Monday, May 15, 2017

'A Silent Voice' Is an Amazing Arthouse Anime

A Silent Voice, also alternatively known as The Shape of Voice, is an anime film revolving around a forlorn, socially inept high schooler named Shoya Ishida.  In elementary, he used to bully a deaf classmate named Shoko Nishimiya, and because of the constant torment that she received from him, she had to transfer to another school.  Though Ishida is her prime bully, the other students also contributed in varying ways to create an environment of persecution for her.  Still, the blame was promptly and fully put on Ishida by the class and teacher.  As a result of this, his friends abandoned him, and he became a social pariah from then on.

Regularly shunned and bullied well into high school, Ishida is left emotionally and psychologically wrecked.   He develops severe social anxiety and self-loathing, and he even arrives to a point where he considers committing suicide.  But one day, he reunites with Nishimiya, and learns that she’s still dealing with the social and emotional problems brought by her disability.  Desiring to redeem himself for his past sins, he manages to find the courage to befriend her.  From that point, the two begin a journey of friendship, healing, and rediscovery for the beauty of life.
I went into this movie expecting the next Your Name.  Well, A Silent Voice is a beautiful, compelling anime film, but it’s not quite as powerful and gratifying as Your Name.  The pacing has some issues.  I understand that it’s adapting a 62-chapter manga series, but there are just times where it seems a few extra scenes have been cut; whose presence could have smoothened the flow of the movie more.  It has an organically and coherently emotional narrative, but it sometimes overplays the melodrama.  Also, it doesn’t have the advantage of having a fascinating science fantasy element, as what Your Name had.

But I don’t want to give the impression that A Silent Voice isn’t a worthwhile film.  It’s not as good as Your Name, yes, but it’s definitely an amazing movie on its own – one of the best I’ve seen this year so far.

The animation, as expected from major Japanese animation projects, is exquisitely top-notch, and its unique visual choices – particularly the interpretation of how Ishida’s social/emotional guard works – brought a noticeable layer of appeal.  Meanwhile, the sound design efficiently provides a nuance influence on the storytelling as well as the required emotional oomph on key moments.
The plot, though seemingly that of another clich├ęd teen anime drama, has enough turns and depth to be fresh.  It has humor, but it’s generally poignant in tone.  The writing is adequately inspired and smart, as it opts for challenging storytelling, refuses to take the convenient path in resolving difficulties, and delivers strong characterizations.

All its characters are amply well-realized with regards to serving their purpose to the plot.  But this is undeniably Ishida’s story.  Nishimiya is an equally important character, and she never felt understated, but her role is often about providing plot points that Ishida’s arc can work with.  Simply, the movie is at its most heart-rending when it shows Ishida’s struggles and failures, and its sense of triumph is mostly hinged on his successes.

There’s also a romantic angle to the story.  But I appreciate that the movie doesn’t focus too much on that, as it’s only subsidiary to the presentation of literal and metaphorical parallels between what Ishida and Nishimaya are dealing with, as they set to overcome the pain of the past, learn to start afresh, and move on.  In bringing this about, there’s a sort of arthouse attribute inserted into the overall quality.
To sum it up, A Silent Voice is an extremely well-crafted anime film.  It’s a gorgeous product of filmmaking and animation, and presents the most thoughtful, interesting insights on young angst and bullying this side of 13 Reasons Why.

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