AKA: Hoshi no Koe, Voices of a Star
Year Released: 2002
Distributor: Unlicensed (DVD formally available by ADV Films, but streaming on Crunchyroll)
Running Time: 23 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Saikano, The Place Promised In Our Early Days, Vandread, Gunbuster, Castle in the Sky
-Voices of a Distant Star is streaming on Crunchyroll.-There are two different Japanese language tracks and an English dub in the original DVD. I used the 2nd language track for this review, but I have seen this film with all the language tracks, so they will be taken into consideration.
-Voices of a Distant Star was filmed entirely by Makoto Shinkai himself before he had his own production team. This was produced and animated by a Power Mac G4 with the process taking seven months.
-Australian singer/voice actress Donna Burke voices the Lysithea operator in every language track. She’s no stranger to Japanese media because she’s provided her song “Star Gate Heaven” for the Dance Dance Revolution series and she does the voice of Nanoha’s English-speaking scepter Raising Heart from the Lyrical Nanoha series. Also, she contributed a song to the Haibane Renmei soundtrack with “Wondering”.
-This is the first Makoto Shinkai production to get international distribution. You could add his first short She and her Cat, but that’s just semantics though since it was featured as an extra on the original DVD.
-The Director’s Cut which is the original Japanese dub track has Makoto Shinkai voicing Noboru himself while his first wife Mika Shinohara voices Mikako.
-Fandom bonus: The planet shown during the final fight is Agartha. This name would be reused as a country in his later work Children Who Chase Lost Voices.
We meet again, Makoto Shinkai. I felt nostalgic watching this short film from that animator. This was my first exposure to his work in the early part of his career as many of my otaku friends back in the day telling me that it was one of the best anime projects ever. I remember enjoying this a lot, but I wanted to see how this held up much like how I revisited his second feature-length film 5 Centimeters Per Second earlier this year. We’ll be going back in time before he got worldwide acclaim for Your Name and even before he was extolled as the next Hayao Miyazaki.
Voices of a Distant Star takes place in Japan in the year 2047 when the story starts. The UN Army is recruiting people as earth’s army is about to fight against an alien force from a distant solar system called the Tarsians. There are only two characters in the entire short animated film: Noboru Terao and his girlfriend Mikako Nagamine. They are teenagers who are in love, but they are forced to be apart as Mikako enlists in the UN army to fight against the Tarsian forces. The only way for them to communicate is through text messages once she’s in the ether. However, the farther she’s from earth, the longer the text messages reach earth. Each message takes days, months, and even years as she’s lightyears away from home. Noboru waits for each text message to know she’s alive as he ages while she still looks the same as she did when she first enlisted.
The animation looks much better than one would expect for a one-man operation. Much like Sita Sings the Blues, there’s a ton of effort that went into the visual production and is highly creative in the graphics. The 2D animation still looks great. Even though Shinkai would outdo himself in that department with all of his later works including The Place Promised In Our Early Days which would be released two years later. I will say that half of the CGI is starting to show it’s age which does hamper the visuals a bit as this movie looked much better back in the 00s. There were shortcuts with the mouths not being animated as B-roll shots and his penchant for gorgeous scenery hides some of the talking scenes. This is probably the worst looking Shinkai film, but it’s still above average in the animation department despite the age and DIY presentation.
Normally, I would be hesitant when it comes to romantic stuff in action and sci-fi, but this was done very well. I can see that this is the big movie which would set the archetype for future Shinkai works with the distance between lovers. In this case, this is literal distance as this couple becomes galaxies apart. You have Mikako wanting to go back home despite being an effective mecha pilot while Noboru patiently waits and is excited for each message he gets even if they are weeks or a year old before he gets them. Each text matters to him and it becomes one of the only things he lives for while he grows up as Mikako is busy fighting the aliens lightyears away. They even get creative with some alternating dialogue despite not talking or texting each other. The cell phones don’t just become fancy plot devices, they become strong catalysts to keep their relationship alive despite the severely delayed communication as texting is the only way they can communicate with each other. This was well done for a film like this.
Voices of a Distant star does have some issues though. Like I said before, this short film is starting to show it’s age and it’s not just because of the animation quality. The biggest aged element would be the cell phones themselves. For a story that takes place from 2047-2055 throughout the entire short, my smartphone looks way more advanced than their cell phones which look like they are still from the early 00s with their black and white screens and bulkier frames. That was some outdated technology going on in hindsight. I also noticed some typos like a freight train that says “United Nation Spacy” which I found to be a bit laughable. However, the biggest flaw of Voices of a Distant Star despite it not being Makoto Shinkai’s fault is the English dub. This was one of the worst dubs ever. They add unnecessary dialog during scenes that would have pure silence, the acting is mediocre at best, and they make it edgy by adding swears despite the original Japanese language tracks having no obscenities at all. A film of this high quality doesn’t deserve dubbing this shoddy.
The music is a highlight. Regular Shinkai collaborator Tenmon offers beautiful piano-based pieces that really highlight the emotions in this film. There’s also the ending theme “Through the Years and Far Away” by Low (not the Minnesota slowcore band). Despite some of the slightly broken English, the song is quite powerful in it’s sentimentality and is easily the most memorable theme song compared to other themes form his later works. The piano and vocal melodies will get stuck in your head for days in this ballad.
Makoto Shinkai’s mecha tale Voices of a Distant Star is a high mark in his career despite it being one of his first projects. The story is very powerful and creative in this star-faring story. It was a great gender reversal with the guy staying behind and I’ve never seen the concept of texting as a main form of communication being quite poignant in the context of this anime. I’d even go as far as to say this uses romantic elements in a wartime sci-fi setting better than Saikano since Mikako is a stronger individual compared to the crybaby protagonist Chise in that anime series. The production has aged, but the animation is still nothing to sneeze at. You have his signature scenery and photographic 2D animation. The dub and aged technology do bring this down a bit for me as this was slightly better back then. With that being said, if you want to see a powerful anime short film or want to check out Makoto Shinkai’s pre-Garden of Words filmography, then please check this out.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re a Makoto Shinkai fan
Add 1 point if you like atypical romance stories
Subtract 2-3 points if you want more action in your robot fight scenes
-Poignant storylines and romantic elements
-Wonderful 2D animation
-Excellent soundtrack and sound design
-Aged CGI elements
-Outdated technology with the cell phones
-Horrific English dub
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: Teens and up, easily. The fights against the Tarsians do get gory with the aliens bleeding. The English dub has some language despite there being no swearing in the Japanese dubs.
Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.