.CharactersUpon 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.OverallThe term genius can be -- and often is -- misapplied and overused. I think it safe to say, however, that when one man creates a work of art that moves us deeply, that elevates the senses, that connects to fundamental truth about human nature, he is nothing if not a genius.In this story of literally star-crossed lovers Makoto Shinkai achieves a sense of wonder in the viewer not through original and surprising ideas, but by utilizing his amazing talents to tap into the deepest core of human experience and make us truly feel.I stand in wondering awe.
To be honest, I had heard mixed reviews about this anime. Some saw it's fantastic, a hidden gem of sorts. Others say it's awful. But for whatever reason I decided to give it a shot. I mean, it was only one half an hour long episode after all.Story: 6/10Now I’ll admit, this wasn’t my cup of tea plot wise. Hoshi no koe is a love story about two teenagers who are separated between time and space-literally. The Earth is in the midst of an alien invasion and the heroine Mikako joins the resistance and goes on a mission to defeat their attackers. There’s just one problem though; she left her long time friend and love interest, Noboru, behind.The separation does not shy the two away from keeping in contact with each other though. And here arises the other problem, the only way they can communicate is by text messaging each other on their cellphones. It would take months for them to get messages from each other, but as Mikako went further and further into space it began to take longer and longer for a message to send, eventually leading to years without contact. The story shows both sides, Mikako fighting the invasion 39 some odd light years away from Earth; and Noboru, who had vowed to never forget about Mikako and love her forever, even as he grew older.There’s not a lot more going for it than that, it can’t have any more than that since it is so short. But I will admit that by the end of it I felt a little something, something in my heart. They are separated by such a long distance, but all they want to tell each other is that they love them. That was so sad and heart warming at the same time, that I decided to give it a slightly higher score.Animation: 4/10Don’t let the cover fool you, the animation quality is pretty terrible. I don’t know if it was because it was only an OVA or if the budget was low, but I know for sure that I did NOT like it at all. I actually almost dropped it just because of the animation, but I thought that would have been pretty pathetic since it was only one episode. I’ll admit that I got used to it towards the end, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look like an amateur did it.I do have to give credit where credit is due though, the scenery was just absolutely amazing. The color contrasts were pretty darn solid. Too bad the rest of it wasn’t as good.Sound: 6/10There wasn’t a lot of sound to base my judgement on. The opening and ending sequence was just a simple piano melody, and there wasn’t much beyond that besides space guns being shot, which I suppose was alright. It wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t spectacular, it was just kind of….meh.Character: 7/10Again, since the series is so short there isn’t a lot of time to develop character backgrounds and personalities. Hoshi no koe did a good job with the time frame in which they were given though. A lot more character development was given to Mikako however, since she was the one who actually went up into space; which I loved by the way, since it breaks the conventional way of thinking that in times of war the men go off and fight while the women stay home.Both characters are so simplistic that I could actually relate more to them. There was no underlying dark past that a character was plagued with or anything. They just simply wanted to be together.Overall: 6/10So did I hate this anime? No, did I love it? I wouldn’t go that far either. Hoshi no koe is just one of those series that you just sit down and watch. It’s something to take your mind away from your troubles; nothing more. It wasn’t the type of anime I would normally watch, but I didn’t feel that it was time waster either. It was fine for the amount of effort I had to put into to watch it.
Voices of a Different Star is magnificent, and if you are not moved by it then something is wrong with you. It is dripping with personality and a sense of wonder. The story isn't unique in any way, the animation is good but not exceptional nor stands out in any way, the sound is nothing out of the ordinary, and the characters have very little in the way of development throughout the story. But when it all comes together, this is a subtle and extremely powerful piece about love that will make even the most jaded cynic feel something special. I will go so far as to say that this is one of the best pieces of anime that can be viewed in under an hour. I have watched it a few times, and every time I couldn't find a fault with it as a whole. Slight quibbles about originality, execution, writing, direction, and so on can only go so far. The devestating impact of the last words the female character remains the same. Story: Mechs in space holding off the evil aliens coming to kill all humans. Good guys stop them. There is also a romance that transcends time and space. Love in times of war, tragedy, life going on, et cetera. These cliches are there for a reason, but they are still cliches. The writing is good, no doubt. But in the end, this is a straightforward story told in a straightforward way. What is really unique is just how it is condensed into such a short time without feeling cheap or rushed. The writing is top notch, even if the story in itself is nothing special. Animation: Again, nothing unique, and what was at the time quite good does not hold up perfectly. The concept art is good, but not exceptional. There are many things going for it, but in the end, this is probably the weakest point of the anime. That does not say that it is not enjoyable. That definitely does not say it is not good. The animation, while not spectacular, does what it needs to. It gives us a backdrop for the emotional impact of the creation as a whole. It does not need to do more, and as such, it is a good fit for such a minimalistic use of the main themes. Sound: Beautiful, but not exceptional in any way. I see the score of eight out of ten as something that is good on all levels but is not great on any, and that is all there is to it. The use is restrained when needed, and it usually is. The whole point of the story is the dialogue after all. The voice actors do their job well. There is no need for anything too flashy, because it is not the point of Voices of a Distant Star. Characters: What can I say? For such a short piece, I felt for them, sympathized with them, and loved them. The whole point of this piece is the interaction between them, and it does so exceptionally well. Their interactions are the entire point of this, and you just feel how so much more is said between the lines of their communication than is actually said. There is so much emotion that is hidden beneath simple words. Hopes, dreams, love, tenderness, regrets, and most of all a powerful connection. How can that happen in such a short anime work? I still don't know. It is absolute genius as far as I'm concerned. The tale of two characters has never touched me as much since. Enjoyment: As this is the part where I can explain how the overall rating is so high, here goes. This short story has left me shocked with the simplicity and elegance of it all. It is a story that has had many incarnations, and the themes are ones that have been used repeatedly. But the way this all comes together is nothing short of astounding. Very few stories have ever touched me like this. I have seen it multiple times, and I will see it more. Everyone should too. Overall: This is excellent, and it is greater than the sum of its parts. Similar to many of the greatest works in anime, this is exceptional in the way it manages to be both dramatic and restrained by shedding all unnecessary gimmicks and sticking to what it does best: tell a simple story in a powerful way. I cannot recommend it enough.
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