OVA October: Voices from a Distant Star

Note before we start: This will contain spoilers for the OVA Voices from a Distant Star or Hoshi no Koe. Please read at your own discretion.

Hiya folks, those who’ve been around the blog more then once can guess where this is going. New month, new theme for me to talk a bit more about anime. This time being about OVA’s or Original Video Animations – the stuff that went straight to VHS or DVD verses being a commercial theatrical or television release. If you want something to shake up your watch habits, OVA’s are where to go.

So here I am chipping away at my OVA’s that have sat on my list to be watched for so long. Considering how far the director has come, I couldn’t think of a better OVA to start with then Hoshi no Koe or Voices from a Distant Star the 2002 production of Makoto Shinkai. I know die-hards will fight me on this one, but I conflated this early piece with the 2004 movie The PLace Promised in Our Early Days – so I thought I had seen it before now. Turns out I was wrong, though now I understand a bit as to why I confused the two. A lot of shared traits in terms of plots and characters, same director, etc. I digress.

Back to Hoshi no Koe, it’s about Noboru and Mikako two childhood friends on the cusp of going to high school. Mikako due to her academic prowess however is selected for a special unit to fight aliens that attacked humanity. The duo attempt to keep in touch via cell phone emails, which progressively take longer and longer to receive and write as Mikako is led further away from Earth. Thus the duo struggle, with the longest distance a relationship could have.

Technically speaking, there is both a certain charm and chagrin to this piece. You can tell from the opening sequence that this was a labor of love. It has a very strong sense of self, from the story, to the setting and even how the blending of 2D and 3D was done. At specific points there’s a disquieting harmony to this blend really pushing the idea that this very well could be the future for all we know. At others, it just creates too much dissonance where I had to stop and pause to full read the scene and understand what was going on.

The character designs are simple, and at their core understandable. Mikako looks like the 15 year old girl she’s suppose to be. Noboru looks like a 15 year old, then 24 year old dude he ends up being. However, there are very obvious off-model moments that can eclipse your viewing experiance if you’re not aware of what this OVA is and represents. It’s certainly not for everyone.

What I found most interesting is this was framed as a story of a long distant relationship, with both characters mutually pining for one another. It’s clear that in Mikako’s case, from our limited understanding – Noboru was all she had. Almost all she will ever have because she is perpetually fifteen years old, and isolated in a battle field made by people and aliens she’s never encountered before. That has to have done something to her.

The thing is – Mikako is not the only thing Noboru has. He’s shown to grow beyond fifteen, to twenty four years old. While it’s clear that he still loves Mikako, she is his first love I’d imagine – it’s not the same. It was clear he checked his phone every day awaiting her messages as any love struck teenager would do, but at some point he stopped. He knew the messages would come, someday, but he would never know when. That anticipation faded as new experiences, people, places, his own life began filling the space that Mikako once occupied.

That final scene, with the final message I didn’t read that as an ‘OMG it’s her!’ kinda of response from him. I read it as an ‘Oh my god… it’s her‘ reaction. Less of a welcome reprieve from the day, and more of an unwelcome intrusion on his otherwise progressing life. The fact he’s not clamoring for his phone the way he once would, his calm reaction, his shadow crossing the phone screen, and even the hesitation before clicking opening it’s a showcase on how he’s changed since that first message.

One of my favorite scenes, simple, beautiful, and very Shinkai-esque.

It’s cruel, because both characters know that things are not the way it use to be. Mikako desperately wants Noboru to remember her, think fondly of her and things like that, but knows that’s a hard ask. Noboru based on his reaction after her second to last message, and the fact he seems unable to reply to her, feels a sense of guilt. If he doesn’t remember Mikako, who will? She’s however many lightyears away, and news of her travels at eight years (or more) per message.

In a way, it reminded me of people who send texts to deceased loved one’s phone numbers. They’re well aware the messages aren’t going to reach that person directly, but rather it’s the feeling behind those messages that they want to transmit. It’s poetic in a sense, but also beautifully tragic. I’d even say that Hoshi no Ko was a predictor of such things, if the clues in the background are anything to go by.

It’s also worth noting that I couldn’t find this one with subs anywhere. So I watched the English dub which is an absolute rarity for me. It was okay. Adam Conlon’s voice was not the voice I would have used for a teenage boy, but for adult Noboru it was fine. I liked Cynthia Martinez as Mikako, there’s a certain distinctive tone to her voice that worked in this production. The blatant mispronunciation of ‘Mikako’ and ‘Noboru’ got me though, I did wince more then once since it broke a scene or two.

The last thing is that Hoshi no Koe, is the OVA to look at to get a grasp of what makes a Makoto Shinkai film, a Makoto Shinkai film. The intentional blending of 2D and 3D as needed for one, as clumsy as it once was is very charming and a hallmark. The elements of a location being repeated but in new context, the important of the weather, seasons, and the fact it’s more relationship focused then action are all present. Of course, all these factors being expanded and developed on in a more polished sense in later projects.

Overall, Hoshi no Koe when you know what you’re looking at is a rough cut gem. Without the background context, and now big name behind it, it’s a bit of a tougher sell. I highly doubt I’d be as kind with my review and thoughts if Makoto Shinkai hadn’t become famous in the past couple of years. All that being said, it’s a recommendable watch. I’m not going to be re-watching it any time soon, but I wouldn’t mind re-visiting this one with a friend.


One comment

  1. It’s cool to see bloggers talking about the earlier works of Makoto Shinkai. That was my first exposure to his work when I really got into anime. It’s amazing how popular he’s become over a decade after that short film came out. Yes, the animation has aged, and he didn’t have a studio at the time, but you can see his style and motifs echoing in his subsequent movies. Good review!


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