A story that does not deserve to go unheard
Anime tends to focus a lot on less realistic stories with more supernatural or futuristic settings. It’s not too often that we get an animated work that focuses on a realistic story in a grounded setting. A Silent Voice is one such film. A Silent Voice is an animated movie based off a Japanese manga of the same name. The movie released in Japan a year ago but was overshadowed by the hit anime film Your Name. Last week the film has begun playing in select theatres within America. How does this movie stand? Is it a hidden gem or does it fall short of greatness?
A Silent Voice centers around two characters: Shoya Ishida, a former bully who denies himself happiness and Shouko Nishimiya, a kindhearted deaf girl. In elementary school Ishida mercilessly bullied Shouko to the point of ruining both their lives. Years later he runs into Shouko and tries to atone for his actions, befriending the girl he once bullied. Along his path to redemption he makes several new friends and reconnects with old ones. The film follows Ishida as he befriends Shouko and attempts to atone for his past sins by making her happy.
A Story Heard but Unheard
The story is very good. The film moves at a good pace that slowly builds up over time. The first act follows Ishida and Shouko as kids, before skipping over to their late teens. This sets up the film perfectly, putting more importance on the dynamic between Idida and Shouko by showing us their prior interactions. The audience can become more invested in Ishida’s struggles because we see his past actions and the repercussions those actions had on him rather than just setting the story in the late teen years and relying on the character’s word of mouth and flashbacks. Its a good instance of “showing not telling” storytelling that a lot of films seem to miss these days.
Nothing feels rushed and the drama later in the film happens naturally, rather than feeling shoehorned in like a lot of other movies. The story unfurls realistically, going in the direction you’d expect it to logically go. I don’t want to spoil anything about the later plot developments but the climax of the movie had very good tension and it kept me at the edge of my seat, invested in everything that was going on.
Despite being a full blown movie A Silent Voice is still at its core a manga adaptation. As someone who has read the manga I can say that the movie did a good job staying faithful to the source material for the most part. A few plot lines from the manga didn’t make it into the movie but it doesn’t harm the film too badly. The worst it does for the movie is cutting out a notable plotline relating to Ishida and friends making a movie, which was a crucial part of one of the character’s development. This resulted in the character feeling much weaker and blander in comparison to the others.
A story is nothing without its characters the cast here is great. Both Ishida and Shouko are good characters but what really makes them work is their relationship. Their relationship is very complex, changing and evolving over time as they go from bully and victim to the most important people in eachother’s lives. It’s not just “hey we’re both the leads so let’s hook up” like most movies. It’s a complex constantly changing bond that feels very real. By focusing so heavily on their connection we get to see the best and worst of these characters.
A Silent Voice does a really good job at not making its characters into cliches. None of the characters fit into a traditional stereotype because there’s so many aspects to them. They feel more like real people than fictional characters, which for a story grounded in reality is perfect. A good example is with one character who becomes Ishida’s best friend early into the second act. At first glance he seems like a joke character; a short overweight guy who looks like Steven Universe wandered into another show by accident. However he ends up being a quirky but important person in the overall plot, serving as not only the first person Ishida opens up to, but also helps him reconnect with Shouko after their first reunion. These characters have so much depth to them that you can’t just judge them by their first scenes.
A Picture Worth a Thousand Words
The movie is animated by Kyoto Animations, the studio behind The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the recent Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Kyoto Animations has been known for having good animation and this movie is no different. The animation was superb, quite possibly even the best the studio has produced. The animation flowed smoothly, with no noticeable hiccups. A lot of detail was put into the character designs and backgrounds, right down to the tag on Ishida’s shirt. This combined with the more realistic character designs helped give the movie a unique visual identity.
A Silent Voice puts a lot of focus on little details. A good example is in the portrayal of Shouko’s deafness. She can’t hear Ishida, and can’t react to sounds like everyone else, but the movie works around this. There’s one great scene where Shouko notices another character’s arrival purely by the vibrations of a handrail as they grab it or only after glancing in their general direction. These details aren’t limited to the portrayal of deafness, they can be seen throughout the movie. Little details like Ishida’s young niece doing her own thing in the background of several scenes and lack of background character dialogue reflecting Ishida’s views of others adds a lot to otherwise normal scenes.
Heading In The Right Direction
The composition and directing are the best part of the movie. The direction of each scene was outstanding, perfectly drawing out the viewers emotions when needed by coordinating the visuals and sound design to emphasize the mood that the scene is trying to get across. The use of visual symbolism in many scenes is done really well and is often used to contrast characters and represent ideas without saying them. This fits in really well with the movie’s subject of deafness, focusing heavily on visuals that can convey deeper information that the audio cannot.
The Wrap Up
Overall, A Silent Voice is one of the better movies I’ve seen this year. It doesn’t rely on overused cliches like other films and brings something completely fresh to the table. It’s got great visuals, amazing direction, and good characters made even better through their interactions with one another. A Silent Voice is one of the best Anime movies I’ve seen in this post-Ghibli age, with only a few minor flaws holding it back from perfection. If you’re lucky enough to have a showing of A Silent Voice near you I highly recommend checking it out.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Directed by: Naoko Yamada ; Screenplay by: Reiko Yoshida