I haven’t watched Hoshi no koe in years — probably not since it first came out, or perhaps after the DVD release. So I took a look at the Crunchyroll offering (making sure to log in, so they’d know that paying members like this sort of thing, and encouraging them to do more of it).
Before, I was so taken by the story that I never even noticed how off his character designs were throughout — not even on model all the time. They bear a family resemblance to the characteristic designs that are handled more competently in his later films, but here they look primitive, and no match for their setting.
Still, that Shinkai sure knows his hot sky porn.
Not like in the later films, of course, but still hints of what would come.
And the story? Still powerful enough to make up for the off-model characters. Indeed, I found this viewing far more affecting than I remember from the past: already knowing the story adds significance to each hesitation in Mikako’s voice as the friends talk about high school plans, to the headline that reads “faster-than-light communication coming soon”, or the recruiting poster Noboru is standing near when he checks his phone for a message, and then the military cadet’s jacket hanging on his door.
Of course, it may also gain power from its context as the first of a trilogy of films on distance and separation. Mikako’s anguished look at her cellphone floating out of reach before the leap into hyperspace will be echoed by Takaki watching his letter blow away in the snowstorm or staring into space on a windswept hillside while Kanae loses the resolve to speak to him.
If, like me, you’ve overlooked this film in the excitement over the ones that have followed it, then now is a good time to give it another look.