‘A Silent Voice’ (also translated as ‘The Shape of the Voice’) is a beautifully animated and mature tale touching on teenage issues of suicide, bullying, prejudice, guilt, and redemption (or lack of it). Based on the manga of the same name written and drawn by Yoshitoki Ōima, the movie depicts the introduction of a young deaf girl (Nishimiya) joining a new school, and the subsequent bullying she receives from her new classmates.
Principal ringleader for the abuse is Ishida. A rambunctious and popular boy, he takes an instant dislike to Nishimiya’s oddly enunciated speech and reliance of sign language. We never really get to the core of why she makes him so uncomfortable. Even when she tries to make friends, he throws dirt at her and yells, “You freak me out!”. The bullying varies from subtle to physical throughout, with him starting a class game of yanking out her hearing aids before she has a change to react. Whilst some of the action may seem extreme, the behaviour itself is very believable. It is often just a case of someone being different that gets them marked out at the start.
However, the movie opens with an adult Ishida about to commit suicide. He is unable to look people in the eye and his subdued nature is a far cry from the subsequent flashbacks showing his unruly ways. A Silent Voice invests heavily in Ishida’s journey from ringleader to depressed recluse who, after a chance meeting with the now grown up Nishimiya, seeks some kind of redemption.
The movie is very mature and skips the often ‘wham bam’ presentation style of teen-centric Anime. Long slow shots are underscored by a dream like soundtrack which gives the movie a hazy smear, much like Ishida’s depressed state of mind. The animation is washed out but gorgeous to look at, and takes tangents into fully metaphorical twists. Often, the camera skirts around as Ishida’s point of view, showing his inability to look people in the eye. Further, many faces he does acknowledge are blotted out by stylised blue ‘X’ marks. He has retreated from social interaction so much he no longer sees people as people.
The movie has pacing problems though. Once we enter flashback mode to explore the childhood characters the sustained level of bullying for 20 minutes solid is draining. Intentionally or not, this does make the movie quite top heavy. Also, whilst Ishida is a well written and rounded character who goes on a journey, Nishimiya herself has little character beyond ‘total doormat’. Her disconnect is understandable due to her disability and ‘grin and bear it’ is definitely a realistic defensive mechanism. But the movie uses her as a prop for other character’s development rather than giving her any depth. By the time she acts out, it’s too little too late.
A Silent Voice has plenty going on for it so despite being hard going at times it has an understated confidence that propels it forward. If you aren’t an anime fan then the stylised nature may not be your bag, but this is an adult movie that doesn’t succumb to flashy gimmicks to tell its story and is all the better for it.
Words by Michael Record