A new film by Makoto Shinkai is always cause for celebration in anime circles after the success of “Voices of a Distant Star,” “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” and “5 Centimeters Per Second.”
So while his latest, “Children Who Chase Lost Voices” (from Sentai Filmworks and Section23 Films), is perfectly fine, it’s more than a bit disappointing that it’s not better.
Maybe it’s because he was more collaborative with this one and shared duties such as script and character designs. The film isn’t his singular vision, and I think it suffers slightly for it.
The two main things I noticed were pacing and the character designs.
Shinkai’s works have always been just the right length — no bit wasted and no part longer than it needed to be. Not so here. “Children” drags in places and feels padded. And at almost two hours, it doesn’t need any padding.
And while I can’t criticize because they’re actually quite nice, Takay Nishimura’s character designs have a distinctly Miyazaki feel as opposed to the slightly more angular looks of Shinkai’s earlier films. They even have what I call “Miyazaki hair” that floats more than you usually see.
The same goes for the creature designs. If you’re going to crib from anyone, it’s hard to go wrong with Miyazaki. They look incredible.
In this story, Asuna is a high school girl who picks up a mysterious song on her handmade radio. It turns out it comes from a boy, Shin, who has traveled to this world from the mythological land of Agartha deep under the Earth.
I won’t spoil the circumstances, but Asuna winds up traveling to Agartha with her substitute teacher, Mr. Morisaki, who’s looking to return his wife from the dead. But “topsiders” aren’t welcome in Agartha, and Asuna and Morisaki must overcome many obstacles on their journey.
And what a beautiful journey it is. The film may not have Shinkai’s trademark character designs, but it does have his stunning backdrops. Nobody does skies like Shinkai, and everything visual about this film is absolutely stunning, from the clouds to the vistas to the insides of buildings. It’s beautiful and inventive and a pleasure to watch.
Sentai doesn’t do a lot of dubs, but they did a strong job with this one. Hilary Haag has grown over the years as a voice actress and shows some nice emotional depth in her work as Asuna. David Matranga also does a good job as Mr. Morisaki.
And even if the story does lag a bit here and there, and Shun’s raison d’etre needs fleshing out, it’s still an entertaining two hours. If I did more conventional grades, I’d probably give this one a B, when it could be an A with tighter storytelling.