Voices of a Distant Star (ほしのこえ Hoshi no Koe?, lit. "Voices of Stars") is a Japanese anime OVA by Makoto Shinkai. It chronicles a long-distance relationship between two close friends who communicate by sending emails via their mobile phones across interstellar space. It was originally released to DVD on February 2, 2002, and has since been broadcast across Japan on the anime satellite television network, Animax.
A middle-school girl named Mikako Nagamine is recruited to the UN Space Army in a war against a group of aliens called the Tarsians, named after the Martian region (Tharsis) where they were first encountered. As a Special Agent, Mikako pilots a Tracer, a giant robotic mecha as part of a fighting squadron attached to the spacecraft carrier Lysithea.
When the Lysithea leaves Earth to search for the Tarsians with Mikako on board, Mikako's friend Noboru Terao remains behind. The two continue to communicate across interplanetary, and eventually interstellar space via the email facilities on their mobile phones.
As the Lysithea travels deeper into space, the emails take increasingly longer to reach Noboru on Earth, and the time-lag of their correspondence eventually spans years.
The narrative begins in 2047. Mikako is apparently alone in a hauntingly empty city, trying to contact people through her cell phone. She finally says, in an empty classroom with stacked chairs, "Noboru? I'm going home, okay?", a rhetorical question which is answered with a busy line on her cell phone. Then she wakes up to discover that she is in her Tracer orbiting an alien gas giant. She then goes to a moon or planet in the background, the fictional 4th world of Sirius System, Agartha.
In the middle of the anime proper, she sends an email to Noboru (which shows the date 2047-09-16), with the subject "I am here", saying "to the 24 year old Noboru, from the 15 year old Mikako" which would only reach him 8 years, 224 days and 18 hours later, and just hopes it reaches him. Some flashes of imagery, perhaps indicative of memory, a hallucination, or even a mystical encounter, are then shown. It is a morphing character that looks like a younger Mikako. While they're speaking however, that character morphs into a Tarsian and then into an older version of herself. The same room where she woke up in the beginning of the animation is presented again, with the same ambience, but this time she is squatting in the corner, sobbing and pleading with her doppelganger to let her see Noboru just one more time to be able to say "I love you" to him.
The other being says "It will be all right. You will see him again". The ship's alarm starts warning her that the Tarsians are suddenly coming from everywhere. Mikako cries even more, yelling "I don't understand!". A climactic battle ensues. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Noboru receives the message, albeit almost 9 years in the future. A voice-over dialogue commences between the two of them which functions as a synchronous soliloquy on the same subject. Meanwhile, back at Agartha, three of the four carriers equipped with the warp engines which brought the expeditionary force to Sirius have been destroyed. The Lysithea is still intact after Mikako joins the fight and stops its destruction. After winning the battle, Mikako lets her damaged Tracer drift in space.
Voices of a Distant Star was written, directed and produced entirely by Makoto on his Power Mac G4. Makoto and his wife provided the voice acting for the working dub (A second Japanese dub was later created for the DVD release with professional voice actors). Makoto's friend Tenmon, who had worked with Makoto at his video game company, provided the soundtrack. Shinkai cited Dracula and Laputa as inspirations to make Voices.
In July 2002, ADV Films announced that they had licensed Voices of a Distant Star for U.S. distribution and would release the 30-minute short. The finished DVD premiered in May 2003 at Project A-Kon in Dallas, Texas. The DVD version also includes Shinkai's earlier work, She and Her Cat.
There was a manga serialization based on the series in Afternoon magazine from Kodansha in Japan. It was run monthly from February 2004 to December 2004. The story of the manga begins at the same point as the start of the anime and carries the story a little bit beyond the anime itself. Makoto Shinkai wrote the manga, with illustration work done by Mizu Sahara. The manga was translated into English by Tokyopop.
