Voices Of A Distant Star

2000, Japan

Set in the year 2046, Voices Of A Distant Star follows a young mecha pilot named Mikako as she travels throughout the solar system battling a mysterious alien race.  When she can, she sends e-mail to her high school boyfriend Noboru, who is still on Earth.  However, as she travels farther out into space, it takes longer and longer for Noboru to receive her messages. They both begin questioning how their relationship is going to survive the time and distance between them, and if they’ll ever see eachother again.  Even if they do, Mikako will still be a teenager while Noboru will have grown old (due to Mikako’s faster than light travels).

Now, you might have noticed something in the previous paragraph.  I mention mecha, aliens, and space battles, but only barely.  That’s because those things are not the focus of Voices….  They’re in there, but they serve as a backdrop for the anime’s true focus.  The core of Voices… is the relationship between Mikako and Noboru and how they try to keep it alive despite the barriers between them.  This is what makes Voices… truly resonate with the viewer.

With Voices…, Makoto Shinkai, who wrote, directed, edited, and animated the film on his Power Mac (go Apple!), has crafted a tender story of romance and hope.  Even with a running time of less than 25 minutes, Shinkai invests considerable depth into the two characters and their relationship.  Rather then dive right into the action, he takes his time building things up.  Small details and interactions are what Shinkai focuses on—a rainy afternoon spent in a shelter, a bike ride together, going to the convenience store—and it’s these little details that make the couple’s romance so involving.

As Mikako heads deeper into space, she often thinks back to her time with Noboru, as well as what he will be doing when he receives her message years after she sends it.  Thanks to Shinkai’s patient development, these scenes are poignant and heartbreaking, but never melodramatic or saccharine.  When the anime ends, it does so on a bittersweet note that feels both satisfying and saddening.  Admittedly, some might find the open ending a bit of a cop out, but I found it quite beautiful and true to the work.

I got the same feeling watching this that I did when I saw Donnie Darko.  Not because the two films are similar (far from it) or because both feel fresh and original (which they do), but because the same sense of passion and creativity flow through both.  It’s apparent that Voices… is a labor of love.  It shows in the production and animation, as Shinkai obviously has the technical skills.  But more importantly, it shows in the characters and their plight.

I also found myself thinking of Hayao Miyazaki’s work at times.  I know it’s pretty presumptuous to compare a relative unknown to animation’s master, but Shinkai shows the same ability to create a rich emotional experience through his animation.  While I was watching an interview with Shinkai, it became obvious that this is a talented young man who takes anime seriously as an artform, who wants to create art that is both inspired and inspiring.  With Voices…, he’s off to an excellent start.