AKA: Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Down Below, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo, Children Who Chase Stars, Journey to Agartha
Year Released: 2011
Running Time: 116 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, The Place Promised In Our Early Days, Song of the Sea, Last Exile, Nadia: Secret of Blue Water, Patapata Hikousen no Bouken, The Secret of Kells, Atlantis: The Lost Empire
-The Japanese language track was used in this review.
-This is the longest movie that Makoto Shinkai has ever directed or created.
-Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the first Shinkai film to be licensed by Sentai Filmworks and is the first film to be licensed by that company in their post-ADV Films days.
-Fandom Bonus: The name Agartha should be extremely familiar to those who know about Shinkai’s older works. That’s the same name as one of the planets during the final battle in Voices of a Distant Star. Also, parts of Asuna’s hometown certainly resemble parts of Itomori in Your Name which would be released five years after this film was released.
-Two voice actors in this film have been in other Shinkai works. Miyu Irino plays both Shun and Shin and he would eventually voice Takao in the Garden of Words. This is the second film featuring Kazuhiko Inoue who voices Mr. Morisaki. Inoue was previously in The Place Promised In Our Early Days as he voiced Prof. Tomizawa. Those same people are best known for playing Haku from Spirited Away and Kakashi from Naruto respectively for those scoring at home.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Boy, it’s kind of funny watching Shin flying around and slicing up the Izoku in the final act of the film. One can say he had no other choice to attack some titanic man-eating monsters. Funny enough, the original Attack on Titan manga came out two years before Children Who Chase Lost Voices, but this film predates the anime by two years. Who’s influencing whom?
Iridium Eye Blog: Achievement unlocked!
Me: Achievement? What did I achieve?
Iridium Eye Blog: You have reviewed all of Makoto Shinkai’s filmography so far.
Me: [counts films on my fingers] That’s right! I can’t believe it. Wait, does this count the She and Her Cat TV series?
Iridium Eye Blog: Nope. He didn’t direct that one despite being the original creator.
Me: Okay, fair enough.
[The previous transcript was entirely fictional]
This certainly was an accomplishment. I have reviewed everything that Makoto Shinkai has directed. It started when I discovered The Garden of Words for the first time last year before re-watching his older works and watching his newer movies. Interestingly enough, two of my most liked reviews so far have been from Shinkai (She and Her Cat and Your Name). This is an animator I’ve followed a long time ago when I was knee deep into anime. There was just one film that I hadn’t seen yet that I just had to review.
Let’s go to Agartha.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices is about a girl named Asuna Watase. She is a high schooler who’s father died prior to the start of the film and her mom works overtime as a nurse. Asuna is very bookish, a star student, and she has a little cave outside of her countryside town where she stashes books and a radio. This radio in particular is powered by a blue crystal where she hears some mysterious music from an unknown source. In this town, there have been sightings of mysterious creatures including one that almost attacks her, but she is saved by an enigmatic boy named Shun who also owns a similar crystal. He’s from a world called Agartha which is beneath Earth’s surface and he tells Asuna that one can wish for their dead loved ones to come back to life. Unfortunately, he dies not long after they first meet. There’s also a task force around dealing with these creatures called the Arch Angels and a man named Ryuji Morisaki who is Asuna’s substitute teacher who has a goal to revive his dead wife. They go to Agartha which is a strange world filled with gatekeeper deities called Quetzalcoatls, some magic, and flying arks. How will Asuna and Mr. Morisaki survive this strange world and make their respective wishes come true?
I’ve said it before in my Your Name review, but I get bored talking about the visuals when it comes to Shinkai films. It’s amazing as to be expected from that director. The animation is wonderful with so many vivid colors, fluid movements, and so much effort with traditional animation with well-integrated CGI. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is easily one of the best films visually in his career and one can argue it’s in his top three alongside Your Name and The Garden of Words (the order of those three is entirely up to you). This was also Shinkai’s first stab at the fantasy genre and I’d argue that this is his most action-packed movie with the fight scenes or chases. I don’t even think Voices of a Distant Star had that much fighting and the main character Mikako was a mecha pilot in that short film. The battle scenes are very fluid and would put so many action anime series to shame.
