2002’s Voices of a Distant Star is a standalone original video animation by Makoto Shinkai. It was later the basis of a 2004 manga by Sumomo Yumeka.
Noboru Terao, obviously (although inarticulately) smitten with fellow student Mikako Nagamine, expects to spend his years in high school mooning after Mikako. Unbeknownst to Noboru, Mikako has volunteered to join the UN Space Army. Mikako will not be attending high school. She will be travelling across the solar system and beyond.
They are determined to remain in contact. Physics will not be their friend in this matter.
First contact between humans and Tarsians happened when a human expedition to Mars stumbled upon Tarsian ruins on Mars. For reasons that remain obscure, the Tarsians annihilated the expedition. Humans succeeded in reverse engineering the remnants of alien technology. Now the Lysithea and the other ships of the UN fleet boast warp drives that can take them across space at superluminal speeds. What they cannot do is send messages faster than light. Nor are humans able to return home to the Solar System once they leave it.
Mikako is used to a world in which communication is easy and instant. Even while she is training on Mars, an email will take mere minutes to reach Noboru. But when the expedition of which she is a part leaves Mars, and as it gets farther and farther from Earth, the time lag separating Mikako and Noboru grows longer and longer.
The final stage of the expedition takes the fleet to Sirius, almost nine light-years away. Sixteen-year-old Mikako finds herself sending messages to a Noboru who will be twenty-five by the time he gets the email. If he’s still bothering to read Mikako’s messages …
If you’ve ever wondered what The Forever War would be like if the power-suits were giant robots and the lead was a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, this melancholy work is the one you’ve been waiting for.
I have absolutely no idea why otherwise reasonable Japanese SF authors are so enamoured of giant robots. Or in the case of the Tracer that Mikako pilots, giant space-going robots. It would seem that a humanoid fighting robot would have a larger silhouette, which would make it easier to target1.
(I see parallels with the shortcomings of Japanese naval doctrine during the invasions of Korea in the late 1500s but in all the giant robot stories, building giant robots is a good idea.)
The original twenty-some minute OVA is spectacular, particularly when one notes that Shinkai created the whole thing himself. He even did the voice acting, assisted by his then-fiancee Mika Shinohara2. If we set aside the absurdity of giant robots and the morality of tossing teenagers into interstellar wars of dubious merit, we have to admit that the film is a remarkable work, balancing the easy thrills of a war story with the relationship issues of teenagers.
And the OVA has great scenery porn:
As for the manga adaptation.…
The original story was quite short. Sumomo Yumeka adds detail upon detail, expanding the story into a ten-volume serial. IMHO, this takes the focus away from the Mikako-Noboro relationship.
It also introduces details that contradict the film and undermine the plot. In the original film, the expedition knows how to get to Sirius but not how to return. In the manga, wounded personnel are sent back to Earth. So why don’t they send couriers as well?
Yumeka’s art is mundane, not up to the standards of the film. Her faces in particular seem indistinguishable. Ah well.
1. Does the Japanese military tend to fall in love with enticing but ultimately useless doctrines or technologies? Rephrase: is there a tendency for all militaries to develop pointless enthusiasms? All mil-SF creators?
2. Shinkai and Shinohara were replaced in later dubs by Chihiro Suzuki and Sumi Mutoh.