When we held the 2016 Tanuki Bridge Anime & Manga Awards, there was one category in particular where Josh and I debated a lot – “Best Storytelling”. At the time, A Silent Voice had only received a few, limited festival showings, but I fought my corner – believing that it beat out the competition. In the end, we agreed to award it with the accolade. With that in mind and its theatrical run just around the corner, I thought it was time to share my review with you.
A Silent Voice tells the story of Shoya Ishida and Shoko Nishimiya; beginning when the latter transfers into their elementary school class. Shoko is unfortunately deaf, which makes her a target for Shoya and his friends to bully. After months of torment, she eventually transfers out of the school, leaving the class to pin the blame on Shoya, then start bullying him instead.
Fast forward several years and a downtrodden, reformed Shoya meets Shoko again, with a desire to make amends for his past behaviour. A Silent Voice begins to unfold into a coming-of-age story that not only deals with difficult subjects like bullying and society’s attitude towards differences. It’s difficult to get into the story without spoiling too much, so I’ll avoid doing so – but just trust me when I say that the storytelling on show here is simply remarkable.
The first half deals with bullying in a realistic fashion; young children pick on those who are different, so sadly it’s no surprise that poor Shoko was targeted – and at the same time, the film goes to great lengths to make sure none of this feels forced. The treatment of Shoko, as horrible as it is, feels like something that might naturally happen (but shouldn’t!); so there is already a strong foundation for the story to build on. When Shoko eventually transfers and the class turns on Shoya, that too feels natural; they need a scapegoat to blame and make themselves feel better – humans are selfish after all. That said, when children grow up and realise the things they’ve done, they tend to carry a lot of regrets – which brings us back to Shoya Ishida and his classmates in the present day. They know they did wrong and the fact he is trying to make amends, is certainly admirable when so many wouldn’t.
With the bullying chapter over, the second half is allowed to focus on Shoko’s emotions; how her condition makes her feel odd and out of place in the world, like a worthless burden on those around her. Slowly, with precise attention to detail, the story of A Silent Voice unravels to reveal the deep, raw emotions swirling inside Shoko, giving us an insight into what it may feel like to live with being deaf. It’s not just Shoko though, as there is a lot to Shoya’s character and the regrets he carries; like dealing with the shame his childhood actions brought to his family. Together, the cast gives us a varied look at humans and the many problems and mental hurdles we often have to deal with.
A Silent Voice has been adapted into film from a seven-volume manga by Yoshitoki Oima (available in English via Kodansha Comics and Crunchyroll Manga). The adaptation’s studio, Kyoto Animation (The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-ON!) have simply done a wonderful job. Serving as director is Naoko Yamada (K-ON!), with A Silent Voice showcasing her growth as a director in how she slots everything from the source together. While a lot of side content was cut, on the whole nothing feels missing and would have gone unnoticed had I not read the manga beforehand.
The film is bright and colourful with the beautiful animation we’ve come to know and love from Kyoto Animation, but here, they have also put a lot more effort into every aspect of a character’s facial expressions. Perhaps most importantly, they also portrayed sign language really well throughout the film and you’ll certainly come away having learned a phrase or two (Editor’s Note – It’s a shame Japanese Sign Language and British Sign Language are different).
My only real disappointment with the movie is the music, which has been composed by Kensuke Ushio (Ping Pong The Animation). I don’t find the music in A Silent Voice bad, but at the same time I don’t find myself actively wanting to listen to it. It’s always present in the movie and yet never steals your attention or really makes you stop and think ‘wow’ the same way the soundtracks for Your Name and Yamada’s previous film, Tamako Love Story did. It’s such a shame, because this is the only aspect the film let slip just a little bit.
On the subject of music and sound, it’s worth mentioning just how wonderful the vocal performances are – with Saori Hayami (Seraph of the End‘s Shinoa Hiragi)’s interpretation of Shoko’s broken, tone-deaf voice being a wonderful highlight. As a whole, the cast does an excellent job with not one putting a foot wrong in my opinion.
Overall, A Silent Voice is a truly tremendous film that is well worth your time. It deals with some heavy content that can make it hard to watch at times, but its incredible realism highlights just how important this film is; making it relatable in a lot of ways. I was fortunate enough to see this film at Leeds International Film Festival last year and encourage everyone to see the upcoming theatrical release. A Silent Voice is definitely a film I’ll be remembering for many years to come.
Title: A Silent Voice
Production: Kyoto Animation
Distributor: Anime Limited
Version Reviewed: Theatrical
Released: March 15th 2017
“A Silent Voice” will be shown in select cinemas across the United Kingdom from 15 March 2017. Screenings will be Japanese-language with English-subtitles. To find out more, please visit the official website.