I’ve spoken about anime films before and how they can be divided into two separate types. The first are the anime series films, or franchise films. These are your Naruto, One Piece, My Hero, Fate, Demon Slayer. All the (usually non-canon) films that piggyback off their popular series. The other is the ‘feeling films’, which normally discuss big themes ideas, or as I put it: Your Daily Existential Crisis. I’ve watched several of the former, but rarely of the latter. Yet that has changed recently with my viewing of this film. Did I like it? Or was I bored? Well after the cut let’s take a dive into A Silent Voice and find out!
The story of Voice is quite simple, but effective. We follow elementary student Shoya Ishida, a bored and average student who decides to bully and harass Shoko Nishimiya, a young deaf girl whose disability is treated with curiosity and then scorn from her classmates. When the bullying goes too far and adults get involved, the students turn on Shoya and the bullied becomes the bullied. Years later and after learning sign language, we follow Shoya as he tries to make amends with Shoko and re-establish connections with his classmates both new and old, all of whom realize that the actions have consequences.
Right off the bat, I can say that when watching Voice, I found myself thinking that this felt very much like a full fledged anime series condensed into a two hour movie. Throughout the story there was point after point where I found myself going ‘this is where an episode would end’ or ‘this is where an episode would begin’. Being familiar with these types of anime shows through series like ‘Bunny Girl Senpai’ and others, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this series (based off a seven volume novel series) was supposed to be a series, but the powers that be said “you got two hours, make every second count.”
Thankfully, there are very few times were Voice feels it is straining to get everything in. Whether it is the tight script, or laser focus on its plot, the entire movie feels properly paced and with enough development for both the leads and the supporting cast. I found myself engrossed in the story and its characters, rooting for them to get past their grievance, yelling at the screen every time Naoka was a bitch, laughing at the antics of Yuzuru and Tomohiro, or when Satoshi just stood there and was part of the movie. It is evidence of good writing that these characters, despite being archetypes, can pull you in so fast and make you care so much. By the time the credits roll, you feel that everyone has come out the other end a better and more mature person, even the most minor of characters.
Furthermore, Voice is able to handle its subject matter with a large decree of tact and grace. Like with many movies, disabilities can often be ‘sexed up’ to make them more digestible to the audience (think the full retard scene from Tropic Thunder). Voice has none of that and Shoko’s deafness is handled respectfully and a good degree of realism. The awkwardness, the use of hearing aids, the voice acting, all of it feels authentic. Shoko’s struggles with her disability are honest and raw, but not overly traumatic, or airbrushed by romanticism. It is a part of her character, a large part, but not the sole defining reason for her existence. Shoya’s karmic path of redemption is given real weight and understanding, showing the effects of his actions and how it can affect him as well. If there is any real problem, it is that I felt the issue of suicide might have been glossed over at times, but there are several moments where the difficult topic is given the weight it deserves.
I will probably never be able to discuss a movie like A Silent Voice with the depth it probably deserves. That’s not what I do here on Shallow Dives in Anime, but what I can say is that this is a heartfelt touching film that doesn’t drown the viewer in angst, or gloss over the difficult topics with that Hollywood glaze. While I do think it there is another longer cut of this movie somewhere, what is on display is a damn good time and one that will tug at your heartstrings more than once. Give it a look if you are so inclined and see what you think for yourself, though I’m sure there are also plenty of these films for you to choose from.