A Silent Voice (2016)

A Silent Voice is an unusual and sensitive anime about deafness and teen bullying based on the long-running manga by Yoshitoki Oima.

Only Connect

by Alexa Dalby

A Silent Voice

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Shoko, drawn with big-eyed cuteness and voiced by Saori Hayami, is deaf. She has expensive hearing aids but she prefers to communicate with others by writing on a notepad. When she starts at a new school, as the only deaf person in a class of hearing children, it’s hard for her to make friends and she’s cruelly bullied by shock-headed Shoya (voiced by Miyu Irino). Their class teacher is insensitive and unsupportive.

The music over the opening of the film is The Who’s My Generation and that sets the tone for a sensitive look at contemporary teen mores. Shoko is driven out of the school by Shoya’s bullying, but as a result, at high school he finds that he’s become a friendless teen, shunned by his classmates – drawn with an X covering their faces when they look at him. As realisation of what he’s done dawns on him, he’s filled with guilt and self-loathing. He’s befriended by another outcast, Tomohiro (Kensho Ono), a fat boy desperate to be liked. A no-nonsense character who makes an appearance is Yuzuru (Aoi Yuki), Shoko’s gravel-voiced tomboy little sister.

When he meets Shoko again at high school, Shoya devotes himself to trying to make amends, even learning sign language so he can communicate with her, but it’s a hard challenge. He arranges for them both to meet up with some of their former classmates and they go to a funfair but the consequences of what happened before are still present. There are intense, painful teen feelings on both sides, attempts at suicide, and even victim-blaming of Shoko for being too accepting of the way Shoya treated her. Then, as time passes and they are reach 18, they try to define their friendship and maybe even love.

Yoshitoki Oima’s manga Koe no Katachi (The Shape of Voice) ran for 1,300 pages and was serialised in a weekly magazine for boys in Japan. It has been condensed by Reiko Yoshida, losing some of the continuity and subplots of the original, for Kyoto Animation studios, directed by Naoko Yamada. The film is released in the UK not long after My Name, in which the animation seems more virtuoso – both coincidentally have a traditional festival and fireworks scene. A Silent Voice is commendable though for its depiction of deafness, shown to a great extent from Shoko’s point of view and, interestingly, for showing sign language conversations without subtitling them. Its themes are dark but it’s also redeemingly educational.

A Silent Voice is released on 17 March 2017 in the UK.

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