Japanese Title: Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo
Similar: Laputa: Castle in the Sky
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 1 hr. 56 min. movie
- Gorgeous art.
- Creative environments and creatures.
- No foundations.
- Never gets going.
- Flimsy ideological conflicts.
After watching Your Name in the cinema recently, I went back to Makoto Shinkai’s previous feature-length film, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, to complete the collection. With his ability to distil human emotion into the magic of animation, it comes as a surprise to receive such a dull story and ultimately disappointing film from him.
Asuna hears strange sounds and unearthly music on her crystal radio. In her eagerness to decipher these phenomena, she stumbles into an adventure of monsters, a handsome stranger, and a lost civilisation. A school professor shows her how to reach the magical land underground.
This premise sounds very Indiana Jones, yes? Well, to best summarise Lost Voices, imagine Indiana Jones without any of the charm, wit, and action that made those films great – more importantly, fun. For a story with so many magical elements, Lost Voices has no magic to it.
I want to step back to the start for a moment. We open on Asuna in her ordinary life – as is expected for the genre – doing ordinary activities like eating food and cleaning the house, but we don’t see much of a hint at the magic in her future. In these ‘ordinary person thrust into supernatural world’ stories, great writers will include out-of-place details to draw the eye and foreshadow what’s to come, even if the character doesn’t notice. The best example of this is in Harry Potter’s first chapter.
Harry’s uncle Vernon Dursley is off to work for another ordinary day – Rowling even emphasises how ordinary the day should be in the opening line: ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’ However, after only a paragraph cementing their normality, the hints of extraordinary begin to drop – the never-mentioned Potter relatives, an owl in broad daylight, odd people in robes, more owls, a stranger mentioning a Potter boy, yet more owls, etc. We, the audience, stand in the realm of ordinary with Vernon yet catch glimpses of the extraordinary realm to come. This technique prevents boring the audience in the first chapter.
Shinkai did not employ this technique well.
The only real oddities in Lost Voices’ opening are the noises on the crystal radio, though since they have no meaning for some time and are distant to the protagonist, they aren’t enough to grip you. My attention faded before even reaching the Inciting Incident.
Most shocking of faults is with the…romance, if you could call it that, between Asuna and the mysterious stranger that saves her from a monster attack (not as exciting as it sounds). If there’s one aspect Shinkai knows how to do it is emotion. And yet, here we have a girl fall instantly in love – not a crush or fling – with this stranger and would do anything for him with nary a conversation between them. Did I miss a scene that established the relationship? The setup is so weak that I spent thirty minutes trying to figure out if a romance was the intention. Even with later developments, it has zero impact.
So the first act is boring, the romance is as empty as the Bebop’s bank account, which leaves us with the adventure of no charm or fun. Children Who Chase Lost Voices settles itself comfortably in the worst category of all: boring. We need characters and story to engage us below the pretty surface. This anime is better left unplundered.
Art – Very High
Gorgeous art and animation from Makoto Shinkai, as usual – those colours!
Sound – High
The acting is good, but better in Japanese for some characters. Pleasant music.
Story – Medium
A girl hears the sounds of a strange creature from below and investigates the legend of a lost civilisation. Lacking foundation, Children Who Chase Lost Voices gives little reason for engagement in its rather standard adventure narrative.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Don’t bother. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is gorgeous to look at, certainly, but the story is too uninteresting to be worth seeing over other anime of similar premise. I would recommend worse yet more engaging anime before this.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)