Bullies are universally reviled and rightly so because they are cowards who ruin lives through the use of physical abuse and intimidation. Given that most people hate bullies, more than David Leavitt, it’s surprising to see that A Silent Voice tells the story of someone who picked on a disabled girl. Back in elementary school Shoya Ishida played cruel pranks on deaf transfer student Shoko Nishimiya and even went as far as destroying several of her expensive hearing aids. The tormenting got so bad that Shoko eventually moved away to another school. Shoya soon learnt that payback is a bitch, because in retaliation for the cruelty he committed his classmates severed all ties with him.
Years after the events described above Shoya contemplates suicide. He has nothing to live for, as his notoriety has left him friendless in high school. Even worse he had to sell off his entire manga collection to pay off the bill for the hearing aids he damaged. Life without comics just isn’t worth living! At the eleventh hour Shoya however decides against leaping off a tall bridge. Rather than give up on existence the repentant teenager decides instead to learn sign language, so he can track down Shoko and communicate to her how much he laments his past misdeeds.
As someone who has been the victim of bullying I didn’t expect to have any sympathy for Shoya, but somehow A Silent Voice made me feel empathy for its protagonist. A lifetime of isolation is a harsh punishment for crimes he committed as a child. We all have done stupid things in our youth after all. Unlike some bullies, who stubbornly remain jerks, Shoya feels genuine guilt for his past behaviour and puts the effort into making amends. Learning sign language, just so he can apologize to Shoko, is admirable. It’s not something I could do. As my poor grammar suggests, I haven’t even mastered English yet! I cannot imagine how much dedication it takes to train in a second form of communication
Forgiving Shoya is easy for the audience because the victim in all this harbours no ill will towards him. Shoko is a sweetheart who would rather become friends with Shoya (and maybe something more) rather than hate him. Even during the midst of his bullying Shoko tried to protect her harasser from other students, who had decided he should suffer a taste of his own medicine. In a way Shoya is just as much of a victim as Shoko is. He was made the fall guy for Shoko’s departure, despite not being the sole person to treat her poorly. Some of the girls in elementary school for example resented how having a handicap classmate was hindering their chances of winning a choir contest. Musical tournaments are serious business, as Sound Euphonium will attest to!
My rating for A Silent Voice is four stars. I feel that the movie deserves that score purely from a technical standpoint. The animation and artwork is gorgeous, as one would expect from a Kyo Ani production, and I liked the stylistic choice of masking the facial features of people who shunned Shoya behind an X. The story and characterisations are all strong too, which is no surprise as the movie is based on Yoshitoki Oima’s award winning manga. I can’t say however that I liked the movie to the level of other reviewers. Were I to grade the film on how much I enjoyed it I would consider awarding it a three out of five.
I watch anime for the amusing hijinks of draconic maids, the hypnotic jiggle of bouncing cat girls and the action packed battles between a geek and parasitic organisms. A Silent Voice doesn’t tick any of those boxes, although I will concede it is a beautiful work of art. The narrative’s pacing is glacial and downright depressing at times. I thought things would liven up once Shoya overcame Shoko’s overprotective relatives, enabling him to patch things up with her. Instead what we get is two hours of people feeling miserable. Shoya feels like he isn’t worthy of a pardon and Shoko feels equally bad because Shoya would have been spared from much hardship had the two never met.
Perhaps reading the manga would have been more to my liking? Pausing in between volumes, to recuperate from the gloom, would have been more palatable than 129 straight minutes of misery. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day deals with similar themes of childhood acquaintances coming to terms with a past tragedy, but resonated more with me as it balanced out the melodrama with humour. A Silent Voice is a movie that I would recommend, although I do so with the caveat that you have to be in the right mood for it. The feature may be too much of a slog for viewers who enjoy lighthearted skits about band mates drinking tea. Those who prefer their Kyo Ani with a bit more substance will however find much to admire in this Naoko Yamada directed flick.