Anime News Network's Jonathan Mays criticises the dubbing of the film by Steven Foster. He says, "When ADV began the dubbing process, they handed the job to Steven Foster, an anime enthusiast with a reputation for adapting (instead of translating) the script for a series. The trend continues here, as Foster carelessly omits critical details, completely rewrites some scenes, misinterprets emotions, and even adds new dialogue where the original track had silence". In an Anime News Network interview, Steven Foster defends his decision to change the script saying, "we made some changes to make the jokes more accessible". THEM Anime Review's Carlos Ross commends the film's quality despite having a small budget, saying "The voice-acting is remarkable, the directing is solid, and music is quite competent. But the real kicker here is the animation quality, which actually equals (and sometimes exceeds) that of excellent television series like Vandread and Full Metal Panic. I can think of many big-money productions can only hope to be half as good. And for how short this anime is, there is a remarkable amount of storyline; the plot is well-written and executed, and never gets a chance to be too drawn out. And Shinkai gives equal time to the slick action sequences and the well-handled, genuinely touching romance". IGN's A.E. Sparrow criticises the film by saying "While [the film] was visually one of the best pieces of eye-candy I have seen in a year or so, it's ultimately a voice track over a sequence of pretty pictures. Don't get me wrong, it was absolutely beautiful, but it left me wanting more". Mania's Chris Beveridge commends ADV Films's use of the video, saying "ADV managed to score very big with this release in terms of source materials by getting the actual original hard drive files that were used to create it. Quite simply, you cannot get any better than that. Working with that, the transfer here is simply gorgeous. Colors are amazingly lush and deep, saturated without bleeding. Cross coloration is non-existent and only a few very minor areas of aliasing occur. The only real “flaw” that I could see with this transfer is during some of the panning sequences up and down, there’s a slight stutter that’s simply inherent in the materials". DVDs Worth Watching's Johanna Draper Carlson criticises the art, saying "the character designs are familiar and uninspired, and the cross-cutting choppy".
|“||The animation is breathtaking. Shinkai's backgrounds have very few equals. The character designs look uninspired, but paired with the animator's beautifully realized worlds, the generic appearance fades into the magnificence of the scene. Most arresting is Shinkai's masterful use of lighting. Not only is it incredibly realistic, but it also manages to convey the mood of the characters in each scene, whether the distance of a sparkling star, the cold isolation of space, or the warm reminiscence of days long passed. While the characters are unoriginal, other items like Mikako's full-view cockpit and massive warships blend classic sci-fi with Shinkai's vision to create remarkable designs. It's unfortunate that such innovation is restrained to a 25-minute featurette, as it would have been thrilling to see Shinkai's artwork in a thirteen or 26-episode series.||”|
IGN's A.E. Sparrow commends the manga for "a healthy amount of additional storylines, characters and dialogue have been added to this manga" compared to the film. He further comments that mangaka "Mizu Sahara's artwork brings a bit of clarity to scenes that might have come off as muddled in the anime". Anime News Network's Theron Martin commends the manga for having a "strong storytelling which carries good emotional appeal, fleshes out the original anime" but her criticises it for the unimpressive artistry and "unnecessarily adds on to the ending". He comments on Sahara's artwork saying "Character designs were not Shinkai's strong point, and Sahara's are only a slight improvement. Her take on Mikako makes her look a lot taller and at least a couple of years older, while Noboru looks more or less the same but with sharper lines. There's also inconsistency in the shading for the hair of the two leads, especially for Mikako, and some of the shading in other places obscures actions more than it should. Background art, where present, is decent but unremarkable, as are designs for side characters". Manga Worth Reading's Johanna Draper Carlson commends the manga's art saying "the art is denser than in many manga, with toned backgrounds anchoring the drawn world. Faces are often in shadow, suggesting separation and loss. Wordless flashbacks capture everyday moments, such as kids taking shelter from a sudden shower. There’s nothing particularly special about those incidents; their significance is only in their absence, something never to be shared again and remembered more powerfully for that". Pop Culture Shock's Melinda Beasi commends Sahana's art saying, "the manga is absolutely beautiful. The art is nicely detailed and very expressive, and the panel layouts, including the placement and style of dialogue and narrative text, make the story visually interesting and easy to follow". She also comments that "Sahara also spends more time exploring both Mikako’s and Noboru’s feelings about Mikako’s appointment to the Lysithea, which is very revealing for both characters".
- Official web site (Japanese)
- Voices of a Distant Star (anime) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- Voices of a Distant Star (manga) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- Voices of a Distant Star at the Internet Movie Database