Communication & Conflict – My Impressions of A Silent Voice
Last week I had a rare opportunity to catch a cinema screening of the recent anime movie release A Silent Voice with some friends and while I don’t usually write up or review individual works outside of my classic anime section I was particularly enamoured with it and felt compelled to give it some attention. So please enjoy this basic rundown of the movie and my own impressions of it!
A Silent Voice is a 2016 production by Kyoto Animation based on the manga by Yoshitoki Oima. It is a school drama centered around a group of teenagers and their struggles with personal and social issues. After a brief framing device in the introduction which I won’t spoil here as it’s a pretty hard-hitting opening we are introduced to the primary protagonist Shoya Ishida as a somewhat delinquent elementary school student. When deaf girl Shoko Nishimiya transfers into his class Shoya’s unease at Nishimiya’s condition compels him to bully her to the point that she eventually moves to another school and Shoya is ostracised by his classmates for his actions; a consequence which leads him to grow up distanced from everyone around him and unable to comfortably interact with others until circumstances lead him to seek out Nishimya again and try to pursue the friendship with her that she wanted all those years ago. He slowly begins to learn how to let others in, but it soon turns out that rebuilding a social life after these formative experiences is far from easy, and emotional scars are not so easily healed…
First things first: the movie looks gorgeous. This is hardly surprising for a KyoAni production, as they are well-known for their beautiful visual design and fluid animations, but it really must be said because animation quality counts for a lot when it comes to emotional dramas like this. Several characters use sign language to communicate with Nishimiya, and the various gestures are animated with great detail; I could easily tell that the portrayal of this niche language was treated with a great deal of respect. The characters are all highly expressive, even Nagatsuka, the more cartoonish-looking comic relief character puts his feelings across in a clear, easily understood manner. KyoAni’s talent for subtle details in design and character animation does a great job in fleshing out characters, from Shoya’s protruding t-shirt care tags to fellow bully Ueno’s body language and subtle shifts in facial expression. The visual feature that is most worthy of praise from a composition standpoint is a technique that obscures Shoya’s classmates’ faces when he is in a crowd, yet it is clear that the animators haven’t skimped out on the features underneath; there is clearly a fully animated and expressive face underneath.
The characterisation is very strong throughout, with the character designs and writing working together to give a good feel for who all the characters are and what makes them tick. Shoya goes through a lot of shifts in his worldview throughout the story and yet he has an expressive face and a visual design that manages to display his character development with only minor changes, and something about Ueno’s body language always reminded me without words to never 100% trust her outward actions. Nishiyama, being almost completely unable to speak, should be taken as a masterclass in how to portray a character visually rather than verbally. She doesn’t often emote strongly around others as her condition leads her to be as inoffensive as possible in public, and this usually comes across in her actions: she isn’t blandly animated out of laziness, you can tell that she is behaving in a specific way. And her body language and movements in private moments bear this out too, as she is so much more visually expressive behind closed doors as to almost appear like a different person.
I am hesitant to offer up too many thoughts about the story as again, I really don’t want to spoil important plot points and emotional beats. Suffice it to say that even though it is a somewhat slow-paced movie for the most part the emotional depth of the characters and events kept me hooked throughout. In the past I have found my attention to waver towards the end of anime movies so it is a huge point in A Silent Voice’s favour that it maintained my focus so well, although this might simply be because I haven’t watched a new anime movie in some time and I could just be becoming more mature about them. In any case, I have to praise the movie for keeping me so enraptured considering that there are some highly uncomfortable scenes in the opening minutes that go on for a long time, and the characters can be a tad melodramatic at times. But this is a story about socially awkward teenagers after all, so that is to be expected sometimes, and personally the more melodramatic confrontations only helped me to connect with the supporting cast more.
Overall, despite a few dramatic flaws, A Silent Voice is a captivating, beautiful character drama that shows great respect for the struggles of young people coping with disabilities and personal issues, and also does a great job of highlighting the negative effects of bullying behaviour – not just on the victims, but the potential long-term repercussions for the perpetrators as well. It was an emotional journey and I highly recommend it.
In addition to enjoying the movie itself, my overall movie-going experience with A Silent Voice was one of the best I have had in a long time. Here in Britain cinema etiquette has taken a bit of a slip in recent years, with noise and the checking of phones during the feature by other movie patrons often providing unfortunate distractions. Yet in spite of being a sold-out screening the respect present in the audience was mind-blowing compared to recent experiences watching blockbuster movies. With the exception of a girl two seats down from me who asked her partner to clarify details once or twice (but even that was in respectfully hushed tones) everyone was quiet and attentive. And the effect of a full cinema laughing in unison at the lighter moments of the story gave me a warm feeling of community that I have never felt from a large group of people watching anime together before. While it isn’t always easy to get to a screening of a mature anime drama movie, this experience has convinced me that it is the best way to see this genre for the first time, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
And those are my thoughts on A Silent Voice! If you’ve seen it yourself then I hope my overall impressions gel with yours, and if you haven’t then hopefully I’ve convinced you to give either the movie or the original manga a shot (which can be found on Crunchyroll Manga if you’re interested). I’ve used this post as a catalyst to break out of my latest hiatus so with luck I should have some more content coming up soon! Until then, I’ll let Nishiyama say goodbye in her own way: