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The Place Promised in Our Early Days / Voices of a Distant Star Twin Pack UK Blu-Ray Anime Review

11 min read

place-promised-distant-star-combo-uk-packagingThe Shinkai twin pack and still a classic…

What They Say:
Contains both ‘The Place Promised in our Early Days’ and ‘Voices of a Distant Star’ on Blu-Ray and DVD. With both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles, presented in collectors packaging with an artbook.

The Place Promised in our Early Days
Hiroki, Takuya and Sayuri are two young boys and a girl living in Aomori, the closest province in Honshu to Hokkaido. These three young classmates become fascinated by the gigantic yet mysterious tower that they see across the Tsugaru Strait, promising that one day they will build and fly an aircraft to the tower and unravel its mystery.

Voices of a Distant Star
A young pilot named Mikako volunteers to be sent on a journey through space to join the fight against a hostile alien race. Leaving behind the man she loves, her only means of contact with him is via text message, which take longer to reach him the further she travels from Earth.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio has a 5.1 release in English and a 2.0 in Japanese in both films – I actually watched VoaDS in both languages as it was quite short, whilst Early Days was done in English for half of it and Japanese for the second half – and with the Japanese release I did have to raise the volume a little from my default settings, however, there were no other issues regarding sound quality, echoing, synching with subtitles, etc – I’m actually quite impressed how some of it sounds in Japanese (the extras seem to have been given extra care) especially as the video didn’t carry forward as well during the transfer to Blu-Ray (the short She And Her Cat extra in particular) – very good release.

Video:
Similar with the audio, the video is set in full screen format via NTSC transfer to PAL format – however this is one of the few times where the age of the release does seem to show not as well in HD – this really only references Voices of a Distant Star but it doesn’t seem to come out as well (though the later scenes in space seem to work well, it is more the scenes when the two are together which are the problem) though Early Days converts well and is incredibly well defined, –with no real problems with the subtitles, the sound synching in either language, no pause lag or in general, just the animation in the older movie seems to stand out not as well in HD though still more than watchable.

Packaging:
There was no packing for this test release.

Menu:
The menu is done quite differently to usual ones as there are two movies – your choice is an almost split title screen of the cast of both movies, the selections being Film Select, Set Up and Extra Features – with the audio selections you can choose to have English subtitles on even in English or English Songs/Signs Off but the rest on. When you select your film as well, you press down to get to the scene selections. There is one minor annoying thing with these selection is during the extras, when you’ve watched one it returns you to the main menu so you have to select extras again (usually it returns you to the extra screen in other releases) making it a little slower – not the worst but noticeable. Certain extras also you can return to the extras screen via pop-up menu in movie, but certain ones you can’t – again a mixed and confusing but still quick and accessible.

Extras:
There is a ton of extras for this special duo release. Starting with Voices of a Distant Star, we get the whole movie in alternate audio with Makoto Shinkai voicing Noburo (the actual release was done by Chihiro Suzuki) with some lines changing or different (one line for example is silent in the official release but spoken in the original) – otherwise it is basically the director making sure the lines were right by doing it himself, otherwise no major differences in it, but still interesting.

We get Shinkai’s original short work that won him the grand prize at the 12th DoGA CG Animation contest in 1999 (3 years before Voices) “She And her Cat” which is basically the relationship over a year between a cat and his female owner – whether he loves the owner or loves another cat or doesn’t understand what is going on, a lot is told in just 7 minutes. Very little motion is in it and it is shot in chrome/black and white – it showcases the style of Shinkai and would set him up for the next productions.

We get an interview with Shinkai – on why he made VOADS, how tech improved during his time, when he started to make it (and how She + Her Cat’ brought him to do this work), the merit in making a digital anime like that on his own and what would be his plans (this done in 2002) – another interview would be in the second movie so we can see what happened there.

We also get a very unique storyboard sequence which is basically the whole movie but done in storyboard motion – some parts animated, not all the sound fully done and quite basic but the fact you see everything from start to finish is another very unique take of the movie and how it came about.

