Makoto Shinkai’s works are known for both their heartrending beauty and tear-jerking romance. After all, some of his most famous films, YOUR NAME, GARDEN OF WORDS, and FIVE CENTIMETERS PER SECOND are gorgeous tributes to nature and love separated by space and time. It’s fair to say that Makoto Shinkai loves to tell the story of romances ripped apart by distance. VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR, his 2002 OVA-turned-standalone manga featuring art by Mizu Sahara, continues this trend. But, this time, the setting is the far reaches of space!
Welcome to 2046!
The UN Space Army selected Mikako Nagamine to participate in a program to fight Tarsians, an unknown alien race. As a part of her training, she must operate a mecha called a Tracer. At the time, Mikako had been a third-year middle school student in the middle of high school entrance exam season. The story takes place mostly through the text messages between Mikako and her middle school friend-turned-love interest, Terao Noboru, who remains on Earth.
On the spaceship Lysithea, the war against the Tarsians and the UN’s desire to learn more about their society draws Mikako farther and farther from Earth, increasing the amount of time required to send her text messages to Terao. Despite this distance, Mikako remains dedicated to Terao, while he slowly emotionally drifts farther away from her in order to cope with the misery of her absence on Earth.
War, what is it good for?
More so than Shinkai’s twenty-five minute OVA, the manga of VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR expands a lot on the characters of Mikako and Terao, giving more context to their relationship and the strain that is caused by Mikako’s participation in the UN Space Army. As the story is richer and longer than the OVA format could allow, the manga allows for the reader to really feel the growing distance between Mikako and Terao. At times, the panels mix between images of one of the characters and dialogue from another, blending together the two narratives beyond their physical distance.
The story, overall, is heartbreaking, exciting, and thought-provoking. Beyond the quasi-impossibility of Terao and Mikako’s relationship, the story is bursting with interesting images of a fantastical future of mechas, aliens, and ruins of extraterrestrial cities on faraway planets. Even though people on Earth insist that the UN Space Army’s project is for the betterment of human society, Mikako is not quite sure that humans really are acting for the greater good. Through Mikako, Shinkai really questions what it means to do something for this so-called “greater good.”
Star-Crossed Lovers with a Feminist Twist
The majority of VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR centers around Terao and Mikako and their straining relationship. Due to the length of this standalone manga, as opposed to the OVA format, both protagonists receive greater character development in this adaptation. Mikako is a determined and dedicated person. She works hard and appears to be good at everything, but she doesn’t let it get to her head. She truly wants for nothing more than to return back to Earth.
Terao attempts to live for Mikako on Earth. He attends the high school that she had dreamt of attending and participates in the kendo club without her. Yet, Terao slowly falls apart, removing himself from contact with Mikako in order to maintain his own sanity.
The manga also features more side characters than in the original OVA. I was particularly impressed by the inclusion of Mikako’s best friend on Lysithea, Hisa, and her commander, Ms. Misa, two strong women who support Mikako as she copes with being away from home and from Terao.
Ultimately, VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR is a classic, wartime story of star-crossed lovers. However, unlike these classic stories, the manga inverts conventional gender roles. Our war hero is instead Mikako, a middle school girl.
Visions of the Future
VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR is a visual delight. Sahara beautifully used watercolors in the color spreads at the beginning and the middle of the manga. The watercolors give the images at the same time a kind of peaceful lightness and tranquil sadness. The line art itself is also beautiful throughout the manga. The art, in general, is very crisp and well-defined. The style is a bit different from the Makoto Shinkai’s style in the original OVA, but I found I preferred the mangaka’s sharper lined, and less rounded, character design.
In particular, I found the eyes drawn by Sahara extremely expressive. I felt like I was experiencing the characters’ pain, hope, and fear. Just looking at Mikako’s eyes in the watercolor spread above, you can just feel her hopelessness and misery. She feels separated from the rest of the world, floating in space.
Final Thoughts on VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR
Overall, I very much enjoyed reading VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR. I had actually never seen the OVA before reading the manga. But, after finishing, I decided to watch it to get a full perspective on the story. Honestly, I think I actually preferred the art style and the character depth of the manga adaptation to the original OVA itself! To fans of Makoto Shinkai or the original OVA, I would highly recommend reading this manga. If you’re looking for Sci-Fi, mecha action, the manga has its moments. But, these moments take second to larger themes of relationships and distance.
Nonetheless, for any audience, VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR is an emotional and gorgeous read. Despite the (hilariously) outdated usage of early-2000 cell phones in 2046, VOICES OF A DISTANT STAR is a timeless story. Not only does it bring the classic star-crossed lover trope to the stars themselves, but it challenges our notions of war and race on a galactic level. It reminds us that, in a world full of war and unknowns, we must remember the small joys of life. Most of all, we must never forget to love, even against all of space and time.
The manga is slated to release February 20th. You can pre-order a copy here!
Featured image courtesy of Vertical Comics.