By Justin Cudahy, Columns Editor
[Kyoto Animation; 2016]
Note: This is a review for the dub release of A Silent Voice
Despite being originally released in 2016, A Silent Voice had only reached a limited audience during its initial run, playing in only a handful of theatres in the United States. Now, over two years later, another run was finally announced for the film, giving western filmgoers a second chance to watch it on the big screen as intended.
Speaking of second chances, you’ll find that to be one of the central themes surrounding A Silent Voice. The Japanese animated film, which serves as an adaptation of Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga of the same name, opens with Shōya Ishida, an elementary school bully who makes a victim out of Shōko Nishimiya, a new student suffering from hearing loss. After going too far, Shōyo is soon ostracized by his own classmates, leaving him lonely, depressed and struggling to make any friends. Unable to continue living with his past mistakes, he goes out to correct his relationship with Shōko by trying to become her friends five years after the incident. What unfolds is a beautiful tale of redemption, friendship and accepting one’s flaws.
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Bullying in any form is a tough topic to tackle in media, not just because of how sensitive an issue it is, but also because of the difficulty in trying to emulate it to a somewhat realistic degree within media. A Silent Voice does a fantastic job with this by exploring both sides of the trade. The struggle of fitting in and finding acceptance among your peers for who you are is embodied within Shōko, while the desire to meet expectations, please others and maintain a reputation make up the character of Shōya.
Despite his heinous actions from the start, Shōya is a character worth rooting for throughout the movie, which correlates to the film’s great pacing by director Naoko Yamada (K-ON!, Tamako Market) who successfully executes condensing seven volumes of Ōima’s manga into a two-hour film. While plenty of scenes from its source are missing from the film, including its original ending, no scenes ever feel rushed or out of place. Every interaction, conversation and time skip feels completely natural.
Despite the poor reputation that dubbed anime often gets, A Silent Voice does a fantastic job in replicating the same kind of inflection and emotion as its Japanese counterparts. Actress Lexi Cowden, who voices Shōko in the English dub also suffers from hearing loss, creating a feeling of authenticity that makes certain scenes from the film stand out, especially during the more emotional-driven moments. The rest can be said for the rest of the cast’s voice actors and actresses. Each give their own characters enough personality to make them feel less stale and more impactful to the film’s plot or in influencing the character development within its two main protagonists.
A Silent Voice is magnificent. Every scene, every background, every camera movement, every character and everything in between. Kyoto Animation (Clannad, Nichijou, Sound! Euphonium) has already proven itself to be the best of the best when it comes to Japanese animation, and here it is no different. From the color palette to the lighting, the aesthetics in this film help enhance different moods for the viewer, which is what makes A Silent Voice so emotional. That’s not even taking its minimalistic, piano-filled score into consideration. The tracks are especially effective during scenes like the film’s ending in which the theme reprises, creating one of the most powerful and heartwarming conclusions to a film in recent years.
A Silent Voice is an amazing film that isn’t afraid to discuss topics that are taboo in other cultures, including bullying, depression, anxiety and suicide. While those who have experienced any one of these may find this to be more relatable and compelling, this is a film that anyone can watch and love. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait another two years to get the chance to see one of the best-animated films of all-time. A Silent Voice will (finally) receive a North American Blu-ray release starting this April, which you can find here.
Watch the trailer here: