Spoiler Warning: This post contains spoilers!
A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) is a unique piece of story which leaves me with lingering mixed feelings to this day. I first came across this series when the one-shot was shared on a certain imageboard and I remember it left me in a puzzled state after finishing the last page – conflicted whether to feel disgusted or depressed whilst holding contempt over the complexities and vulnerabilities of the human heart. The drawing style of A Silent Voice’s author Yoshitoki Ouima is overtly sketchy and sometimes hindered the story due to the weird faces – but perfectly captures the intent raw emotion and feelings. What I appreciate about A Silent Voice‘s existence is how anime and manga can seriously be taken as a tool for the greater good addressing such sensitive issues, as A Silent Voice encompasses a coming-of-age tale of redemption, friendship and love while dealing with the heavy reality of family strife, suicide and most notable of all; bullying.
My unspoken fascination of Naoko Yamada’s directing style was growing around the time I read A Silent Voice because she was directing the then airing Tamako Market and the movie follow up title Tamako Love Story. Sure, as most slice-of-life anime goes nothing ever happens in Tamako Market (but Tamako Love Story made it all up!), but there was something about the anime that made it stand out out of the vast ocean of slice of life anime at the time – and what we have now today. Yamada’s method of incorporating realistic human qualities to her characters adds a sense of humanity to the cast dynamic; from the body fidgeting to the natural spoken dialogue exchanged between characters. Yamada’s direction feels more like a live-action-anime rather than a anime-anime; an abstract concept yet increasing phenomenon and is what I think Miyazaki intended to call out on in that infamous interview in 2014.
So when news broke out A Silent Voice was getting the anime treatment overseen by Yamada herself, to watching the beautifully edited movie trailers on KyoAni’s YouTube channel one after the other and noticing the bit of marketing whilst in Tokyo last Summer, being the closet KyoAni fanboy I am I knew A Silent Voice was going to be something special. I had the chance to go see the film at the England premiere at the London ICA back in February and a graceful second opportunity when the movie made a national UK premiere in March. It was my first time seeing a film twice in the cinema and I did not regret it one single bit.
Adapting a seven-volume manga into a two hour film is no easy feat and it was obvious from the get-go a lot of material had to be taken out or at least repurposed to save on limited screentime. The most obvious element to cut of all is the side-story arc when Nagatsuka brings out the Steven Spielberg inside of him and has the clique create a short film for the cultural festival – although some elements from this arc linger and become an integral component to Nagatsuka’s character in the film. The consequence for this culling sadly resulted in how underdeveloped some side-characters turned out to become. Side characters including most of Shouya’s early childhood friends were relegated to even lower tiers of side characters, Satoshi – whose purpose was to star in the lead role of the homemade movie in the aforementioned scrapped arc appears anyway but sits mostly on the sidelines without much purpose than to act as ‘friend fodder’ and to appease the manga audience. Shouko’s mum in particular felt harrowingly empty as most of her exposition tragically explained in the manga didn’t make it into the final cut. The impact of the death of Shouko’s grandmother went undersold in the movie as it did in the manga; who served as the beacon of hope for Shouko and Yuzuru relying on her for emotional support due to the strict reign of their single parent mother. Despite the the story’s fillery weightloss Yamada intelligently translated the spirit of the manga into a harmonious display of filmmaking onto the big screen – no part of the movie felt at all wasted with each sequential scene just building itself up towards the heart wrenching climax and conclusion.
With my refreshed pair of eyes, one thing I’d noticed during my second viewing was how the movie felt as if I was watching an observational documentary. A Silent Voice never took sides nor shamed regarding the bullying element of the story. Despite each character having their own reasons to the selfish or selfless actions they commit, the movie nor the manga never judged, demonised or finger waggled any of the characters as it neutrally depicted said acts in its rawest and unsensationalised form, as well as the consequences that naturally follow.
I couldn’t help but notice the audible sniffles in the audience whilst in the cinema at both showings – I hate to admit it but I too walked out of A Silent Voice with a half empty packet of tissues because my eyes and nose just kept uncontrollably sweating the entire time. The most hard-hitting moments from the original manga were marvellously carried over and embellished with utmost respect and compassion. Saori Hayami did an absolute amazing job voicing Shouko even with the make-or-break nature of comprising the role of a character of disability – something that is barely of existence in the realm of anime. You could just feel the intent raw emotion in Shouko resonating with Hayami’s stellar voice work during the most pressured moments of the film; those powerful heart-breaking cries of sadness and despair devastates me every time. You probably have a heart of stone if you didn’t shed teardrops at least 48 times throughout the film.
The animation is of course nothing less than stellar coming from Kyoto Animation; from the visual metaphor of Shouya’s ‘X’ stickers applied to people’s faces in his perimeter – expressing his deep isolation to the most Naoko Yamada scene of all Naoko Yamada scenes on the ferris wheel, A Silent Voice is Yamada’s culminating work yet as Your Name is to Makoto Shinkai in 2016. Much care was placed onto the hand animations portraying shuwa – sign-language as accurately as possible to such lengths since the movie was also intended to be shown to the hard of hearing audience. Characters stop nearly all movements throughout the rest of their body to further elevate the importance of their message conveyed through fingers, palm and wrist movements. A Silent Voice demonstrates that verbal communication isn’t the only method of communication but there are a variety of different ways to express oneself – to craft the shape of voice. (kill me)
Yamada’s method acting ethos follows through as the body language of the cast felt almost real, reserving all the expressive and comical tendencies into the light-hearted parts in the film. The flower symbolism tie-ins during the interims just adds to my eagerness to learn the language of flowers and know the meaning behind each instance (or wait until someone makes a glossary explaining it all). I absolutely love Kensuke Ushio’s timeless and breathtaking soundtrack playing an extremely vital role to A Silent Voice; heightening the already tense scenes with tracks like “lit” (no pun intended) and “svg” while brilliantly amplifying key moments with “black and white” and “acc”. While adapting A Silent Voice for television would have been the appropriate route given the sheer amount of content in the original source, I’m glad they decided to turn it into a feature because of how effectively they were able to send the message of the plot home in a concise two-hour spectacle, rather than spreading out into a diluted and lengthy twelve-week process.
A Silent Voice is a powerful anime feature that addresses and challenges the difficult issues behind the stigma of disability and other sensitive topics through a raw and unadulterated method of storytelling. Through A Silent Voice KyoAni demonstrates what anime can seriously achieve for the greater good; depicting delicate topics and abstract feelings with compassion through animation at a high level that live action wouldn’t be able to come as far. A Silent Voice is by far Naoko Yamada’s most impressive work yet and I am excited to see what the rising star of KyoAni has in store for the future!
– ;_;/10 –