a.k.a. Hoshi no Koe
The Mars Exploration Project was destroyed by an alien attack in 2039. Seven years later, the UN is launching a deep space mission in search for the aliens. Mikako and Noboru have just finished tests, and are going to high school… or so was the plan. Mikako is drafted as a pilot for the UN mission, separating them. When she goes to space, their only communication is by e-mail, which takes longer and longer to arrive as the UN ships travel out of the solar system. Will their love survive the distance and void of space?
summary by Griveton
Highs: Story; characters; concept; ending
Lows: Sub par character design and animation
Shinkai Makoto, although almost unknown in the anime community, is quickly making himself a reputation as an independent anime maker. Thanks to Voices of a Distant Star, it’s easy to see why. This OVA is, almost in its entirety, his solo work… from art to story to voice acting… and done on an iMac. Despite this and the fact that it’s only 25 minutes in length, Voices of a Distant Star manages to be as captivating (if not more) than a full-length, professional movie.
The story is nothing short of brilliant; it’s a powerful romantic drama set in a plausible future where space exploration is a reality, and is as captivating as they come. From the beginning to the powerful ending, this OVA kept me glued to the screen. The concept of e-mail communication delays as the UN mission goes farther away from the earth has a lot of potential, and the execution couldn’t have been better.
Making audio and visuals to match the story is no easy task. However, the soundtrack, consisting mainly of simple piano pieces, works very well. Sadly, the visuals are inconsistent, dragging the overall presentation down. While the background and CG work is very good (more so considering the circumstances), the character design and animation is sub par. It’s distracting during the first few minutes, but it becomes less noticeable as the story progresses. On another note, people who have seen Vandread: First Stage will undoubtedly notice similarities in the space scenes.
In a medium where the attention is usually centered in big-name projects, a solo work demonstrates how independent anime has what’s needed to get it done. This short, sweet OVA will put to shame many a mediocre “professionally” made anime. Although a little rough around the edges, Voices of a Distant Star is one of the most captivating anime I’ve seen this year. I’ll be sure to be on the look for future works by Shinkai-san.
Highs: Touching story; interesting concept; art direction
If someone had told me that one person almost entirely produced Voices of a Distant Star, I would have called him a liar. Yet, somehow, Shinkai Makoto managed to create this incredibly poignant and powerful anime all on his own.
The idea of two lovers separated by a war in space and forced to communicate through cell phone e-mail is certainly a unique concept for an anime. Within the span of a mere 25 minutes, Voices of a Distant Star develops a truly touching love story. Even though relatively little is known about the two main characters outside of their relationship, it is easy to connect with their feelings and see them as very real characters as they struggle to deal with their separation. It’s a powerful story about the love two people share and the tragedy of war.
If there was anything to complain about in this OVA, it would be the animation. While extremely impressive considering that only one man did it all, the animation is pretty rough as a whole, and there is a large amount of CGI that does not blend very well with the traditional 2D animation. While the animation may not be spectacular, the art direction certainly is. Everything from the camera angles to the use of lighting creates an atmosphere that greatly emphasizes the emotional impact of the anime.
Many people may not be too familiar with Shinkai Makoto, but his projects like Voices of a Distant Star and She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points are certainly making a name for him within the anime community. While it’s easy to be skeptical about the quality of an independent anime title, this certainly proves that an amazing anime can be made even without the backing of a big name studio.
Highs: Masterful camera direction; stunning choreography; exquisite sound effects
Lows: Not enough interaction between Noboru and Mikako in the beginning
Many die-hard anime fans already know of the story behind Voices of a Distant Star, so for a minute, let’s forget that Shinkai Makoto just about single-handedly created this anime. Based solely on what is presented on the screen, Voices of a Distant Star is one of the most impressive short stories I’ve ever seen.
Shinkai Makoto is a great minimalist storyteller. As was the case in She and Her Cat, the story here is kept simple by the lack of useless characters and events. Shinkai does away with the superfluous elements and somehow manages to let us connect with his two would-be lovers in the time allotted. Likewise, the music acts as a muted tone setter, and the artwork (other than the CGI) consists of rough, angular brushstrokes and a marked lack of motion. As for the aforementioned CGI, the action sequences are on par with big-budget features, but with more thought put in to phenomenal, ballet-quality choreography.
Macross and Gunbuster fans will notice the obvious similarities with the epic space battles and interstellar travel placing strains on relationships, but these scenes are just catalysts to carry the true story: a boy who becomes a man but can never let go of the memory of the girl he once loved. Their bittersweet loneliness is beautifully shown through moments of quiet introspection, bird’s-eye camera angles and fisheye lens distortions to emphasize some objects while putting the rest into the background.
And to top it all off, the one aspect of anime I don’t often point out, sound effects, deserves high praise here. The crisp boom of explosions and the tranquil beeping of cell phone keys washes over our senses, completing the effect of a great anime. Voices of a Distant Star is surely a triumph of indie animation, and we can only hope it inspires other unknown storytellers to do the same.
Highs: Engaging story; deeply atmospheric; poignant characters
Lows: Inconsistent art and animation
In a medium chock full of stories about mecha, intergalactic war and fighting in space, Voices of a Distant Star manages to be something completely unique and refreshing. With a masterful hand, this anime creates a subtle, powerful story that lets the fighting and conflict in space take a back seat to the emotional struggle two very young lovers feel when separated by time and space.
What really makes this anime original is the concept and story. Poignant and realistic, the quiet drama that takes place as the two young characters learn to cope with their separation and loneliness is emotionally stirring without the need for overblown melodrama. The emotional state of the characters is at the forefront of this anime even during the action sequences, as choreography, sound, art and color create a deep atmosphere that keeps the mood of this anime right on track.
The art of this anime is slightly hit-or-miss, though one can hardly find fault with the vividly beautiful backgrounds, the multi-hued clouds in the sky at sunset or even the fantastically rendered battle robots in space. Unfortunately, where the art is at its sketchiest is the character art, which is perhaps the simplest art in the anime. There are discrepancies between distance shots and close ups, and at times the characters don’t really fit on the CGI backgrounds. The case is similar with the animation. While battle sequences have a ballet-like smoothness to them, character movement is sometimes jerky. Overall, though, these flaws are minor in relation to the fantastic directing and style of this anime.
Simple yet satisfying, Voices of a Distant Star wraps an amazing anime experience into a tidy 25-minute package. Despite its science fiction elements, this anime is at its heart a romantic coming-of-age story, and fans looking for action and epic space battles may want to go elsewhere. However, for most anime fans, Voices of a Distant Star should not be missed.