Stumbled-upon: Makoto Shinkai films
So I was browsing through the recently added anime on Crunchyroll the other day, in one of my futile attempts to try and keep up with the current season, and I noticed that the three Makoto Shinkai works 'Voices of a Distant Star', 'The Place Promised in Our Early Days' and '5 Centimetres Per Second' were all up to watch for free for a limited time. As you may have gathered by now if you've read my blog before, I'm slightly obsessed with the latter film and so naturally sacrificed any social activity for the evening to give the other two a watch. First, summaries of them both (whilst trying not to give too much away).
The Place Promised in Our Early Days
Technically I should probably write about 'Voices of a Distant Star' first seeing as that was made first, but this is the order in which I watched them so if any bias comes through then that's the reason.
'The Place Promised in Our Early Days', henceforth known as POED (for the lulz), is set in an alternate Earth timeline in which Japan is divided into two, controlled by the US and a force known as the "Union", following the events of World War II. A giant tower, reaching high up into the clouds, is erected by the Union on the border of the two regions, its true purpose unknown to onlookers from both sides. The story follows two boys from the US side who have made seeing the tower up-close their dream and have begun building their own plane in order to get there. Despite it being a secret from everyone else, they let the girl that they both like in on it and they all promise to reach the tower together (hence the name of the film).
This is where things start to get a little crazy. The tower itself is actually a form of weapon which can replace space our world with that from a parallel world - essentially wiping out what was originally there. Her being the granddaughter of the man who designed the tower, the girl's consciousness is linked to the functioning of the tower and so she falls into a deep sleep from which no one can wake her in order to prevent the world from being consumed by parallel space. None of this really matters though in the grand scheme of things - as with 5CPS the film is really about the relationships between the characters and the fulfillment of this promise. A good portion of the film occurs after a timeskip, and we see that the two guys have grown apart and obviously haven't had any contact with the girl since they made their promise long ago.
Voices of a Distant Star
Voices of a Distant Star, henceforth known as VOADS (VDS is less amusing to pronounce), is not a feature length production like POED or 5CPS - it's quintessentially an OVA, about 25 minutes long.
Like 5CPS, or rather I suppose 5CPS took its queues from here, VOADS is based around the theme of how distance can affect a relationship, but unlike 5CPS it features mecha. The two who some may call "star-crossed lovers" are separated when the girl is drafted into the military as a skilled pilot to battle against an alien race, sending her into the depths of space. The couple may still communicate via text (don't ask how) but as the fleet gets further and further away from the Earth it takes an increasingly long time for each message to be transmitted.
This time delay quickly escalates into the range of years, and whilst the focus is on the girl we then see how eight or so years on the guy may have accepted the impossibility of their relationship, but has certainly not forgotten it. Once again the focus really isn't on the mecha side of things.
So I guess some kind of thoughts, if not analysis, is in order at this point.
POED was a really good film. A lot of the plot that strung it along didn't make much sense, but the characters were really brought to the fore and there are some quite touching scenes in there as a connection is shared between the three protagonists. The art is really beautiful and detailed, both reinforcing the elements of our own world and drawing you in to what's new and unique to this alternate one. The music, composed by Tenmon as with all of Shinkai's works, is suitably excellent and stirring.
VOADS didn't appeal to me as much unfortunately. It was certainly an interesting idea to build on, but after establishing that setting there's not much to do with it. There was little-to-no development of character, and as a whole it just seemed like a mish-mash of strange concepts. I mean I know you've introduced mecha as a feature of this world, but you really don't have to include fight scenes - they just looked tacked-on and didn't really do anything for the story or the characters. The music was decent for the most part, but Tenmon's take on sci-fi doesn't really hit as hard as his simple piano pieces. Also, although I know it's almost a decade old now, I have to say I didn't like the artstyle at all; particularly how the alien race seems to be taken out of an entirely different production.
Of the two, 'The Place Promised in Our Early Days' would definitely be my choice then. Perhaps because it's much more similar to 5CPS in style than VOADS, and I have to say 5CPS is still most definitely my favourite of the three - Shinkai's masterpiece, if you will. I think it's the simplicity that both of these pieces are lacking that endears it to me so much. 5CPS relates these troubles on an everyday level, not needing any extra gimmicks to be introduced to communicate characters' relationships or feelings - it was literally much more down-to-earth. The extra elements/concepts in these two films, whilst intriguing, didn't really do it for me. There can't be any relation to the events happening on screen and it just detracts from what is trying to be communicated about the characters. It does look darn cool though, in POED anyway.
Moral of the story, as ever, is watch 5 Centimetres Per Second.