I give this novelization of one of Makoto Shinkai's self-made films...an 83/100!
I admit that I haven't seen a lot of Makoto Shinkai's movies. At this point, I've seen Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Your Name, Garden of Words, and the 5-minute Dareka no Manazashi short. I have, however, read quite a few of the companion novels he penned, such as 5 Centimeters Per Second, Lost Voices, Weathering With You, and the subject of today's review, the Voices of a Distant Star novel, called Words of Love/Across The Stars. Now, from what I learned, this is apparently the second time this particular film was adapted into a book format, but this particular version, the second novelization, is the only one that came out in the US, and fairly recently, at that. I might watch the short film for Voices of a Distant Star in the future, as it's considered Shinkai's first major work...but I have to admit that the art style isn't very appealing to me, even though I understand it was all animated by Shinkai himself, before he began working with a company that hired more experienced animators. I did read the manga before this, though a review of that will come later. I kind of blind-bought this novel, along with two others, on my birthday recently, and honestly, I'm glad I did, because I really like this one, as it expands on a lot of things that the short film doesn't cover.
In the year 2047, humanity is in the midst of a war against mysterious aliens called Tharsians and are in the process of recruiting people to fight them in mecha suits called Tracers. One of those pilots is Mikako Nagamine, a 15-year-old girl who was drafted into one of the space army's special squadrons, and has to search for the Tharsians in space. She leaves behind a friend of hers, Noboru Terao, but they promise to remain in contact as much as possible, usually by texting one another. But as the fleet goes deeper into space, text messages take longer and longer to reach Earth, to the point where years pass, and both Mikako and Noboru come to realize that they care more for each other than they realized, but now may not get the chance to even say so.
One thing about sci-fi that I found doesn't really appeal to be is that most sci-fi stuff I've seen rely on a LOT of technobabble and exposition to explain things, when some things don't necessarily need to be explained, thereby dragging the show down rather than letting things play out naturally. I can understand wanting to make the sci-fi world feel as rich as possible rather than make it into another bog standard sci-fi setting, but too much exposition and explanations just bog things down. Luckily, Voices of a Distant Star doesn't do that. Because the story centers on two kids and focuses entirely on their perspectives, it keeps its focus on the things they see, feel, and experience, rather than try to bite off more than it can chew by making the scale of the story bigger than it should be. Because of this, the sense of scale is smaller, but it feels more intimate and focused on the central conflict of the movie, which is the kids' realization that the farther away Mikako is from Earth, the more impossible it is for them to remain in contact because of the lack of faster-than-light correspondence and the regrets they hold because of not saying what they wanted to say to one another before Mikako leaves for space.
The prose is pretty good, too. I found it fairly engaging and descriptive when it needed to be, and while I don't recognize a lot of the names and locations that Mikako and Noboru reference, like their hometowns, or even some technological terms like Geodesic distance, the writing makes it feel seamless enough that I didn't feel lost. But if I had to name one flaw in regards to the writing, it'd be that at times, both Mikako and Noboru's thoughts come across as way too purple prose-y at times. I mean, teenagers don't exactly engage in a lot of overly philosophical navel gazing, and while the circumstances Mikako is in makes them understandable at times, I still found a lot of the kids' thoughts to be way too overwrought and self-aware for kids their age. There are other times when the prose is too blunt, with sentences like "I had a visceral sense of disgust," which to me is more telling than showing. Why not show Mikako being disgusted by having her express it with her face, like the scrunching of her nose or the contorting of her mouth and facial muscles? So the prose doesn't really strike much of a balance when it comes to showing when it matters and telling when it matters, telling things that could benefit from being shown and showing things that don't need to be elaborated on.
That being said, the novel does expand on both Mikako and Noboru's characterization, even developing them more than the film itself did proper. Since novels allow writers to really make an effort to convey their characters thoughts and feelings in more time than a half hour movie can do, the novel is able to go deeper into the kids' thoughts and feelings, giving them more development and nuance that was impossible to do in the film. It also shows why Mikako even chose to become a Tracer pilot in the first place, and how Noboru's life turned out to be like while Mikako is out in space, even introducing new characters, like one of Noboru's girlfriends and Mikako's sick cousin Aya (Who I hate, by the way). So even with the prose making their thoughts a bit too overwrought at times, I still found myself liking Noboru and Mikako, and genuinely felt for them, even as they both tried to move on from their unrequited romance. The novel even explains a lot of things that the film left more ambiguous, and I think fans will definitely appreciate that. It's also interesting to read this having read the manga, as the novel and the manga have different takes on expanding the characters' and worldbuilding. In this novel, Mikako chooses not to socialize with any of the other soldiers on the Lysithea out of a desire to be true to Noboru and Earth, while in the manga, she does make one friend (Whose name escapes me at the moment).
As someone who hasn't seen the Voices of a Distant Star movie, I think the novel is a pretty good adaptation that really hit a slam dunk in regards to expanding on the characters, world, and Shinkai's vision. But your mileage may vary. In my personal opinion, I'd highly recommend this, especially if you want to experience some degree of Voices of a Distant Star but are put off by the animation of the original film.