It’s no secret that 2017 has not been the greatest year for animated films. Sure, some have been better than expected, but there has yet to be a real stunner released (unless you count Your Name as a 2017 release). The only upside to this trend is that it might force animation fans to dig a little deeper than the major studios, and look to anime and indie releases to find greatness. A new anime film called A Silent Voice is just the ticket.
Based on a popular manga, A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) tells the story of a boy named Shoya Ishida and a deaf girl named Shoko Nishimiya. Starting in elementary school, the film follows them into adulthood, and begins with Ishida bullying Nishimiya as a child. Ishida is a very unhappy child and he brings that out to persecute Nishimiya, which can be quite painful to watch. The film does not hold its punches, nor does it gloss over or glorify what Ishida does. He gets expelled from school and once he realizes what he has done becomes consumed with guilt and self-loathing.
It’s a very tough tightrope director Naoko Yamada walks with a protagonist bully but she manages to underscore the social anxiety and rejection of both characters with poignancy and power. Ishida reaches the point where he can’t look at anyone around him and this is illustrated by blue Xs over their faces. As he gets some confidence, an X will slowly be peeled off. Nishimiya is also a very complex character, who is not the paragon of virtue some might be tempted to portray with a disabled character. She has her own self-loathing and despair she deals with. Basically, the two characters are incredibly lonely.
I won’t tell you any more of the story but A Silent Voice is a powerful look at forgiveness, loneliness, mental illness, peer pressure, and more. It can be sad but it controls tone remarkably well. I never felt manipulated watching it because it had an emotional honesty I could relate to. A sad movie can be very inspiring if it comes from a true place.
As you can probably tell from these images, the animation is stunning. The character design is fairly generic anime but the backgrounds and production design are beautiful. I loved the way the film used light and nature, like flowers and rain, to portray different emotions.
A Silent Voice is probably not going to win over many non-anime fans to the medium. It’s a little too experimental for their taste, but as a fan I loved it. In a way, it is a nice counter-balance to Your Name‘s sci-fi spiritual elements. This is a simple story about a bully and a victim who conquer their loneliness. Thank goodness for anime in 2017!
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden