Title: Voices of a Distant Star (Hoshi no Koe / ほしのこえ)
Written By: Waku Ōba
Illustrated By: Makoto Shinkai & Kou Yaginuma
Genres: Sci-Fi, Romance, Drama, Action
Published: 2002 (Japan)
Volumes: 1 [Complete]
Japanese Publisher: MF Bunko J (via Media Factory)
English Publisher: Vertical
Available to Purchase in English?: Yes (Indigo / Amazon / Barnes & Noble)
Synopsis: [ The word, “world”…
I vaguely thought it meant anywhere there was cell phone reception. ]
It’s the year 2046. Mikako Nagamine and Noboru Terao are middle school classmates, tentatively sharing an unspoken first love—but unbeknownst to him, Mikako has been recruited into the UN Space Force, and instead of going on to high school, will join the spacecraft Lysithea to search for alien Tarsians. As she travels further and further to the outer reaches of the solar system, the time it takes for a text message to reach the Earth grows longer and longer. Back on Earth, time passes normally for Noboru, but as the years pass he still can’t forget the voice on the other side of the cell phone…
Steeped in nostalgia and memory, Arata Kanoh brings to the page the award-winning OVA by acclaimed filmmaker Makoto Shinkai, director of She and Her Cat, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Garden of Words, 5 Centimeters per Second, and the highest-grossing anime film of all time, Your Name.
Arata Kanoh is a writer who has produced novelizations of Makoto Shinkai’s other works, including 5 Centimeters Per Second (also available from Vertical). (Indigo)
This review contains light spoilers for Voices of a Distant Star.
I decided to review something a little different this week: the light novel adaption of the OVA Voices of a Distant Star. Published by Vertical in English, the singular volume is read in left-to-right format. Also, it is split into two different points of view. “Words of Love” is Mikako’s side of the story and “Across the Stars” is the telling of events from Noboru’s perspective.
In the year 2046, Mikako Nagamine and Noboru Terao are middle school classmates who have crushes on each other. Thinking they have all the time in the world to figure their feelings out, they say nothing to each other and instead just live in the moment, enjoying each other’s company and the time spent with one another.
Until Mikako is chosen to become a Tracer pilot in the war against the alien Th4arsian race. Suddenly everything changes. Mikako leaves for training but is still near Earth, so she is still able to talk to Noboru every day via their cellphones. Both teenagers naively think that their situation has not changed; Mikako will not go anywhere.
However it’s not long until Mikako actually leaves for Mars, and the delay between receiving e-mails from each other stretches to 3 days. Once Mikako and the other pilots reach Jupiter and all its moons, it becomes 15 days.
After reaching Pluto at the edge of the solar system, the tracer pilots encounter Tharsians for the first time. When the battle goes poorly for the pilots, they are forced to emergency warp to an unknown point in space 1 light-year away. Mikako is devastated to be that far away from Noboru as all her messages will now take 1 year to reach him. She is not able to send a message before the warp explaining the situation.
Later events force the Tracer pilots to warp again, this time to the Sirius system almost 9 light-years away. With each warp Mikako becomes more and more upset at being forced to leave Noboru and the feelings for him she left unsaid behind.
I won’t lie, I found the first half of the novel from Mikako’s point of view a little hard to read. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s got some really heavy content in it, topics and feelings that someone Mikako’s age shouldn’t have to deal with. The reader learns that when Mikako was chosen at random to be a pilot, she chose to accept the mission because the money she would receive could go to her sick cousin’s medical care. She gives up her life, her romance with Noboru, everything she knows for her cousin. Mikako experiences many upsetting feelings that she doesn’t know how to process. Guilt, fear, sadness, regret, longing, desperation.
Secondly, she’s still a middle school student. Just a kid. It’s one thing to know you’re going up into space to train to fight against an alien race, but actually encountering them and having to fight them is a whole other issue. When Mikako does meet the Tharsians for the first time, she’s understandably scared and overwhelmed. Moreso when she’s forced to warp away with the other pilots, away from Noboru and the life she remembers.
