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In an alternate universe, Japan is partitioned after WWII. Hokkaido is annexed by the Soviet Union, while Honshu and the southern islands go to the USA. A huge tower is built on Hokkaido, now known as Ezo, which can be seen across the waters of the Tsugaru Strait from Aomori, the northernmost town on Honshu. Four decades later, in 1996, two teenagers vow to take the girl they both love to see the tower's mysteries in their homemade aircraft, the Bella Ciela. Then Sayuri Sawatari falls ill with a strange narcolepsy and is transferred to Tokyo for treatment by a specialist. Her friends Hiroshi Fujisawa and Takuya Shirakawa abandon their dream and get on with their lives, but when Hiroshi learns that Sayuri is still in a coma three years later, they decide to try and help her. The world is on the brink of war again, and Sayuri's dreams are the key to a mystery which will bring her two childhood friends in touch with parallel worlds and political tensions as she tries to dream herself back to a place where unfulfilled childhood promises can finally be kept.
Makoto Shinkai has developed greatly since he drafted Voices of a Distant Star virtually single-handed on his home computer. Mixing the Hokkaido quest of Diamond Daydreams with the girlfriend-in-a-coma of The Eternity You Desire and the alternate history of Fullmetal Alchemist, this project shows almost the same level of hands-on control-he created, wrote, directed, and storyboarded, and also handled art direction, color design, editing, postproduction, and sound direction. This, plus the use of elements such as flight and hand-built aircraft with Italian names, has led some critics to make comparisons with Hayao Miyazaki. Beautiful as this second work is, such comparisons are extremely premature. Shinkai the writer is still fixated on the theme of his early work-the agony of loss imposed by time, distance, and age. He creates beautiful characters, real and engaging, but they are entirely caught up in yearning and reminiscence, reluctant to move in any direction except back. His promising plot is simply left to unravel, its threads unresolved. His assured handling of lighting, color, and music creates and sustains atmosphere so well that it seems almost unkind to highlight the deficiency, but this is not yet the output of a mature and rounded creator. Like its story, it's a youthful promise, a shining dream that still awaits fulfillment.