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15-year-old Mikako and Noboru attended middle school together and worked towards attending high school together, too. Though they claimed only to be “friends,” their connection was stronger than that. Mikako was drafted to take part in an expedition to track down and investigate aliens who had left their presence on Mars, however, leaving Noboru behind on Earth. Though they try to maintain contact with each other through super-long-range text messaging, the time lag caused by the increasing astronomical distances between them results in messages that take first days, then months, then finally years to pass between them. Can a relationship survive under such circumstances? And how long is Noboru willing to wait before moving on?
One of the few post-2000 anime titles that can justifiably be called a classic, the OVA Voices of a Distant Star stands as one of anime's best and most-beloved romances. Its captivating blending of quality mecha action and melancholy longing has won over innumerable otaku, so it's only natural that it would eventually be adapted into manga form. Thanks to Tokyopop's production of an extra-length (240-page) volume, American fans can now read the manga the same way the anime was originally presented: all in one shot.
Although Voices was the exclusive creation of Makoto Shinkai, manga-ka Mizu Sahara has been entrusted with penning this adaptation. Her plotting follows that of the OVA very closely, albeit with less emphasis on the battle scenes (the final one is almost entirely skipped) and even more emphasis on the characters. Her writing also fleshes out the story quite a bit more, adding several side characters and a few additional scenes into what was originally a bare-bones two-person character study. Here we actually get to meet the girl Noboru associates with when he gives up on waiting for Mikako's messages (she appeared in one very brief shot of the anime and only at a distance), while a couple of friends Mikako makes aboard the Lysithea are also introduced to us. Also included are additional message exchanges between Noboru and Mikako.
The extra scenes were written with an eye to maintaining the tone and spirit of original story, and do such an exceptional job at this that someone who's seen the anime and didn't know differently wouldn't recognize this as the work of a different writer. This fleshing-out does help clarify some things, such as Noboru's sense of aimlessness at being left behind, the purpose of the Tarsian expedition, and the fact that Mikako probably knew for a long time in advance that she was going on the mission. In fact, the writing's only significant flaw is that it muddles some issues of physics concerning high-speed long-distance travel and time dilation, which could easily be ignored if it wasn't actually a plot point.
Whether or not the additional scenes and characters are actually necessary or desirable is another story. Part of the appeal of Voices was how tight, uncomplicated, and beautifully-paced the story was in telling a grand tale of long-distance love in only 25 minutes of time. The manga loses little of the emotion of the original, however, so it's doubtful that fans of Voices will mind. What may be more of an issue are some changes towards the end. Mikako's time on Agharta plays out a bit differently, and the ending extends beyond where the anime does. Those who really wanted to know What Happens Next may be satisfied, and it's not a bad ending evaluated independently, but it pales in comparison to the lump-in-your-throat power of the original ending.
Character designs were not Shinkai's strong point, and Sahara's are only a slight improvement. Her take on Mikako makes her look a lot taller and at least a couple of years older, while Noboru looks more or less the same but with sharper lines. There's also inconsistency in the shading for the hair of the two leads, especially for Mikako, and some of the shading in other places obscures actions more than it should. Background art, where present, is decent but unremarkable, as are designs for side characters. Action has been minimized, and technical detail is kept to a bare minimum; at times only context indicates when Mikako is inside a mecha and when she isn't, a disappointment since the interior shots of Mikako's mecha was some of the finest artwork in the anime.
Tokyopop's translation does a good job of retaining the feel of Shinkai's original writing and invariably translates the crucial on-cell-screen text. Most sound effects are left untranslated, except for a couple of key places where contextual clues aren't sufficient for figuring out an important sound effect. The opening few pages are done in color, albeit color that looks like it was done with colored pencils. At the end is a one-page Afterward and three-panel strip by Ms. Sahara.
This manga adaptation of Voices of a Distant Star does not achieve the full dramatic power of the original anime, in part because it lacks the great musical score that was such an integral part of the production's appeal, and does tweak the ending in a way that may not be as satisfying despite the fact that it shows more. It is still a strong story with a good amount of emotional appeal, however, and should satisfy most fans of the anime.
Story : A-
Art : B-
+ Strong storytelling which carries good emotional appeal, fleshes out the original anime.
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