Mokoto Shinkai’s been a huge name in the anime community lately. Scarcely a week goes by without some news about Your Name. breaking some record or opening in a new country. While Your Name. is the only Shinkai anime to get any kind of mainstream attention, it’s not the only great Shinkai anime. Back in 2002, Shinkai made an OVA called Voices of a Distant Star that I’ll be looking at today.
In the future, humanity is at war with a group of aliens known as the Tarsians. A middle school girl named Mikako Nagamine is recruited by the UN to pilot a mech in a squadron going far out into space to search for Tarsians. Mikako leaves behind her close friend Noboru Terao, but the two continue to communicate by email. However, the time it takes for each email to arrive grows the further Mikako gets from Earth to the point that it takes years to arrive.
Like most of Shinkai’s work, Voices is ultimately a love story about two people who can never be together. It’s not unrequited love as much as a love that seems fated not to be. Shinkai excels at these kind of stories and Voices is no exception. Mikako and Noboru share under 10 minutes of screentime together out of the 30 minute OVA, but their relationship is built through their inner thoughts after Mikako leaves. Their emails serve to connect them, but the time delay makes it more and more difficult for them to hold onto that. The tragedy in their situation is inherently powerful, and Shinkai knows how to use it to its fullest extent. Some of the most emotionally moving moments in the OVA are when Noboru and Mikako are thinking about each other. At those points, it almost feels like they’re connected in spite of all the distance between them. Even when Mikako is light years away and Noboru hasn’t even gotten a message from her in years, that feeling of connection remains.
This feeling of connection contrasts with the loneliness of Mikako and Noboru when they’re separated. Aside from a UN commander who never actually appears, Mikako and Noboru are the only named characters in the OVA and it sometimes feels like they’re the only people in the universe. The direction reinforces this with scenes of them seeming completely isolated, especially when Mikako’s in space piloting her mech. The way these scenes are framed enhances the story and conveys their sense of loneliness just as well as any dialogue could.
The animation in Voices was done entirely by Shinkai himself on a Power Mac G4 and is alright. It’s nothing amazing and the character designs are pretty rough, but it’s effective enough. The CGI used for the mech battles is pretty good for when it came out, but looks kind of dated now. The battles themselves are pretty well done, although they’re not the main focus by far. While the character designs are rough, the background art is excellent. There are beautiful shots throughout the OVA that could easily be used as desktop wallpapers. The music was done by Shinkai’s frequent collaborator Tenmon, and suits the story well. It’s primarily quiet piano pieces that stay in the background but set the mood perfectly.
Voices of a Distant Star may have been Shinkai’s first full length anime, but it’s also one of his best. It tells a focused, poignant story with hints of Shinkai’s later work. It’s a great anime that I would recommend to almost anyone.
Voices of a Distant Star is available for streaming on Crunchyroll. It was previously licensed by ADV but is now out of print.
Final Score: 9/10