What a beautiful anime we have here! Makoto Shinkai’s has always been making pretty-looking anime with his characteristically slow pace and rather poignant theme. In this latest entry, Shinkai plunged fully into fantasy genre and the result was…interesting.
Not only the genre change, this time Shinkai dealt with somewhat larger cast of characters and many minor ones along the journey through Agartha. It’s also the first time shinkai dealt with dynamic plot compared to his previous works which were mostly about internal struggles of only one or two characters. ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below’ (from now on will be referred as only ‘Lost Voices’) was, in its core, about people who suffered the loss of their loved ones and coming to terms with their losses. In short, it’s about learning to say goodbye. What’s interesting was how the anime had fancy way in telling this simple concept using high fantasy setting.
As expected, Asuna was your regular high school student with defective yet loving family. One day she ran into Shun, a strange boy from the underworld called Agartha. Shun changed Asuna’s life and later lead to her journey into the underworld. She was accompanied by Morisaki who also sought his wife in the afterlife. Lost Voices made it clear that it drew inspiration from several mythologies involving travelling to the underworld to bring back the dead.
I love the breezy pacing of Lost Voices. It provided opportunities for characters exploration through interactions between Asuna and Morisaki and lots of sight-seeing of Agartha. Credits also went to Shinkai for having this big scale anime under control. His works has always been about personal matters and this one was no exception. Despite all the spectacles, the anime stayed true to its concept of finding lost loves. Lost Voices remained a personal journey as much as an epic journey to the unknown lands.
For any fantasy story, world building is very, very important. Lost Voices did decent job in presenting us the world of Agartha. But it still fell short in several aspects. The world building was, in my opinion, the weakest part of this anime. You could blame it on my being a long time fan of fantasy anime and you would probably be right. Agartha was too generic and derivative for me that it bothered me. It kept reminding me of other anime to the point beyond simple homage. How do I explain this? It was like revisiting the world in Nausicaa or Laputa, even the technology and monsters were similar. The villages and the people, along with how they dressed and lived came straight from Tales from Earthsea. And apparently they hired makeup team who worked in Xamd’ Last Memories to do the makeup here.
I also thought that the world of Agartha could have been better portrayed in depths and details. Part of the reason of this was that the protagonists of Lost Voices didn’t really get involved with the world. They were just passing through and just heading towards their goal. Sometimes it was like tourist sight-seeing; beautiful but insubstantial. Several minor characters were not well explored. The stark example was the mute Agartha girl who was included in for no good reason and without clear context. Shin’s character was also a bit under-explored; I wanted to know more about his conflict with the people of Agartha. But the one subplot that I wanted to see more development was the relationship between Asuna and her mother; how they dealt with the lost of Asuna’s father and how Asuna had become so lonely and friendless.
I know I have spent the last two paragraphs complaining (I love complaining). But never let those discourage you from watching this anime. All the signatures of Shinkai that I have come to love are all here in this movie. The looks and the sounds were near flawless and the story was emotionally poignant. It’s just that Shinkai stepped out of his familiar territory in this movie. I admired him for doing so and would love to see him continue to challenge himself.
Title: Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (aka Hoshi o Ou Kodomo)
Genre: fantasy, drama
Released date: May 7, 2011
Running Time: 116 minutes
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Animated by: CoMix Wave Films