The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below

Title: Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below aka Hoshi o Ou Kodomo
Genre: Drama/Action
Company: CoMix Wave Inc.
Format: Movie; 116 minutes.
Dates: 7 May 2011

Synopsis: Having lived a lonely life ever since her father’s passing, Watase Asuna spends her days listening to a radio left to her by her father, which uses a crystal in place of a diode. This comes to an end when she meets a mysterious boy whom she connects with, but their acquaintance ends up tragically cut short. Getting swept along by unusual circumstances, Asuna takes to heart a hint that she might be able to see the boy again, and undertakes a journey where she is destined to learn about coping with loss and death.

The Highlights
Audiovisual impact: The art of Shinkai Makoto only gets better with time.
Setting: Looks like something right out of a Ghibli title.
Pacing: A little too brisk for what it’s trying to achieve.
Plot: Driven by a brace of contrived coincidences.
Message: A slight departure from Shinkai‘s usual focus on distance, but lost in all the fantastic elements.

The first full-length feature from graphic prodigy Shinkai Makoto in four years after 5 Centimeters per Second, Hoshi o Ou Kodomo was highly anticipated by his fans since before its release. Taking a slightly different tack from the majority of his previous titles, the independent director leaps feet first into the realm of fantasy, and while the resulting product is certainly every bit the feast to the senses that he has become known for, it also betrays the fact that he is not an entirely seasoned storyteller, as yet.

Any mention of a Shinkai work will inevitably focus first on its visual aspects, and for good reason; clear-cut contrasts between light and shadow, exquisite use of rich colours, and exceptional detail in his signature cloudscapes and miscellaneous environmental artifacts, combine to create a world chock-full of panoramic scenery, imbuing a living character to the kind of environment which has become a trademark of the director. Apply this kind of visual treatment to a fantasy setting which would not look out of place in the Studio Ghibli portfolio, populated by a clean-cut representation of agrarian society and a variety of eclectic creatures looking like they had their origins in some sort of hallucinogenic substance, and one has the recipe for a background beautiful enough to take one’s breath away.

Unfortunately, Hoshi o Ou Kodomo encounters an issue not typically seen in its predecessors; the plot moves at such a brisk pace, it actually becomes hard to enjoy such lovingly-crafted scenery. In fact, events in the movie have a tendency to happen one after another so quickly, the audience rarely has the time to digest the previous plot twist. This is not helped by the way such plot twists are frequently resolved; more often than not, the heroine ends up in a fix through no fault of her own, only to be saved by one variant or another of the cavalry riding in to save the day. The overuse of such a none-too-original trope becomes very apparent after a while, and exposes Shinkai‘s shortcomings as an amateur storyteller.

Just like his previous works, Hoshi o Ou Kodomo revolves around a theme, and his characters are often developed around that particular theme. Although the film’s theme of loss and death is a departure (however slight) from his usual study of the effect of distance on relationships, Shinkai‘s characters are true to form, often laying bare their motivations in periods of introspection. Some of the director’s previous works – such as Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in our Early Days – struck a fine balance in emphasising the characters’ intimate anecdotes amidst grand happenings. But in the case of Hoshi, this exploration of character and theme was unfortunately drowned out in the need to present the elements of the fantastic setting, as well as the brisk pace of the plot itself.

To put it delicately, while Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is certainly Shinkai‘s experiment with new themes and settings, it is not exactly a completely successful one. Even so, it is by no means a bad watch, and for a first step in new directions, works perfectly well for the director. An A for effort, an A for daring to experiment, and above all, an A for the top-tier visual effects Shinkai has made his name with.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Ascaloth

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