Movie Review – A Silent Voice

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of Kyoto Animation

Last year, Makato Shinkai’s Your Name took the world by storm.  I have already reviewed this film and I will go on the record as describing it as a masterpiece.  There was one downside of this worldwide frenzy though; another anime film that was just as a good managed to get eclipsed by Your Name.  This is an adaptation of a manga that I absolutely loved.  A manga that deals with some very serious issues that was emotionally devastating to read.  I’m talking about A Silent Voice.  This film adaptation by Kyoto Animation manages to present one of the most beautiful anime films of all time from both a story and production perspective.

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Story and Characters

I will not spoil any of the latter elements of the story arc, but for the sake of discussing the story, it is necessary to provide some background.  The plot follows Shoya Ishida through his reunion with a deaf student named Shoko Nishimiya.  In his elementary school years, Ishida was one of the main perpetrators in bullying Shoko to the point where she had to transfer schools just to get away.  With Shoko gone, the rest of the class soon shifts its attention to Ishida, making him the new bullying target.  Ishida is ostracized to the point where he lacks any sort of friend even when he reaches high school.  Because of this, Ishida becomes suicidal, but desires to atone for his past actions.  He manages to find Shoko, seeking to form a friendship with her to make up for his horrible treatment of her.

At its core, A Silent Voice is a story that is all about redemption.  There is no apologizing for Ishida’s actions.  Every character acknowledges that he did some terrible things and he even feels like his life after Shoko was almost a karmic like result of his horrible actions.  This makes Ishida’s character so interesting.  It’s rare to see an anime character know what they did was wrong and even that there is no changing what they did.  Watching Ishida move forward from the past in order to help Shoko is a beautiful thing.  Shoko’s character is similarly just as layered.  From her variety of outbursts, to her portrayal as the victim, this film does an excellent job at showcasing her character.  The film largely focuses on these two characters and it is an emotional roller coaster.

It’s about presenting some serious topics that haven’t really been covered to this extent in the anime medium.  The story takes an in-depth look into suicide, depression, and bullying.  It can be very heavy at times.  However, I think that is where the inner beauty lies with the film.  It takes these topics and expertly presents them into a story that is emotionally captivating without being overdramatic.  Similarly, it does not make light of these issues and presents them with the seriousness that is required.  It would be very easy for the film to trivialize some of the more serious issues, but it does not fall into this trap.  The result is a story in which the characters grow significantly by the end of the film.  It presents the viewer with a watch that is uncomfortable, beautiful, heartwarming, and devastating.  It really is a perfect drama.

I want to briefly talk about the nature of the adaptation.  This film should be a textbook example of how to condense a longer manga series into one movie.  Of course, this does have some drawbacks.  The film largely excises the development of Ishida’s group of friends.  This has the effect of ignoring their bullying of Shoko during elementary school.  The film showcases this somewhat, but mostly puts Ishida as the main instigator.  In the manga, pretty much every other elementary school student was an absolutely deplorable piece of shit and not every character is redeemable.  The film also does not provide the background into Shoko’s home life and the circumstances of why her mother was raising the children by herself.  I feel like this would provide some much needed characterization of Shoko’s mother, but was not truly necessary in the grand scheme.  The story arcs not involving Ishida and Shoko were pretty much the ones that were cut.  Given that the main strength of the manga was this central plotline between Ishida and Shoko, the lack of these storylines is not detrimental to the overall plot of the film.

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Animation and Sound

Kyoto Animation presents one of the best looking films of the year.  Every frame of this film is breathtaking in every way.  The backgrounds are highly detailed and showcase a level of quality that is unbelievable at points.  The animation is just as a high a quality as every other aspect.  The characters move with a level of fluidity that manages to impress at every opportunity.  This level of animation was necessary to capture the sheer emotion of the story.  I was even impressed with watching the characters use sign language. The character expressions are also highly detailed.  Seriously, any shot that is a close up on a face is likely to impress.  Any time a character cries, the facial animation just exudes the emotion.  The stylistic choice of the manga to portray Ishida’s view of characters with X’s over their face is also used to perfection here.  I do not have a single negative thing to say about the animation and this does not make for an interesting review because I don’t have a lot to say other than this is truly a perfectly animated film.

The sound design also impresses to a similar degree.  Musically there isn’t anything that really stands out other than the opening montage featuring a song by The Who, but the tracks manage to exude the emotion needed for the more serious scenes.  The most impressive aspect lies with the voice acting.  Every character gives a great performance, but the voice actors for Ishida and Shoko deserve praise.  Shoko’s voice actress perfectly captures the sound of her voice as a result of her deafness.  This is powerful because when Shoko actually speaks out loud, the viewer is inclined to listen.  It also helps give a lot of legitimacy to the film.  Similarly, Ishida’s voice actor perfectly captures that mix between optimism and fear with regards to his interactions with Shoko.  Much like the animation, I don’t have any negative to say about the sound design.

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Final Thoughts

A Silent Voice is a perfect adaptation of a phenomenal manga.  I don’t have a single negative thing to say about this film.  The story is a perfect look at suicide, depression and bullying while also providing some necessary optimism with Ishida’s redemption.  It treats these topics seriously to form a powerful and emotional story that made me cry.  The film’s animation is perfect.  The voice acting is perfect.  It’s a beautiful film in every regard.  For that reason, I give A Silent Voice my Bananaowns’ Stamp of Approval.  If this ever gets licensed in the United States, I will be buying Blu-Ray, that’s how good it was.

Bananaowns stamp of approval

This review is over, but I had a couple more things to say.  This film deals with some very heavy themes and one of them presents an opportunity to say something.  A Silent Voice starts off with a look at Ishida’s contemplation of suicide because of his years’ worth of losing faith in humanity.  For those that are suffering through depression and contemplating suicide, I strongly urge you to seek out some help.  No matter how bad things get, there are always people that care about you and these people will be hurt in the event that the worst happens.  If anyone feels like no one cares or will listen, there is always someone who does and you can always seek help with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This was relatively serious way to end this review, but given the subject matter, it felt appropriate.  Thanks for giving this review a look.