Pain & Forgiveness in "A Silent Voice"
I love art, no matter the medium. Why? Because, whether it’s in the form of an illustration, song, or film/show, it can achieve so much in the small amount of time we spend with it. One of my favorite mediums is anime, and with good reason. There are things you can do with animation that just can’t be done with live-action presentations. Beautiful art coupled with top-notch voice acting takes me to a place that most other mediums can’t. It’s why I appreciate anime and anime films as much as I do. And that appreciate is what brings me to talk about one of the best animated features I’ve seen in recent years.
Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice)
Have you ever thought back on your time in elementary school? I’m sure you have, because ho doesn’t miss being a kid right? For most, that’s a time in life where there are no bills, no responsibilities, and limitless possibilities for the future. Though, at the same time, most kids are grade A assholes. I mean, kids have narrow views, less overall knowledge and a lesser ability to deal with complex, emotional situations appropriately, so there’s no question that kids can end up making a mark on each other’s lives… And not always in a good way.
This is the crux of the story of A Silent Voice. Our mc, Shoya bullies Shoko, a deaf girl he meets during his time in elementary school. The bullying gets so bad that Shoko has to transfer schools. What follows is the story of Shoya reconnecting with Shoko when they’re older, and him trying to make amends for his horrible treatment of her all those years ago.
Now, I just want to put this out there from the get go: I loved this movie. There wasn’t much I didn’t like about it, apart from the realistic depiction of human beings, because it reminded me just how crappy people can be to each other, just because we’re different. Now what all did I like or dislike about A Silent Voice? Well, let’s jump in!
+ The Visuals
I went into this movie knowing it would look beautiful, because Kyoto Animation, or KyoAni for short, was the studio producing it, and I’ve never been disappointed by a KyoAni production, at least visually. When looking for something pleasing to the eye, they can do no wrong. Whether it was the character designs, the backgrounds, or the small subtleties that display the emotional shifts in a character’s mood, KyoAni knocked it out of the park. I can’t remember a moment in the film where things didn’t look good.
Continuing on the visual front, the art direction in this was unique in that a lot of the time, the shots weren’t fully centered or focused like you would expect them to be. Being a teenager is awkward, and if you the intense emotions that stem from bullying, romance and guilt to the mix, then you have a highly combustible concoction. Yamada, the director did a great job in using the blurred backgrounds, skewed frames and even going as far as playing with perspective to convey the emotions the characters feel. For example, there was one scene where the camera titled to the point where only a character’s hand was shown, but with that one body part, we understand how uncomfortable, how angry, how affected this character was, without her even saying anything. Just from seeing the movement in her hand while another character spoke to her. It was shots like this throughout the film that helps set it apart from other coming of age dramas at least for me.
+ The Characters
Now, I didn’t like a few of the characters. Well, I should be completely honest. I only liked about three of the characters, and one of them was a cute kid who was actually innocent as could be
Now how can I feel this way and still consider it a plus? Well, because the characters are presented in a way that makes all, if not most of their actions believable. You feel like these characters can actually exist, and you can see them actually doing the things they do in this film. People aren’t embodiments of singular characteristics; they’re multilayered, they’re complex, they’re a mess of emotions, thoughts and mistakes. Sometimes people learn from past mistakes, sometimes they don’t, but we’re all shaped by the things that we do, for better or worse.
+ The Subject Matter (and the way it’s handled)
Bullying is as prevalent now as it’s ever been, and you don’t see many animated features focus on it. And the film I have seen that deal with bullying, be it in person, or cyberbullying, or any sort of bullying really, it’s almost always done in a way that that doesn’t realistically portray the psychological, emotional and sometimes even physical effects that bullying brings. People try to hurt others (and not always by jumping straight to school shooting) while some opt for self-harm and/or attempted suicide. But, sometimes things are internalized, to the point that one can be led to hate themselves. And of course this can lead to the aforementioned self harm or suicide. But to have someone who’s at an impressionable age, where self worth and self-esteem are easily affected have to suffer bullying, well that makes for some great storytelling if done right. And boy does A Silent Voice do it right.
Life isn’t perfect, and neither are the people who live it. To cope with these imperfections, people often resort to lashing out at others to cover up how they feel about themselves, and in doing so only work to further bring out the imperfections others see in themselves. To have someone put a spotlight on your defects, your shameful habits, or just things you’re uncomfortable with about yourself is something no one enjoys. And for Shoko, one of these is her deafness. She does her damndest to connect with her peers, but most just see her as this unapproachable and broken kid who messes up the status quo. So, they belittle, make fun of, and ostracize her. And if that isn’t an accurate portrayal on how people deal with those who are different, I don’t know what is.
- The Characters
Now, now. I know what you’re thinking. Donte, how can the characters be a good and bad thing about A Silent Voice? Well, you remember how I said these characters are ones that you could see existing in real life? Well that, in a nutshell is how they can be both a good and bad things about the film. Let me explain.
People suck. That’s not my opinion, it’s a fact. People murder, rape, steal, lie, and some even refuse to read! In all seriousness, people can be horrible, even more so when they’re children. Kids don’t have the filters most adults do, they don’t think about how their actions affect those around them most of the time, and on to of that, they’re woefully ignorant of the things one should and shouldn’t do to others. Hence the merciless bullying. And I’m justified in using merciless because at one point, Shoko bleeds from the antics of Shoya and man have I never wanted to punch a kid square in the face than I did in that moment. It only made the other students turning on him that much more satisfying, cause he freaking deserved it.
That’s pretty much it for what I didn’t like though. If I had to choose something else, it’d be the pacing. It was pretty slow-going in a few spots, but I didn’t mind because the characters were interesting, the plot was engaging and thought-provoking, actions (even seemingly trivial ones) had consequences, and these characters actually learned from their mistakes, and grew from them, however slow and minute those changes may be.
There was this constant visual where those around Shoya would have huge “Xs” over their faces, and I don’t really want to spoil why they’re there, but when you learn why, and see some of those “Xs” disappear, there’s a sense of pride you feel for Shoya and his growth. That’s all I’ll say on that one, but if you haven’t seen this one and you’re able to, definitely do so. You will not be disappointed…unless you dislike a moving story (seriously shed a tear with this one), realistic characters and believable relationship dynamics, or just gorgeous art and animation.