When I read the manga adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star last year it instantly became one of my favorite comics– and stories– of all time. So naturally, when the chance arose to read a novelization I was immediately on-board. Titled Voice of a Distant Star: Words of Love / Across the Stars, this version is written by Arata Kanoh, translated by Michelle Lin and Yota Okutani, and published by Vertical Inc. How does it compare to past iterations of the story? Most importantly, is it good?
One of my main worries with translations isn’t so much that they’ll be inaccurate in terms of meaning but that they’ll come off a bit wooden in their language. Thankfully that’s not the case here at all. The prose is wonderful, with beautiful turns of phrase and imagery that frequently punch the reader in the gut emotionally. The descriptions of scenery are great, providing a good sense of surroundings in ways that highlight what it is about them that’s actually pivotal to both the plot and characters’ emotional arcs. There are a number of effective callbacks throughout, and the creators weave major themes in and out without ever knocking the reader over the head. The repeated images and passages of text actually earn their intended emotional impact.
With that said, some of the structure and plot decisions here are a bit odd. Unlike other versions of the story this novel splits itself into two separate parts, one narrated by Mikako and the other by Noboru. The first consequence of this is a sudden drop in quality. While Mikako’s portion is fantastic from start to finish, Noboru’s only gets going after a little while. It becomes every bit as poignant as Mikako’s, but the bumpy first few chapters stand out all the more as they come right off the heels of such a large and consistently excellent amount of text.
The separation of the narratives also means that we hear all of what each character has to say at once, and their words don’t go back and forth like their messages through space. In a way, this feels thematically appropriate. Maintaining a total separation of the narratives reflects the extreme amount of distance in both space and time between the two protagonists. On the downside though, it also results in the book having two separate climaxes. Saying goodbye to Mikako only halfway through is disappointing, and her final chapters feel a tad rushed. There are also some plot differences between this iteration of the story and past versions that are a bit questionable in terms of how they negatively affect the character arcs. This is a minor point though since the book is still poignant just the way it is.
The pace at which information gets revealed throughout this novel is fantastic. This holds true for both the sci-fi lore and the bits of backstory. We don’t get more details about the story’s aliens and technological advances than we need, and most of what we learn comes courtesy of Mikako rather than Noboru. This disparity reflects the gulf between the characters’ knowledge and their attitudes about it. Nonetheless, the info itself is very intriguing. The Tharsians make some great contributions to the story’s most emotional beats and the descriptions of Tracer technology are well-written and provide a great backdrop to some of the human drama.
Mikako and Noboru’s separate accounts of their shared memories are heartfelt thanks to strong writing on almost all fronts. As previously mentioned the pacing and imagery are consistently solid, but it’s probably the characters’ voices that are the greatest joy of the reading experience. Their growth over time is tenderly written, and what this book has to say about distance, love, and purpose is downright moving.
All in all, Voices of a Distant Star continues to be one of my favorite stories of all time regardless of the version. This novel is exceptionally well-written with poignant character development, interesting sci-fi lore, and emotionally affecting execution of its themes. All my cons about the book pale in comparison to how well so much of it works. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone.