VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR (2002)

 

Format:  25-minute featurette with substantial DVD extras

 

Rating: PG-13 (GV)

 

Type: Sci-Fi (mecha)/Romance

 

American Production: ADV Films

 

Japanese Production:  MangaZoo

 

Grading

 

Premise:

A

Story:

A-

Writing:

A

Character Design:

C

Mecha Design:

B

Animation:

B

Artistic Merits:

B

English Dub:

A-

Musical Score:

A

Songs:

A-

 

 

Humor Content:

n/a

Action Content:

B+

Drama Content:

A-

 

 

DVD Presentation:

C

DVD Extras:

A-

 

 

OVERALL:

A-

 

Synopsis

(NOTE: This review contains more of a spoiler than most!)

 

      The year is 2046 and Earth is at war with the alien Tarsians, who wiped out a survey team sent to investigate a set of Tarsian ruins found on Mars. Two 15-year-old students, Noboru and Mikako, who have been close friends for years and are starting to develop feelings for each other, become separated when he stays on Earth while she joins a U.N. task force (as a mecha pilot) devoted to pursuing and confronting the Tarsians. Their only means of staying in communication with each other are text messages sent via enhanced cellular phones, but as the distance between them becomes greater the time for the messages to transmit becomes longer. First it’s hours, then months, and then finally 8.6 years. Although Noboru tries to get on with his life, how can he, really, when his first love may still be out there, trying to send a message to him? And how can Mikako cope with the seemingly insurmountable distance between them and the fact that she may never get a message back?

 

The Long View

      The problems inherent in communication over interplanetary and interstellar distances have long been an issue in sci fi movies and series. Some have chosen to step around the problem by inventing vaguely-defined shortcuts like hyperspace or subspace communication, while others have made it a plot point; one example of this is the distress call heard months or years later that nonetheless must be checked out. Voices is a rare entry that instead makes the time lag involved in extremely long distance communication the central premise. In a brilliant masterstroke, creator Makoto Shinkai brings this reality home to the viewers by linking it to cellular text messaging, which is quickly becoming a staple among teens and tech-savvy adults. In a time when instant messaging is becoming commonplace, the hardship of having to wait agonizingly long periods of time for messages from your love could be perceived as an insufferable burden for a relationship. It is here where Voices really strikes to the heart, for this is the dilemma that Noboru faces in the story.

      For as short and simple a story as Voices is, it evokes some potent themes and emotions. Due to a space warp, two messages that Mikako sends only 30 minutes apart arrive more than a year apart, and her last message, sent only a month and a half later by her time, is 8.6 years later for Noboru due to her passage through a second space warp. Thus she does not seem to age in between messages, while Noboru does. Even worse, the fact that Noboru gets at least part of the last message before seeing Mikako again strongly implies that she never makes it back home to him, even though her fate is left in doubt in the end. What kind of emotions would these messages from a time long past have on a person receiving them? And what effect would the realization that the response times to such messages would take years, if not decades, have on the sender? Such themes turn Voices into a remarkably touching tale. Powerfully driving the story home are superior writing merits and a piano-dominated soundtrack that ranks among the most effective I’ve heard for any anime.

      The character design in Voices leaves a bit to be desired, and the one truly unforgivable flaw is that Mikako is still depicted in her school uniform even when piloting her Tracer (mecha) in deep space. The illogic of a 15-year-old piloting a mecha in such circumstances is forgivable as a tip of the hat to classic mecha tradition, but the school uniform thing really annoyed me. Where is the pressure suit? Who in their right mind would allow someone to pilot a state-of-the-art mecha while wearing a skirt? Fortunately the quality of the story is good enough that such a quibble can be overlooked, and the overall artistic merits are quite good. The 3D CGI action sequences where Mikako must duel the Tarsians are a particular highlight, executed with fluid and exciting animation. Even the battle scenes (which get a bit bloody, hence the PG-13 rating) are subordinate to the story, though, as what should be the climatic battle is overshadowed by the words of Mikako and Noboru as they contemplate their long-distance connection. That the musical score doesn’t change during this and the earlier battle scenes is a reminder of where the priorities of Voices lie: this is a dramatic story that just happens to have some good mecha battles.

      The English dub for Voices is superb; although the meaning is changed a bit in places, it is at least as effective as the Japanese vocals, if not moreso, in provoking an emotional reaction. The one downfall of the English dub (and the only reason why it doesn’t get a full A rating) is that it does not include subtitles for text that appears on-screen, such as Mikako’s messages, a newspaper that appears in one scene, or a recruitment poster that appears in another. Being able to read this text isn’t essential for appreciating the story but it can provide you further details. For this reason I recommend viewing Voices subtitled before you view it dubbed, and pause the screen long enough to read the message subtitles – but definitely watch it dubbed, too. The one flaw with the subtitles is that the subtitles for the great song which plays in the late stages can get muddled with the translation of what the characters are saying at the same time. I recommend watching that part twice, once where you pay attention to the characters and once where you pay attention to the song.

      Although the DVD alleges to have an “English with song subtitles” option, I did not see the subtitles for the song pop up during the English dub. This was a disappointment. The DVD set-up can also be criticized for not having the “jump to chapter” option that is standard on most DVDs of any length. This is balanced back to an overall Average rating by the playing of a lengthy segment of the theme music on the menu screen and the Company Previews screen.

      Voices certainly deserves to be considered one of the best anime of 2003 based solely on its own merits, but it is also especially remarkable because it is the product of one man. Makoto Shinkai, a former computer game designer, did all of the writing, artwork, and animation himself over a period of seven months and even joined his fiancée in voicing the main characters in the included Director’s Cut. To date this is a unique occurrence in mainstream anime, and the quality of the project has raised a considerable debate about whether or not Shinkai-san has started a new trend. That he was able to make something like this on his own has certainly raised eyebrows in the industry.

 

DVD Extras

      Included on the DVD is a bonus short titled She and Her Cat, which is available in Digest, 3-Minute, and 5-Minute subtitled versions. It is an earlier monochrome animated work by the creator of Voices which concerns the thoughts of a cat about his life and the young woman that is his human partner. Much rougher by comparison to Voices, with some childlike effects, although the writing and style give the viewer a clear indication of where Voices came from. It is voiced by the creator and his fiancée.

      Other extras include:

·         Company previews

·         Interview with creator

·         Original Japanese trailers

·         Original production animatic

·         Director’s Cut (An exact replay of the feature where the creator and his fiancée perform the lead Japanese vocals)

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Mikako

Cynthia Martinez

Noboru

Adam Conlon

Lysithea Announcer*

Donna Burke

 

      * - also the announcer in the Japanese voice track

 

 

 

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