Versus: Makoto Shinkai’s Voices Of A Distant Star

It’s obvious that movies and books are two entirely different mediums with their own set limitations, so it’s unfair to compare the two.

However, when it comes down to transforming the original source from one medium to another, it’s interesting to see how the individual creating this transition interprets the work and remakes it in order to make it become their own art.

In this case, (if the title didn’t already give it away) I’ll be comparing Makoto Shinkai’s independent anime film, Voices of a Distant Star (Hoshi No Koe) and its manga adaptation illustrated by one of my favourite mangaka, Mizu Sahara (who is also known under other aliases including Sumomo Yumeka), which was made three years later.

After watching the film and reading the manga, I took a bit of time looking up some interviews with Makoto Shinkai discussing his works. I came across imagine-nation’s interview with Shinkai from July 2011.

According to the interview, Voices of a Distant Star was his third film that he worked on for eight months on his own. Shinkai stated that his script was twenty minutes long and that if he’d stayed at his current job at the time (a graphic designer for a video game company), it would have taken him over a year to complete the film.

Two other cool tidbits I learned from the interview were:

  1. Shinkai desired to create a film that would make him feel comforted when viewing it.
  2. The ending of the film where the two protagonists’ voices interlap to say “I’m here” reflected Shinkai’s loneliness of having spent so much time on his passion project and how he wanted someone somewhere to feel affected by his film.

Knowing that Shinkai wrote, created, directed and originally voiced one of the protagonists before it was re-dubbed with professional voice actors, it made me appreciate the film more in my second viewing of it.

For his first independent anime film, it wasn’t perfect.

It was a labour of love blending two styles of animation together, namely 2D and 3D CGI, that resulted in telling a science fiction story of a long distance romance where the only line of communication was text messages.

The body proportions of Shinkai’s drawn characters were really wonky.

His drawings appeared flat and the characters’ body proportions needed work. The character designs were simplistic and reflect the anime art style of the early 2000’s where faces are drawn with sharp lines, pointed noses and detailed irises. I think that Shinkai’s drawings of his character’s facial expressions in this screen-cap does its job.

The manga adaptation is written by Makoto Shinkai and I feel it was a chance for him to rework his film. The manga medium allowed Shinkai to add more information in both written text and visuals that he didn’t have the opportunity to put in his film.

The first coloured spread in the volume looks so pretty.

Matching Mizu Sahara and his work was the perfect pairing because there is a soft warmth in the way that Sahara draws her characters. Her art style is simplistic and delicate. She uses thin lines, switching between rounded and curved to draw faces and paints with watercolour for the colour spreads.

Her designs aren’t completely varied because female characters start looking similar, but I don’t mind it.

In the film, Shinkai didn’t utilize dialogue to convey the protagonists’ emotions. He used camera angles at different heights and transitional cutting to support the characters’ desire of wanting to see each other.

In particular, one sequence showcasing Noboru pressing on buttons on his cell phone to check for new text messages from Mikako quickly cuts to different shots. The sequence begins with an extreme shot of his phone screen, cutting to a close shot of Noboru’s hand grasping onto his phone over (what I’m guessing is) his kitchen sink before changing to an angled bird eye’s view of Noboru sitting at a bus stop alone.

This montage (hands down) was my favourite part in the film. It was really effective in making me feel sympathetic for this young couple.

The film had a powerful montage sequence that conveyed the struggle of the two protagonists. It removed facial expressions to use body language to convey emotion. The characters face away from the audience, showing us their backside and leaves us to watch Noboru slam his right fist against a metal door in winter and Mikako curl up her body floating in the darkness. Their anguish is so palpable.

The manga adaptation contains numerous silent montages that convey emotion and background information.

Oouf. What a hit to the kokoro.

For instance, Sahara’s use of panels of varying sizes with a mix of close and extreme close shots makes the scene more intimate compared to the same moment shown in the film.

In the manga adaptation, Shinkai was able to fully develop his protagonists’ personalities by writing fuller monologues and added supporting characters in additional scenes showcasing Mikako and Noboru’s lives. Some of the supporting characters not only act as foil for the protagonists but help enrich the world he created in Voices of a Distant Star.

In particular, I feel that Mikako’s journey is given more depth in the manga than in the film.

In the film, the audience understands that she experiences hardships in space fighting time and time again with the Tarsians – the alien lifeforms that the humans are fighting against. In addition, the film makes the alien race more aggressive as they always begin a confrontation with Mikako and the human fleet.

The manga introduces us to Hina, Mikako’s fellow pilot and friend on the Lysithea (the name of the giant spaceship housing the human fleet sent to space) and Miss Miwa. We learn that the human fleet are hunting down the Tarsians to learn more about them and to see if they pose a possible threat to humans. Hina and Miss Miwa are meant to show two possible futures for Mikako. Spoiler Alert: Hina representing the possibility that Mikako sustains heavy injuries/possibly dies in space. Miss Miwa representing the possibility that Mikako continues on her journey in space, discovering new planets and fighting the Tarsians.

The endings of the film and manga held different tones.

The film’s ending was a climatic final battle between the humans and the Tarsians with Mikako being the only pilot left to fight. It’s an open end where it is unclear whether or not she survives to see Noboru.

The manga also has an open ending, but it’s more hopeful in tone.

After learning more about the process of how Shinkai made his film, I grew to appreciate how much hardwork and time he put into the project on his own.

Between the two, I enjoyed reading the manga adaptation with Sahara’s illustrations and Shinkai’s added details and story line.

Have you read the manga adaptations of Makoto Shinkai’s films? What did you think of them? Let me know down below!

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4 thoughts on “Versus: Makoto Shinkai’s Voices Of A Distant Star

  1. I haven’t seen any of Shinkai’s works. So I really can’t say. From what others have written about his works, its an acquired taste. That’s just what they say.

    A really well written post Emi!!.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post needs more love because this was really well written. I like many other fans love Makoto shinkais approach to the themes of love and exploration he has for it. I have not had the pleasure of seeing this film yet but I throughly enjoyed reading about his involvement with the project and the comparison between the manga and film. Awesome work Emiko.!!

    Liked by 1 person

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