The Place Promised In Our Early Daysd basically has 4 very similar interviews – involving Yuuka Nanri (Sayuri), Masato Hagiwara (Takuya), Hidetaka Yoshiska (Hiroki) and again Makoto Shinkai (director) – the first three pretty much ask very similar questions with different answers due to the characters – talking about their character, the audition process, meeting the director, thoughts working on the voice over, the studio process (one moment asked of Yoshiska and Nanri is the fact all the staff left during a big heart to heart sequence involving the two of them), and questions that the show leaves and how it reflects them (a promise that can’t be kept, what is your own promised place, etc) as they give a final message to the viewers. Shinkai you get some behind the scenes stuff as we see the change and evolution of the productions especially after Voices, seeing some of the storyboards as well as the cell art, shots of the city that inspired it and how it was animated, the casting process (rating Nanri highly), inside the recording studio, progression of the story, thoughts about the end, even how the lyrics to the main theme song were all thought of with a particular theme in mind. There is more in this commentaries than meets the eye and highly pleasant to listen to.

Lastly, for both movies, there are original trailers.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The Shinkai twin pack is a release of a classic short and movie combination which has been released before on VHS and DVD, but thanks to the popularity and release of the recent movie Your Name (which he was director and writer of) we get a Blu-Ray release of these two classics. And that is what they are to this day – we learn in the extras he quit his job to do Voices of a Distant Star, and it looks like the risk has paid off well as whilst it is one of those films that suffers a little from Blu-Ray transfer in the case of Voices, otherwise this still holds up incredibly well.

Voices of a Distant Star is a short movie/OVA (about 25 minutes long) which is a short but spectacular journey involving two best friends who really suffer from a long distance relationship to say the least. The idea is of communication, and the girl Mikako is recruited into the UN to fight a war against aliens known as Tarsians, whilst her friend and love interest Noboru remains on Earth – the two have short but in-depth conversations via flashback in between her in space and fighting Tarsians whilst she is trying to contact him via her mobile phone which gets to the point that the time space in between space and Earth increases, from several months to by the end of the short, 8 year gap. We get a lot of internal psyche with Mikako fighting over her own feelings of wanting to see Noboru whilst Noboru is now 23 and it ends very ambiguously as you wonder what is going to happen to both of them…has Noboru moved on with his life? Is Mikako going to try and return or let herself drift into space?

It is one of those episodes that you just admire for how in depth it is to a person’s thought process knowing that their loved one is going to change and you can’t do anything about it – quite literally when the character is now 8 years older whilst you are in light space – it is one of those things you never think of normally but it twists your psyche into it – Mikako has a moment when she sees a doppelganger of herself and she breaks down to it, as you don’t know if it is real, just part of her imagination, an alien manifestation – there are so many questions yet you don’t know the answers, and the OVA is short and sweet so you are still thinking about it.

2 years after that, Shinkai made The Place Promised In Our Early Days which was a full scale production compared to Voices which was mostly a solo work. Winning several awards back in 2004 over 10 years later it has transferred amazingly well to Blu-Ray, but does the movie still hold up as a movie?

Unlike Voices which was set in the future, Place is set in the past, setting up Ezo (formerly Hokkaido) as occupied by the Union (Soviet Union?) as they construct a tower there as a symbol and activation of power. Whilst this is going on, we follow three teenagers Hiroki,Takuya – two young men who are considering prodigies, and Sayuri, the female friend who seems to be set up as a love interest for one of them. You immediately think this is going to be a love triangle type of story, ready to split up the friendship but that aspect is very minimized and instead going in a completely different direction…

The boys are working at a military plant under the inspection (and support as we find out) for Mr. Okabe, and they find a plane crashed which they intend to rebuild and fly to the tower – the three have a close friendship with fun times and such but then suddenly, Sayuri disappears over the summer…

