Tentacle-Free Anime: "Voices of a Distant Star" (2002) Review
- by Kazekun, 25 April 2016
Voices of a Distant Star wasn't the anime I originally wanted to review this week. However, with all the packing we're doing for a big move coming up later in the week, getting the time to sit down and really watch anything has become rather difficult. So, due to time constraints, I had to pick a rather short entry. And that brings us to here. Phew, boy.
Being one of Makoto Shinkai's earliest works, and only 25 minutes long at that, the story attempts to tell a heart-breaking tale of lost love and waiting for the one you care for most to one day return to you. It's actually incredibly reminiscent of another one of his cherished works, 5 CM Per Second, which covered much of the same ground, but giving it more of a slice-of life feel. This story has a far more sci-fi bend to it.
Now, in the last Shinkai anime I reviewed (Garden of Words), I mentioned that this man actually has the talent to write incredible stories which would hold up a lot better if only he could end them more concretely. That holds up even here, but manages to pull off a non-ending in a way some of his other works just haven't. Let me explain. I used to hate this anime after I watched it the first time, mainly because it had no real ending and I felt for the most part the story was lazy and had no real impact on the characters emotionally. However, upon a second viewing for this review I find myself appreciating this anime a lot more than I did back then.
Now, you could argue that, artistically, that makes more sense. It gives you, the viewer, the option to choose whether she does or not. And there are plenty of series out there that have pulled off this kind of ending before where I'm okay with it. However, there is no setup for the possibility of rescue at any point in this. It's meant to be a sad tale, so I feel the biggest thrust to the heart Shinkai could've given us is have her die in space at the end as Noboru stands at his balcony waiting for his message to reach her, or waiting for another message from her. If Shinkai had given me an ending like that, this short would be so wonderful.
For what we get, the anime isn't bad. Really, it's not. Noboru and Mikako's story is quite sad and seeing these two hold so tightly to their hopes that they'll one day be reunited, only to watch as that hope fades to hopelessness over the course of their lives, is quite devastating. I really enjoyed that in this future, where Mikako is one of a thousand people drafted to fight in an interstellar war against an alien race, our Solar System is completely inhabited, so going to Mars is like going on vacation. In fact, it's where Mikako receives her interstellar mecha piloting and fighting training, which I think it really cool.
I also like that Mikako still gets data even out in the far reaches of unmanned space. I'm sure it has to do with the network her mecha is working on, but it's a nice touch and holds the story together for these two would-be lovers. As the distance between them widens physically, so does the length in time it takes for each of them to receive each other's messages. By the end of the short, Mikako finds herself 8.5 light years away and so it takes 8 years for her one message to reach Noboru back on Earth and vice versa.
Now, there are some logic flaws in this as well. One of the emotional crux here is that these two are waiting for each other's texts to pop up on their phones before replying to one another. And so Noboru will get one message from Mikako, then Mikako will get one reply, and then reply back once and it helps to send these two into further depression because of the long time it's taking to have just a single conversation.
If they were to send each other a text a day, or even several texts in one day, they'd receive messages from each other for days or even weeks every 8 years, helping to ease the loneliness they're both experiencing.
Noboru's story in all this is far less interesting, as he really takes the supporting character role in this story, living his mundane life as Mikako fights aliens in space. We mostly see him at the mercy of his love for Noboru, which lead to many scenes of him looking sad and depressed as he waits for a text. At the very least, after waiting a year for a text, we do get some progression of character as he says at one point he stopped waiting for her texts and is just living life his way.
I do feel that progression is halted when he does finally get that text message and, 8 year later, you see he's joined the military in what I assume is his hopeless endeavor to one day be reunited with Mikako. This sort of “male waiting for the girl all his life and never doing anything with his future” mentality was also on display in 5 CM Per Second, but we'll get to that some other day.
The music for Voices is beautiful. At least the instrumental tracks, the vocal tracks of the official soundtrack are okay at best. Still, it's not a bad OST and the instrumental tracks really make this an OST worth listening to. The slow, melodic strings that bring you this sense of emptiness and calming reflection in and of itself is an experience.
The anime, however really is Voices worst aspect and it does not hold up well at all even today. Granted, being one of Shinkai's earlier works, it was made on a pretty low budget, I'm sure. While the mechas and CGI action really don't look good, it is about on par with the CGI of the time – there are a few series I quite enjoy that were made around the early 00s that have terrible CGI. It's really the 2D animation that is just horrendous to look at. The 2D animation of the characters, how they look and move, and how they reflect poorly against their backgrounds, looks like they're straight out of a flash animation by an amateur studio or akin to something one person made with 10 days to work on the project for school.
It's not good, and when you watch Voices its definitely the art that becomes the immediate turn off before you even have the chance to get into the story.
For a bonus round, I also watched another Mokoto Shinkai work. A 5 minute short that he made even earlier in his life before Voices and is a story that I hail as one of his best works yet. She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points is a 1999 short that does in 5 minutes what so many of his other full length stories fail to do. It tells a cohesive narrative from the viewpoint of a cat owned by a young girl who watches her life turn from good, to terrible, to better throughout that course of – I think – a year and by the end of it, both characters find themselves in a good point in their lives together.
It's incredibly heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time and Shinkai masterfully cuts each minute into a “chapter”, so even in just 5 minutes you get 5 chapters worth of story. We even get to see the cat's life outside of having his human companion around all the time, which is important in understanding both characters together and as individuals.
Where as there is no concrete ending for She and Her Cat, this story doesn't fall into any of the plot non-resolutions that the other movies have found themselves in by the end. This is just a small series of vignettes of two beings co-existing. There's a beginning, middle and no cresecndo the story is building itself to. Refreshingly, it's just a piece of art that exists and that enhances it in the long run.
Also, She and Her Cat is so good that just this year it got remade into a series of four 7-minute long shorts titled She and Her Cat: Everything Flows with an extended story and modern animation. I haven't watched it, but I've heard really good things about it. If that doesn't speak to the testament of the lightning Shinkai caught in this bottle way back in 1999, I don't know what does.
With short, short stories Shinkai often does great. But in the full length films of his that I've seen thus far, his endings are what need the most work and then I would probably enjoy him just as much as everyone else in the anime community does. I won't stop watching his stuff though, because he truly does have vision. He's so close to getting it just right.
Final Score: 4 Long Distance Relationships out of 5
Have you seen Voices of a Distant Star? It doesn't take 8 years for us to receive a comment, so let us know your thoughts below!