The characters aren’t mind-blowing, but I cared enough to know what happens to them. Asuna is certainly a fine protagonist. I liked how hard-working she was and independent she can be to make up for her lack of a father. It was sad how she’d be home alone more often than not. I also enjoyed how it was a flaw in how she’s trying too hard to be good which I can relate to that. Shun, despite his short screen time did have a huge effect with being this caring individual while also being a strong fighter. He was really the catalyst in getting Asuna to find out about the hidden civilization of Agartha. His younger brother Shin is the opposite. He’s a selfish person who has a hatred against “Topsiders”, or people who are from earth. Mr. Morisaki is one individual who was a bit of a complex character. I did find him to be creepy a bit with his goal and his obsession of the myths of various underworlds (Hades, Shambala, etc), but his desire to see his wife again is certainly sympathetic. He did some questionable things, but he was certainly far from being evil.
So with all the good things to be said about Children Who Chase Lost Voices, this would be on par with some of his other best films, right? You’d be sadly mistaken.
I thought there was so much crammed stuff in less than two hours. There were a bunch of background characters particularly the Agarthans who were so underdeveloped and they just faded into the background. The world-building should’ve had more explanation with some of the cultural aspects. The whole family situation with Shin just came and went. There’s a part of me that would’ve liked to seen this as a TV series or at least an OVA detailing all the elements of Agartha and the civilians. There were some really predictable elements like Morisaki wanting to go to Agartha even before he officially goes down there when he sees Shin. His involvement with the Arch Angels was also painfully obvious from the get go.
However, I think the biggest flaw of Lost Voices would be the fact that it suffers from unoriginal elements. Say what you will about Makoto Shinkai. Even the movies of his that I found to be overrated at least had unique elements to it. Children Who Chase Lost Voices didn’t feel like a Shinkai movie. This felt like Shinkai trying WAY too hard to be like Hayao Miyazaki. Seriously, the art style looks way more Ghibli-like than Comix Wave. Agartha looks like a mix between locales of Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, and Nausicaa with non-Ghibli stuff like Haibane Renmei and Avatar: The Last Airbender thrown in for good measure. Even some of Tenmon’s music sounded like something Joe Hisaishi would write. Sure, this film looks great regardless, but I could play this movie to people who don’t know that much about anime and I would guarantee you that people might mistake this for something Miyazaki would make.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices was a good film, but it suffers from imitating other anime movies. The visuals and music are certainly great, but the latter wasn’t Tenmon’s best work. The story did make me care and there were some powerful moments, but some parts were jumbled up. I wasn’t a fan of the art style as much as I felt that Shinkai was obviously fanboying on Ghibli so much that I just shook my head. Children Who Chase Lost Voices didn’t disappoint me as much as The Garden of Words, but there could’ve been so much more to make this film better.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re a Makoto Shinkai fan.
Add 1 point if you like fantasy movies.
Subtract 2-3 points if you don’t like blatant imitation.
-Great ending theme
-Blatant Ghibli fanboying
-Muddled world building
-Lack of development in the background characters
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: Children Who Chase Lost Voices got a TV-PG rating, and it’s fair despite pushing it a few times. The fight scenes are some of the bloodiest I’ve ever seen in a Shinkai film, and if this were done in a live-action context then it might have been a hard PG-13 to an R. There’s also some swearing in the Japanese version which shocked me a bit because the only other film of his with profanity in the original language track would be Your Name. Some moments are really scary like the Izoku monsters with how they appear in the shadows or one of the Quetzalcoatl eats a dead animal as it continues Agartha’s life cycle. Some of the imagery can also be disturbing which I won’t get into because it involves spoilers.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is property of Makoto Shinkai, Comix Wave, and Sentai Filmworks. The picture is from iTunes and is property of Sentai Filmworks.