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ADV Films presents
Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

"I'm not in that world anymore."
- Mikako Nagamine (Sumi Muto)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: June 08, 2003

Stars: Sumi Muto, Chihiro Suzuki, Donna Burke, Makoto Shinkai, Miko Shinohara, Cynthia martinez, Adam Conlon
Director: Makoto Shinkai

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (13+)
Run Time: 00h:25m:02s
Release Date: June 10, 2003
UPC: 702727038624
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Traditionally, animation has always been a collaborative effort, with a team working under a director to create character designs, key art, backgrounds and all the animation artwork itself. With Voices of a Distant Star, creator Makoto Shinkai, a former video game designer, broke new ground in the genre, producing this entire twenty-five minute work on his Power Mac over the course of seven months, even doing the voice-acting with the help of his fiancée (later rerecorded). Although the solo achievement is merit enough for creating interest in the title, both its writing and execution are also exceptionally well done, making this a rewarding viewing experience, even for those to whom some of the concepts presented are unfamiliar.

While still at his previous job, Shinkai recognized that the tools he was using had the potential to be used for feature animation, and produced a monotone short entitled She and Her Cat, which gained critical acclaim, including two Grand Prix wins in Japan. This inspired the creation of a longer, full-color piece, and in 2001 he began work on Voices of a Distant Star, which at its heart, is a love story that spans light years.

Set in 2046, Voices of a Distant Star tells the story of teenagers Mikako Nagamine and Noboru Tereo, who have known each other since childhood, but whose relationship has grown into something more than friendship. The potential for their future together would, in a normal world, be an inevitability, but they face a new and trying dynamic that will test the strengths of their feelings for each other.

In the recent past, a race known as the Tarsians invaded the solar system, wiping out Earth's colonies on Mars. In the years since, humankind has learned from the invaders, and created faster-than-light ships which are being sent into the far reaches of space to battle the aliens, and Mikako is one of the mecha pilots who will be sent to fight for her race. Leaving Noboru behind on Earth, she is still able to keep in touch with him through text messages on their cell phones, but as the distance she travels from Earth increases, so does the length of time it takes to send and receive messages. Separated by the vastness of space, days and months turn to years for their signals to cross the void between them. Still, the two try to maintain their relationship, and overcome the challenge to somehow remaining connected while worlds apart.

Voices of a Distant Star is a compelling and thought-provoking piece. There is a solid scientific background employed in this production, using the concepts of communication delays across vast distances to excellent effect, while concurrently exploring the effects of faster-than-light travel theories. Despite the presence of mecha, space battles and aliens, these but form the backdrop for an examination of the emotional bonds between humans, and how being separated by time and space affect them. As the interval between each brief message grows, so does the time to consider the relationship, to face the distinct possibility that the two may never reunite, and face the realization that even if they did, their relative ages would have shifted due to the time distortions induced by FTL travel. Settings and science aside, this is essentially a very human story.

The artwork is bold and colorful, with a nice blend of 3D and traditional animation, with a great sense of detail in the settings. The script evidences far more maturity and cohesiveness than one would expect from a first time work—the pacing is well done, the mood somewhat somber and contemplative, without becoming heavy-handed, and the sensitivity to the situation and characters' reactions to it are believable and touching. If there is any disappointment, it is only that there is not more of this show, which could further develop the characters and the universe the story exists in. That said, it does not feel at all incomplete and stands on its own very well. Voices of a Distant Star presents a pioneering effort, as an undistilled product of the voice and vision of its creator.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For the transfer on this disc, ADV secured the original disc files, meaning that this is about as high a quality as possible for the title. Colors are gorgeous, with a wonderful richness and depth, and black levels are suitably solid. There are no defects to speak of, aside from a minor amount of aliasing, and the very few anomalies present are part of the original animation.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
Japanese, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in both Japanese and English 5.1 mixes, and here too, this disc excels. The soundstage is nicely full, with appropriate depth and spread, utilising directionality effectively, without being gimmicky. The sound is immersive, dialogue is clear and easy to discern, and the excellent musical soundtrack blends perfectly with the sound effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
4 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Full Metal Panic, RahXephon, Sakura Wars TV, King of Bandit Jing, Neo Ranga, Noir
Packaging: Scanavo
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Director's cut
  2. She and Her Cat animated short
  3. Interview with Makoto Shinkai
  4. Original production animatic
  5. Reversable cover
Extras Review: ADV has included a great selection of extras for this release, starting with an alternate director's version using the original voice acting of Makoto Shinkai and his fiancée, Miko Shinohara. Unfortunately, due to what seems to be an authoring glitch, this audio track is only present on the animatic version (see below), with the director's version playing the same 5.1 track as the regular version. I assume ADV will be correcting this on future pressings, since it is a key selling feature.

Not one, but three versions of Shinkai's award winning short, She and Her Cat are present—a two minute digest, plus three and five minute cuts. Narrated by the cat, he examines his relationship with his owner. This is a brilliant piece that works in all its variations, also voiced by Makoto Shinkai and Miko Shinohara.

An 8m:14s interview with Makoto Shinkai is also included, in which he explains his motivation and the ideas behind the project.

The 22m:59s animatic version of Voices of a Distant Star combines black-and-white computer rendered sequences from the finished film with storyboards, and has the two-channel original soundtrack, which compares favorably to the release version, both in its similarities and differences. Although there are two subtitles streams indicated, none are present.

Finally, four trailers are included, running seven and a half minutes total, along with the standard ADV trailer collection featuring Full Metal Panic, RahXephon, Sakura Wars TV, King of Bandit Jing, Neo Ranga, Noir.

Packaging includes a reversible cover with She and Her Cat artwork.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Makoto Shinkai's Voices of a Distant Star is an engaging look at the complexities of the human relationship, as distance and time come into play. While its futuristic setting and scientific foundations add to the atmosphere, at its heart is an endearing love story. ADV has done a great job giving this pioneering solo animation effort a full slate of extras, and a wonderful transfer. Highly recommended.


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