Another anime film right after the absolute stunner that is Your Name. A Silent Voice (aka The Shape of Voice) has enormous expectations to meet, due to the skyscraper standards set by Your Name, along with the well received manga which it was adapted from. I have not read the manga at the point of watching, I walked into the theaters alone, unplanned and confused (the morning right after my final exams), not knowing what to expect.
I am so glad I did.
It was the best cinema experience I ever had in 22 years of my life. Hands down.
A deaf girl, Shouko Nishimiya, transfers and tries to fit into a regular primary school, but was instead bullied and exploited by a group of students led by the adventurous and boredom-prone Shouya Ishida. Despite Shouko’s best efforts to mingle with the rest, Shouya and his group rejected her friendship and intensified the bullying, which eventually led to her transferring away. The consequences was dire for Shoya, as he was pinpointed as the perpetrator of the entire bullying incident, leading his group to turn against him and isolate him. In ironic fashion, Shouya became the target of bullying and as a result becomes alienated from his social circles, and developed some degree of social anxiety and depression. To sum it up, he feels hopeless and accepts that as his punishment.
The rest of the film details his life after primary school where even stories of his past behavior circulates, including the hardships he has to endure to reconcile with Shouko and handles the feelings of alienation, depression, and anxiety, while expanding his social circle. The film concludes with him successfully conquering his mental barriers, forging new genuine friendships again, and fully reconciles with Shouko.
I find the plot new yet oddly familiar. It was new as I don’t normally watch slice of life works, but the warm familiarity comes from my experiences during my schooling days of innocent adventures, friendship, and reaching out to the world. I won’t deny that I felt a strange longingness for high school life, which I lived through immersing in the film. Incredibly satisfying.
A Silent Voice deals with more concrete themes rooted in social issues: bullying and disability. These two core themes are extremely relatable to anyone from any age group or culture, and the movie starts off by fleshing out how dark and ugly our innocence, apathy, and ignorance can be, even as children.
Another theme that stood out to me was forgiveness, which was constantly shown by Shouko towards others. But on a deeper level, I can see that A Silent Voice is more about forgiveness towards the self as the ultimate goal. Most of the complications depicted is more often than not, rooted in reluctance to forgive not just others, but oneself.
At first sight (at least on promotional posters), A Silent Voice will look like a romance anime. The romance was just right for me. Some viewers and readers argued that Shouya did not explicitly reciprocate the romantic feelings Shouko eventually developed for him, making the title as a whole not satisfying and incomplete. In my opinion, Shouya’s feelings for her transcended beyond normal realms of romance, and has been satisfyingly demonstrated through the entire film itself. The part where he fails to decipher Shouko’s confessions of love was great comedic relief, and at the same time makes some nostalgic references to some of my own high school experiences. The romance I see is no longer between just two beings, but rather a broader attitude of lovingness towards life.
Mental health and courage are also a core feature of the film. Shouya has to battle his hopelessness and social anxiety throughout the film and the camerawork does an ingenious job at communicating that. From Shouya’s perspective, the camera constantly omits the face. Faces of people that Shouya is feeling disconnected from has crosses blocking their face, which eventually peels off when he opens up and accepts his complicated feelings towards them. This is one of the most brilliant usage of metaphors in films that I have seen.
Last but not least, A Silent Voice also discusses suicide, but takes a more positive attitude towards it compare to 13 Reasons Why. Its position on suicide is simple: there is always hope. Life is a series of choices, suicide is a choice that can be respected, but that will be the last choice one will ever make. All the most fulfilling choices one can make begins with choosing to live, breathe, and bleed.
Music and Illustration
In terms of amount of thought put into sounds and animation, A Silent Voice is amazing. The initial songs are actually rather slow paced and full of silent gaps, as if to communicate the deafness theme even more. As the story progresses, the music becomes more lively and hopeful. The ending theme is worth staying through for.
The illustration and animation is fancy as well. It doesn’t boasts the incredible scenic lights and colors of Shinkai’s works, but otherwise it is pretty much on par. In fact, A Silent Voice utilizes certain visual effects, such as ripples of light and crosses on faces, for metaphorical purposes and pulls them off perfectly. Another strong point is the powerful emphasis on the body language, be it the sign language or the general behavior of the characters inside. Like Your Name, actions are incredibly fluid and faithful to real life behaviors. All in all, both visual and audio combined to give me some of the best sensory experiences ever in a cinema, and I am craving for more.
If I had any complaint about the film, there is a general lack of development from a couple of the characters, but the main cast and most of the supporting cast had been very well developed and memorable. The small flaws was forgivable considering this is a film trying to condense an entire manga series into two hours. Shouko, Yuzuru, and Shouya naturally had the spotlights on their growth, whereas the rest did not display enough growth that was as fleshed out in the manga. In fact, the appearance of the character Satoshi Mashiba seemed to be quite…sudden. His involvement apparently makes more sense in the manga, but his involvement in the film was rather insignificant and out of the blue (yet was still considered a major supporting character), considering that he wasn’t part of Shouya and Shouko’s childhood. Otherwise, viewers are bound to grow attached to the characters and their lives, due to how vulnerable and human they are portrayed.
A Silent Voice convinced me (who normally prefers the comfort of his room and the flexibility of a 14 inch laptop) that any anime that airs in the cinema is most likely a must watch. I don’t even know who I would not recommend this to. Everything about it from the characters, group dynamics, aesthetics, themes, and development, all impressed me to no end.
All in all, A Silent Voice offers an therapeutic package that mixes the nostalgia of school life, the perils of growing up, the experience of alienation, the power of acceptance, and courage needed in overcoming psychological barriers. It will shatter your emotional resistances, and rebuild it anew. Together with nearly unparalleled aesthetics, I think a case could be made for how powerful anime can be.