Although most Japanese pop culture materials are saturated with stories full of optimism and cheer, there are a few notable exceptions that break through and remind us how powerful it is to tell tales of pain and despair. In 2013, Kodansha Japan published a one-shot manga in Weekly Shonen Magazine that generated a great deal of controversy. It was a realistic look at the bullying of a young middle-school girl with a disability. The one-shot would then become a 7-volume manga series that speaks to the problems people have in communicating with one another. Kyoto Animation, the studio behind some of the fans’ favorite anime series over the past 2 decades, brought this story, Yoshitoki Oima’s “A Silent Voice”, to life in a film that deserves the title of an instant classic.
“A Silent Voice” focuses on the lives of two teenagers – Shoko Nishimiya, a girl who has a hearing disability and ends up angering her classmates during her time in middle school, and Shoya Ishida, a boy who becomes the main cause for Nishimiya’s distress. Ishida and his friends bully Nishimiya with little-to-no remorse. The bullying becomes extreme to the point where Nishimiya’s hearing aids were treated as toys. That becomes the last straw, as Ishida becomes the public scapegoat for all of the bullying, and Nishimiya ends up transferring to another school. Fast forward years later, 17-year old Ishida contemplates suicide after being rejected by everyone around him. He runs into Nishimiya again and decides to make it up to her. A tale of re-connection is born as Ishida slowly comes to terms with his actions in the past and learns how to deal with the peers who rejected him.
You Can Feel the Tension
First off, the movie captures the same harshness that got readers reacting. You feel sympathy for Nishimiya. You don’t feel any for Ishida and his friends. There’s so much raw emotion being displayed on the screen that you can’t help but understand that the bullying you’re seeing can/does happen in real life. The film also delivers on showing Ishida’s redemption story throughout. KyoAni did a good job in highlighting Ishida’s perspective of people around him, as in the manga, where he views them as just humans with a big “X” crossed over their faces, and how those “X”s fall off over time as he tries to connect with other people.
All the People You Love and Hate
All of A Silent Voice’s supporting characters appear as well. Nishimiya’s kid sister, Yuzuru, is as spunky as she is in the manga. Nagatsuka, Ishida’s first real friend in high school, shows off the energy that made him a lovable dork in the first place. The much-hated Ueno, an accomplice who bullied Nishimiya back in the day and suddenly reappears in Ishida’s life, still gives you reasons to hate her. What I like is that most of the characters aren’t exactly likable. They make efforts to improve their relationships with each other, but they know that their reasons for doing so are often vain.
So Good It Hurts
Most of the big moments in the manga are all shown, albeit in a condensed format. KyoAni pulls no punches in making them important, especially the climax of the movie. I will not spoil it, but that part in the manga was one of the toughest moments for me to read through. Even though I knew what to expect, the climax and its resolution were heart-wrenching because I related to what happened. Watching it all animated was an amazing experience, to say the least. KyoAni made it a chilling yet beautiful sequence. In fact, that particular scene was done a lot better in the film versus the manga.
What About This Character?
If there were any problems with the movie, it comes down to lack of proper treatment of the supporting characters. While I did mention that they do get some screen time, it’s not a whole lot. There was an arc in the manga involving Nagatsuka making a film and he tries to get Ishida and friends involved, which was cut. Ueno is a bit more “villainous” in the manga. Characters like Nishimiya’s mother and Mashiba had interesting backstories that don’t get fleshed out. There’s also a big part of the story after the climax where every character faces themselves, which is not there. Fans who really love the source material might be disappointed, but the movie’s strengths outweigh this problem.
Cheer Up! Everything’s Going to be Fine! Right?
Also, the ending of the movie feels a bit too cheerful. I recalled being at a panel called “But Have You Read the Manga?” at Crunchyroll Expo this year and A Silent Voice was brought up. One of the panelists, who read the manga, saw the movie (it aired in Japan and Europe at least a year before the U.S.) and said that KyoAni’s presence was felt throughout the movie versus the manga. The film’s ending made it seem like friendship will always triumph any threat that comes its way. The manga’s ending was a bit more ambivalent. The film ending was still a good one, as people do sometimes need to realize that all you need to do is just listen to what’s around you.
A Silent Voice is a must-see, not just for anime fans, but for anyone who has experienced bullying of any kind. This needs to be recognized more than Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. As much as Your Name gets all the mainstream attention, we need to hear more than just love stories. We need to hear stories of all kinds, from those who need to be heard. Bullies are terrible, but some do realize the error of their ways and own up to their mistakes. Their communication deserves some respect. Also, romantic love isn’t enough to get by; it takes love from a variety of people in our lives. The series strongly points out how we need to have better communication with one another. KyoAni deserves a lot of praise for taking on this adaptation, as they delivered on the message that Oima-sensei wanted to convey to her audience.
I’ll make my voice loud and clear. Watch A Silent Voice, read A Silent Voice, and let A Silent Voice shape your heart into one that lets other voices be heard.
Anyone who’s interested in knowing how the anime film differs from the manga can check out this post at All the Anime.