Mikako continues to wear her middle school uniform in space, despite having the option to wear other clothes if she so chooses. I saw this decision to keep her uniform on as Mikako’s desperate attempts to cling to her former life as a regular student and to her memories of Noboru. Even as Noboru continues to age normally back on Earth, Mikako doesn’t grow older at the same speed out in space.
I won’t spoil the ending of “Words of Love,” and instead will just note that her part of the novel ends with her finding a way to cope with her separation from Noboru. And when she does finally stop wearing her old school uniform, it marks a change in her personality and her understanding of her situation.
Meanwhile as Mikako’s out in space, Noboru’s ordinary life continues on as normal. He goes on to high school, then college. When he stops receiving messages from Mikako (not knowing she’d had to warp a full lightyear away due to a Tharsian attack), he forces himself to move on with life. He gets a girlfriend, and then a job. Upon receiving Mikako’s message saying that her next message won’t arrive for almost 9 years, Noboru takes the step of turning off his phone until that time arrives. It is just too painful for him to keep his phone on, waiting year after year for a message that he knows won’t arrive until he’s almost midway through his twenties.
However when that message does finally arrive, some of it is missing. Noboru of course doesn’t know what the missing content is; the reader knows it contained some very important words from Mikako.
As he grows older, Noboru is never really able to move past losing Mikako so young, even as he tries to push past his loss and live a normal life. When his first official romantic relationship fails in college, Noboru devotes himself to becoming a space cadet. He is never really able to forget Mikako’s absence in his life. Now an adult, he is determined to chase after her. See what she has seen in space, visit the places she has visited. One day maybe he can catch up to her.
“Across the Stars” does a really good job of illustrating the emptiness in Noboru’s life after Mikako leaves for space. Not just her physical presence but the lack of communication when there’s a gap between her e-mails too. They used to speak so frequently and then e-mails from her just… stopped. Noboru misses Mikako very much.
I feel like Noboru made the right choice in turning off his phone. It’s pointless to stop your life for one person when they are gone the way that Mikako is gone. Pointless to long for something that no longer exists.
Do I agree with Noboru’s decision to make Mikako the focal point of his adult life? I don’t know. From a romantic viewpoint I can understand his decision, but it clashes with the logical and practical part of me. Mikako is still a teenager but Noboru is aging normally. If they were to meet as they are at the end of the novel, their relationship would be illegal.
This brings me to my last point of discussion, and it’s something that Noboru mentions at the end of “Across the Stars.” He says:
“I wonder how Mikako has spent the last eight years.
Who has she met? Who has she touched? What has she experienced? Felt? Learned?
I’ve experienced quite a bit in my twenty-four years.
I wonder what she’ll be like at the same age.
Maybe she’ll have married aboard the Lysithea.
That’s not an issue, though. I don’t care about that.”
It should be mentioned that 8 years have not passed for Mikako. She has experienced perhaps only months, which have passed as years for him. Although by the end of the novel he is in his mid-twenties, Mikako is at maximum 16 years old. She is still a minor and he is now an adult. To have a romantic relationship with each other, even if those middle school romantic feelings are still there, would be completely inappropriate. They are now mismatched in terms of maturity, education and life experience. What kind of couple could they be?
It’s the one point of reality that Mikako and Noboru never really touch on. They are both so focused on their feelings of love for each other and the physical gap between them that they think only of being reunited. They don’t think of their new reality, that Noboru is a very different person compared to when Mikako left. What would they still have in common?
Do I Recommend This Title to Others?: Yes! Although I take issue with some of the technicalities of their relationship, it’s still a love story. Think like Romeo & Juliet, “star-crossed lovers” who aren’t able to be together. The story conveys many intense emotions but these only serve to heighten the realness of the story.
Final Score: 8.5/10
P.S – I want whichever brand of cellphone Mikako and Noboru use for their communications. Messages arriving almost completely intact after traveling through light-years of space?? Yes please!