TL;DR – an anime about the emotional scars from bullying, and the ramifications that occur on a group of kids trying to survive middle and high school.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Shoya Ishida is a joker and bully in middle school. His target of choice is a deaf girl named Shoko Nishimiya and leads to an altercation where the poor girl is physically hurt. This leads to her being transferred to another school and ironically, Shoya becoming the target of bullying by his classmates.
The bullying turns Shoya from an extrovert into an isolated loner, and he experiences depression when he gets into high school. The movie opens with him deciding to tie up loose ends before committing suicide. This includes going to the sign language centre where Shoko attends and apologising to her. However, his attempt at apology turns into asking whether they can become friends, and to Shoya’s surprise, Shoko agrees.
Koe no Katachi (translates to “A Silent Voice”) tackles themes and subjects that are incredibly difficult, but the film does so in a way that is meaningful and sensitive without sugar coating. For example, bullying in anime tends to be one-dimensional and revenge driven; one person bullies another to be vindictive and the other seeks to deliver some sort of retribution usually in the form of violence. In Koe no Katachi, Shoya’s bullying is more to get attention and when he hurts Shoko, he realises he has gone too far and regrets his actions.
Guilt, bullying, teenage suicide, depression, isolation, exclusion and jealousy are all examined in this beautifully animated, emotionally moving film that has won numerous awards including Anime of the Year (movie) and Best Screenplay/Original Story at the 2017 Tokyo Anime Award Festival.
You would think that these topics would result in a depressing, tragic film, but it delivers on the most crucial elements that the story seeks to show (and teach) the audience – forgiveness and redemption.
The fact that Shoko is the victim but feels sorry for Shoya demonstrates layers of human emotion you would be hard pressed to find in real life drama films. The supporting cast around the pair all have their own idiosyncrasies and emotional issues/baggage. One particular character, Naoka Ueno, I found particularly interesting.
Naoka was Shoya’s closest female friend in middle school and joined in the bullying of Shoko. But when Shoya gets in trouble, Naoka denies any involvement. When she gets older and she sees Shoya trying to make amends with Shoko, she is driven by a multitude of emotions that aren’t always explicit in the film. You see anger and jealousy depicted in her verbal and physical abuse of Shoko, but you also sense a hatred towards herself, a guilt that she keeps at bay by stubbornly refusing to admit her transgressions. This subtly changes throughout the film and demonstrates how living a life without regrets is impossible (you just end up regretting more due to your own pride or foolishness). Naoka has to learn the most important lesson along with all the others and that is to have the ability to forgive yourself.
The climax of the film between Shoya and Shoko is nothing short of brilliant. It is animated in a way that will have you on the edge of your seat. A moment where you have no idea what will happen. You are a mere witness to the events and you want both to come out the end unscathed, but will they?
You will just have to watch the movie and find out. Highly recommend this film as an example of what it truly means to be human and how we can rise above our own insecurities and failings.
9 out of 10