Fast forward to 3 years later, the two boys are now in different work having abandoned the plane and each other after Sayuri went missing, Takuya now a physicist working with the US National Security researching parallel universes, whilst Hiroki has never forgot about her and dedicates trying to fulfil the promise he made – unknowingly the two of them are actually connecting with Sayuri as her disappearance is surprisingly connected to the tower…

It turns out this tower is able to replace matter from other universes in a short distance and Mr. Okabe is more involved than expected as well, so allows Takuya to visit Ezo – slowly tying in to a reunion as the reveal is that Sayuri is still alive and well in one of their research facilities and is suffering from eternal sleep trapped in a parallel universe and she is connected to what the Tower is able to do. Trickery, cunning and a bit of rage come into play as Takuya visits Hiroki, they learn about Sayuri and plan to put her on the plane to head to the Tower, not just as kids kicks, but also to see if Sayuri can wake up. When they do that thanks to help from Okabe, and Sayuri does wake up, it ties in to why the Tower can’t expand more than a few kilometres and Sayuri waking up breaks that, allowing Hokkaido to return – however it does come at an upsetting cost to Sayuri….

Without going into major detail, the movie basically manages to avoid the cliché of love triangle well and even ends rather sadly – not death sad but still sad – in terms of Sayuri recovering. Hiroki and Takuya are two similar characters in terms of her smarts and determination, but take different paths via different emotions into dealing with their loss – but when you learn what is so significant about the tower and how Sayuri somehow ties into it, they get back on track as a reason for living. I love how the side characters are much more involved than you expect (the Professor and Takuya’s sempai are much more involved despite their lack of screen time as is Mr. Okabe) and how it all ties in to getting the three of them together – I suppose because of the fact it is a movie there is only a short time spent on development of the characters but it does it so well in their teen years, getting together and then the shock separation, but their work is tied into the tower and each other setting up the finale and reunion.

The promise is a big thing (discussed in the extras as well) bringing the idea that Takuya sets up Hiroki and Sayuri to fulfil the promise but don’t think any of the characters suffer by the end in terms of equality – their roles are all fulfilled well and it does feel like it is a great way to start over (literally if you consider what happens to Sayuri at the end) and the idea of the parallel universes and how Sayuri was tied into it make not make the biggest amount of sense but you can tell they worked hard on the possibilities and how it all ties in – and with Shinkai’s previous work being very sci-fi orientated, that focus continues here.

The two films both hold up well in today’s market as both sci-fi pieces and character driven tales. Voices is a short but sweet pieces about a couple being separated and can’t get back together due to unfortunate circumstances whilst the pining happens, their lives have to go on but the chance is still there, whilst Place is a three person dynamic, and when one is taken out of the equation it is the story of how they cope until circumstances bring them back together. They are well told, well animated (whilst Voices struggles with the updated tech, Place is still beautiful and it is enhanced on Blu-Ray), well directed and well acted – you remember these characters and scenarios, and you pray for their happy endings, and whilst both end ambiguously, you can tell there is that slight hope, which is what you want to take for these types of films.

In Summary:
The Shinkai twin pack reminds us how good the man is during the time Your Name is out, and whilst is current works are amazing, his past works are still gold. They haven’t lost their edge in this market, and continue to be works of art. The characters are compelling, the stories are engaging and the work behind them is staggering. Aside from wanting more, there is little wrong with these pieces as they don’t feel outdated, and the stories told (especially in Place) bring that humanity is still worth living for, you just need the right mindset. And these movies are definitely worth living for.

Features:
Voices of a Distant Star: Alternate Japanese Audio (Featuring Makoto Shinkai), “She and Her Cat” Short, Interview with Makoto Shinkai, Storyboard, Trailer Collection

The Place Promised In Our Early Days: Interview with Yuuka Nanri, Interview with Masato Hagiwara, Interview with Hidetaka Toshiska, Interview with Makoto Shinkai, Trailer Collection,

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Anime Ltd
Release Date: November 21st, 2016
MSRP: £39.99
Running Time: 116 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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