Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Animation Studios: CoMix Wave Films
Version Watched: Subbed
Whenever you talk about Japanese animated films, Studio Ghibli is inevitably mentioned. Their best movies all appeal to their audience’s sense of childlike wonder, with characters undertaking fantastical adventures in strange lands. To be honest, while I have enjoyed their productions, I’ve never really understood the level of devotion their fans show. The reason I bring this up is because I feel like Ghibli movies comprise a genre of their own, where viewers are drawn into the screen in front of them not by expert characterisation, not by gripping plot and not by thrilling action, but by the overall feeling of the story unfolding before them. If we start from that premise, I hope I can convey why I think Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo does Ghibli better than Ghibli itself.
With her mother working long hours at the hospital, Asuna lives a very solitary existence. Her favourite pastime is hiking up to her clubhouse in the mountains, where she toys around with a crystal-based radio left to her by her deceased father. During one such trip she is threatened by a savage, bear-like creature, and subsequently saved by a mysterious young man by the name of Shun. He tells Asuna that he comes from the underground world of Agartha, a land very different to her own. When she seeks more information, she discovers that her teacher, Mr Morisaki, is searching for that very same place in order to resurrect his late wife. Unexpectedly, Shun is found dead a few days later, and both Asuna and her teacher are dragged into Agartha by the events that follow. Lost, amazed and with a purpose, the two set out to explore the world below.
I believe that anime, and other media, should be rated according to what they try to accomplish. With that in mind, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is practically flawless. While it doesn’t do anything new, per-se, what it does do is what Ghibli aims for, only better. New, wondrous environments and creatures, fantastic panoramas and meaningful themes abound in place of regular story and character development. That doesn’t mean that those features aren’t enjoyable however, as the events on screen are always interesting and the characters themselves are real enough that they manage to invoke the right emotions at all the right moments. It does mean, however, that Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is very much an animated movie meant for short-term enjoyment. It’s not the kind of production that generates hordes of adoring fans because the lasting attachment you can make with it is very limited. Nevertheless, it is enchanting while it lasts.
One of the things I noticed while watching was that there was a lot of material that wasn’t used to its full potential (mostly because of the time constraints of the movie format). All of the encounters the characters have with various creatures, cultures and people could easily be extended into a very enjoyable anime series. That’s not quite something I can mark a film on, however, so I’ll use this time to point out that you get a lot of bang for your buck (time-wise) with Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo. There’s the idea of the underground realm’s general decline, its previous importance in the growth of humanity, the natives’ reactions to outsiders, the outside organizations attempting to invade and so much more that I can’t list, and yet none of the scenes feel rushed. You get a taste of each of those issues before moving on, which is both a good thing for variety’s sake but also a disappointment because of what could have been. My one real complaint in terms of story is that the climax could have been drawn out for better effect.
Animated by the same studio as 5 Centimetres Per Second and The Garden of Words, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo looks absolutely gorgeous. From visual design to actual animation, it’s an experience in optical rapture from start to finish which is another one of the edges it has over Ghibli films. The environments especially do a fantastic job of cultivating that atmosphere of childlike wonder I mentioned at the very start of the review, though some portions aren’t quite as innocent as similar productions. Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo isn’t afraid to use blood, allowing it to give scenes the kind of weight other similar movies simply can’t. Soundtrack-wise, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo hits all the right notes (yeah, that hurt me too). The BGM backs up the visuals beautifully to cement the mood of whichever scene they feature in very well without being tracks that I would listen to outside of the movies. Finally, the voice acting is as good as usual for animated films.
Summary – Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo is a movie that does Ghibli better than Ghibli itself. It belongs to that genre that captures your attention and submerges you in wonderment with its fantastical environments and animation that back up a story with a multitude of interesting facets. While not every issue that’s presented is explored, that’s okay because the film doesn’t aim to explore them and instead offers them up for your consideration before moving on to the next bright, shining gem of interest. It doesn’t try to be exciting, it doesn’t try to be overly dramatic and it doesn’t try to be action-packed, but it accomplishes everything it does try to be, which is wonderful.
Score: 9/10 – Great