‘A Silent Voice’ focuses on a life of a young boy, Shōya Ishida. His class is introduced to a new student named Shōko, a deaf girl who communicates by writing things in her notebook. While she fascinates most kids in the class, Shōya prefers to mock her, which soon turns into bullying, and it’s not long before other classmates join in. After taking more and more abuse, including destroying her hearing aids, Shōko changes schools, while Shōya is expelled.
A few years later, Shōya is having a hard time relating to anybody (represented visually by big “X” across other people’s faces) and is drowning in his own loneliness. He finally finds one friend in a chubby, short, awkward boy named Tomohiro who idolizes him. Still felling guilty, he decides to seek out Shōko and make peace with her. He soon reunites with many other old friends but some dirt from the past is starting to emerge…
I’m only describing the basic story here, as “A Silent Voice” is over two hours long and it switches direction or adds a new subplot every few minutes. By the end, I felt more like I’d watched an entire 13 episode season of an anime series rather then a movie. The movie is based on a popular Manga series by the same title and sticks very close to it. So indeed, the plot isn’t really structured as a movie…
…but that being said, it’s actually pretty great. It touches on many complicated themes involved with the coming of age, including depression, isolation, problems with communication, and accepting people for who they are. I found it especially interesting the way it tackled bullying from the perspective of the bully and showing the consequences of it over time. Probably the most powerful part in the movie involves suicide. Without giving too much away, it’s very gripping and almost impossible to not tear up at the end. The suicide rate is currently very high amongst Japanese teens so the film’s darker content is extremely relevant.
Despite all the heavy topics, the movie does a great job balancing them with plenty of comedy, as the movie is full amusing teenage awkwardness. I’m not sure all these characters present typical archetypes of Japanese youth, but most of them had highly likable and memorable personalities, and the movie gives us plenty of time to get to know them. I loved Shōya’s mom, who while being deeply tormented by her son’s actions, still gets a few hilarious scenes as well, notably one where she tries to blackmail her son by threatening to burn his stuff.
While I’m happy to see another movie that deals with those with disabilities, Shōko seemed present largely evoke an audience “awwww” (or in Japanese terms “KAWAII!!”) All of the other characters have either some odd quirks or personality flaws and she was this generically nice girl that was 100% pure and pleasant and instant friends with everybody. You really felt your heart breaking whenever she gets abused, but when I think of “Anthem of the hearth”, another Anime movie about a mute girl (is that a genre now?) in which they gave the character a fun personality and quirks outside of her disability, Shōko by comparison almost goes into “magical deaf girl” territory, or a “Mary Sue”.
One character I truly despised was Shōya’s old classmate Naoka, who used to bully Shōko with him. She’s a one-dimensional, self-centered, mean spirited girl who at one point does something truly despicable and the film never really gives her any redeeming qualities. All of the other characters appear to be aware of her nature, but they keep hanging out with her anyway, which is all the odder as it continues when they aren’t even in the same school anymore. It’s incredibly frustrating that nobody tells her off as she clearly deserves.
One more positive point that needs mentioning is that, as often with anime, all the backgrounds were absolutely gorgeous to look at. And despite its flaws, I think everybody will find something in ‘A Silent Voice’ that they will enjoy. I highly recommend it.