TL;DR – Mikako is recruited into the UN Space Army to battle an alien race that is waging war against Earth and the rest of the solar system. She boards the spacecraft, Lysithea, to chase down the aliens, and she leaves behind her closest friend Noboru. The pair communicate via email, but as the Lysithea travels deeper into space, the emails take longer to reach each other.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Long before there was Your Name, Weathering With You, and The Garden of Words there was Voices of a Distant Star. Director, Producer, Writer and Animator Makato Shinkai created this sci-fi original video animation (OVA) that is a heart-rending tale of a long-distance relationship taken to the extreme. The production of this OVA is made more impressive by the fact that Shinkai created it basically by himself using off-the-shelf software packages on his personal computer (he even voiced the male character with his girlfriend doing the voice of the female character in the original version. Professional voice actors were used in the DVD release). It is a testimony to his vision, patience and skill that he has created a film that rivals larger studio production efforts.
The story follows Mikako Nagamine and Noboru Terao, close high school friends who grow up during a time when aliens known as Tarsians are at war with humans. Mikako becomes a pilot of the Tracer robotic mecha and joins the UN Space Army corps aboard the Lysithea spaceship. Noboru remains on Earth, though he wishes to join the UN Space Army and reunite with Mikako.
They communicate using mobile phones sending emails that take longer to send and receive as the Lysithea journeys further into the dark reaches of space. The film opens with Mikako in her Tracer orbiting a planet in the Sirius Solar System. She sends a message to Noboru knowing it will take almost nine years to reach him.
The mecha animation and the vastness of space is captured in stunning detail by Shinkai. I have read it took him seven months to create Voices of a Distant Star, which is remarkable given the quality of the end product (I envisage he sacrificed all manner of sleep to accomplish this and drank lots of coffee).
What he has also managed to do is not simply deliver eye candy, but explore the emotional depth and connection of human relationships. It is this depth that sets this film apart from other mecha animes.
The growing despair between Mikako and Noboru, the heartache of whether they will ever see each other again, and the reaction every time Noboru’s mobile buzzes to indicate receipt of an email culminates magnificently in a final scene where we see Mikako face off against one of the Tarsians.
Though it is not entirely clear, the Tarsian she faces appears to have the ability to be a doppelganger and transforms into a mirror image of Mikako. This triggers memories for Mikako and has her pleading with the doppelganger to allow her to see Noboru again and confess her love for him.
The doppelganger appears to show her a life that she could have lived. For those with an astute eye, you will see the doppelganger version of Mikako wears a wedding ring.
When the alarms on Mikako’s Tracer go off, the spell is broken and Mikako battles the Tarsian one-on-one before rushing back to the Lysithea and the rest of the human spaceship armada, who are being attacked by a large Tarsian force. The final battle scene is accompanied by beautiful piano music and an ongoing imaginary dialogue between Mikako and Noboru.
“Noboru, we are so far apart,” says Mikako. “But maybe thoughts can overcome time and distance.”
“You mean, do I think something like that can happen?” asks Noboru.
“One thought,” says Mikako. “Yes.”
“One thought, what would it be?” asks Noboru.
“It would be…”
“I am here,” says Mikako and Noboru together.
Brilliant stuff. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bit of dust in my eye…
8 out of 10