When it comes to modern anime films there are a few that come to mind, mostly ones under the direction of Shinkai, Makoto. Films like Your Name or Weathering With You, but one animated tale that was released in 2016 under the fantastic animation of Kyoto Animation, direction of Yamada, Naoko and originally written by Yoshitoki Ōima was quick to rise to critical acclaim. A story that takes a look at bullying, redemption, depression, suicide, and what it is like to always be the outcast, to self destruct but on the outside always doing the best one can. I’m talking about, of course, A Silent Voice.
This film struck like hot iron when it came out and it was quick to draw a criticism I am too familiar with. (Embarrassingly) I will admit I am a rather big fan of author John Green, I find his young adult romance books fun, charming, and cute. Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska both heavily inspired my type of storytelling and I only hope I can create a world like that one day, but I digress. Green’s biggest hit was without a doubt Fault In Our Stars, a tale of cancer survivors finding love, however, it was quick to get backlash (and I want to make it a point I think it’s a fair criticism and a fine line to walk) was he using cancer, a serious and deadly disease as a gimmick for sales? A Silent Voice drew a lot of the same criticism but not because of cancer, but due to the main being deaf.
A Silent Voice follows trying her best girl Nishimiya, Shouko. A new transfer student who has one key difference from all of her other classmates, she’s deaf. Initially, Nishimiya’s new classmates seem to accept her, obliging in her request to talk to her through a notebook she carries around. But the peace doesn’t last long, what starts out as general teasing by classmate Ishida, Shouya turns more and more aggressive as the class starts to bully Nishimiya. From writing mean things in her notebook, all the way to steal her hearing aids and damaging them time and time again Nishimiya tries to put her best foot forward, not taking the abuse to heart. But as these things go one day her mother contacted the school, it was apparent of the abuse happening and just like that the class turned on lead bully Ishida. Nishimiya transferred schools, his mom had to pay the price of his actions, and just like that Ishida was alone.
Sprinkle in a nice little time jump, and boom Ishida is now in high school, always staring at his feet days go by as he lets the world continue without him. But he isn’t without a plan, over time he slowly pays his mom back for the hearing aids, learns sign language, and decides that he is going to set some records straight before a certain day, the day he plans on meeting his fate. What the film does really well at this point is it plays a lot on Ishida’s motive. He clearly feels bad about what happened to Nishimiya at his hands and others, but that doesn’t make it okay. He is painfully aware that he is a piece of shit that caused this pain, and because of this he is unsure if he is even allowed to see Nishimiya again, or rather he wants to make sure that he wants to make her life better for her, but not to cover up his own guilt.
This is amplified by the people around Nishimiya as Ishida goes to her school with some hope of reconciling. Though they have one chance meeting in which they sorta awkwardly ask how the other had been most meeting efforts past that is thwarted by Nishimiya classmate, who seems to be privy to their past. Refusing to allow Ishida to make himself feel better for what he did at the expense of Nishimiya. I actually really like how this film struggled with this, because this situation isn’t cut and dry, Ishida did terrible things to Nishimiya and I thousand percent believe that there is a way to make up for one’s past but that does not erase. Nor should someone use another for their own personal feeling and gain. And to be frank, the bluntness of just learning sign language isn’t enough, because it isn’t.
But, as these things go Ishida and Nishimiya grow close over time, and slowly the members from that middle school start to mingle and interact with the two adding an equally heartbreaking and heartwarming element. Some of the group, trying to play off their own role in the bullying, others confronting the fact that they dislike Nishimiya then, and they do now. All while Nishimiya tries to navigate this (semi) hostile environment once again, but this time she at least isn’t truly alone. What I believe A Silent Movie is, is simple, it’s not a feel-good story. It is a tale of trauma, depression, and general struggle in a world that seems is stubbornly against you. It is a beautifully animated tragedy as a group of bullies turn friends try to understand within themselves, is there anything that can be done to actually condone the sin?
The movie is dark, cringy, depressing, and is full of a lot of self-reflection. It’s full of beautiful scenes, heart-wrenching moments, and honestly, the question of if Ishida has done enough still lingers on my mind. But in the end, this movie does leave a feeling of completeness, and I, reflecting back on it, can say I am truly glad I took the time to go on that journey.
As always, thanks for the read!