The world can sometimes be a dark and lonely place, but only when you believe it to be.
A Silent Voice is a Japanese animated film produced by Kyoto Animation and tells the tale of Shoyo Ishida, a former bully who was shunned by all his friends at school for bullying Shoko Nishimiya, his deaf classmate. This ostracisation followed Ishida well into high school, leading him to conclude that there isn’t any point to having friends. Being completely alone and with no plans for the future, Ishida attempts to commit suicide. However, his perspective soon begins to change upon reconnecting with Nishimiya. Seeking redemption for his past sins, Ishida sets on a path to reconcile with Nishimiya and his old school friends in hopes of giving Nishimiya the opportunity to befriend those whom she had never gotten the opportunity to.
The tone of the film is set out from the very opening as we are introduced to Ishida and his intentions to end his life. This sombre and rather poignant tone carries on throughout the entirety of the film, though with several little moments of joy included. The plot of the film immediately illustrates the burden that teenagers carry, striving to fit in and make friends in what can sometimes be a rather cruel and hostile environment.
We are shown quite early on that children can be particularly cruel and judgemental of those who are different, with the majority refusing to involve themselves with Nishimiya and taunting those who attempted to befriend her. Likewise, in high school, Ishida is ostracised by his classmates, many of whom refuse to acknowledge his existence, prompting him to isolate himself from others. The film depicts the emptiness that comes with being a ‘loner’ and the difficulty that comes with facing others, believing that you are simply not worth anyone else’s time or effort. This certainly struck a chord with me, having gone through something similar in my own high school years. It came as no surprise that Ishida would see his peers without faces, their heads covered with a big ‘X’, showing his belief that they were unapproachable.
In this way, A Silent Voice acts as a reflection on the way in which society considers and treat those who are different. Despite knowing better, many of us judge others simply as a way of being ‘like everyone else’ and refuse to ‘tell’ on those who bully and do wrong so as to not be cast out. How many of you have stood by and watched as a bully attacked another student and didn’t report it simply because you were afraid of being shunned at school?
The characters within the film are developed well and we are given the opportunity to truly feel the struggles each character faces, from Ishida’s struggle to redeem himself to Nishimiya’s heartache of being a burden to others. In many ways, the journey each character faces towards ultimately finding redemption and peace is tumultuous. Ishida’s transition throughout the film gives off a sense of mixed feelings as he struggles to do the right thing. We are easily torn between wanting to despise Ishida for what he had done in his youth to wanting to feel sorry for him. Thankfully, Ishida grows up to be a young man who strives to do right by those around him, a trait that is incredibly likable. Of course, due to her disability and for being a victim of such torturous harassment, we feel incredibly sorry for Nishimiya and sympathise with her as well as those who suffered alongside her. Nevertheless, her continued optimism and determination to be friends with everyone, including her bully is no doubt charming, revealing her virtuous personality. Both Ishida and Nishimiya’s determination to overcome their challenges informs us that despite hard times and struggles, life is not all that bad, if you believe in the positives.
Unlike many other anime films, this film is set mostly around a school environment, with hardly any outdoor scenes. As such, it is difficult to classify the film as being visually magnificent as the art style and colour palette used portray a more softer and duller tone. The lack of vibrancy would be the studio’s way of depicting the hopelessness that each character faces in the beginning and the dullness of the environment perhaps illustrates a life not worth living from both Ishida and Nishimiya’s point of views. Though this is simply my own interpretation of the art style.
Similarly, I wasn’t as blown away by the soundtrack as I was with the likes of Your Name, The Boy and the Beast and Spirited Away. Again, I personally am of the opinion that the soundtrack used was more melancholic due to the themes of the film. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t good though. The soundtrack was still rather enjoyable but was simply toned down.
A Silent Voice truly touches on the core idea of how we choose to treat others and teaches us some important life lessons, such as embracing others despite awkwardness and fear, apologising and seeking redemption for past wrongs and to treat each other with respect and kindness. These lessons are what kept me glued to the screen and made me revisit past struggles that I had faced in my own youth. With a strong plot and likable characters, A Silent Voice is an enjoyable watch. You’ll just need to have some tissues handy.