Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice) Review — The Road To Redemption Is Long

Very long indeed.

  • There’s a bit of an online war going on in certain anime forums regarding whether Your Name, Koe no Katachi, or In This Corner of the World was the best anime film to come out in Japanese theatres last year. While most people would prefer to pick sides like the biased plebians they are, as a fan of Your Name, my thoughts were along the lines of “if they’re really that good, then boy am I looking forward to seeing them”. And of the two other films, Koe no Katachi was the one I wanted to see the most due to my friends raving about the manga for years combined with my interest in seeing a KyoAni anime where the cute girl shenanigans were restricted to the designs. That and the fact that it was getting released on blu-ray during my birthday whilst the Mappa film needs to wait for Q3 2017 before people in the US even acknowledge its existence.
  • I did my best to avoid the manga and summaries beforehand, so the only thing I knew about Koe no Katachi is that it’s about a dude trying to redeem himself for bullying a handicapped girl in the past, Makoto Shinkai found it to be one of the best animated films he’s seen, manga fans were salty about some adaptation changes, and it has the usual KyoAni problem of going on a tad long. And since I don’t go into anime expecting masterpieces, I say I had reasonable expectations before watching this film. And suffice to say, it delivered.

I saw a comment online that thought the “X” marks in this film were graffiti rather than being actually important to the story. Dude, I could tell the purpose just from the trailer.

  • Koe no Katachi is the story of a young boy named Shoya Ishida and his quest for redemption after his childhood bullying of a cute mute girl named Shoko Nishimiya ended up losing his mother 1,700,000 yen and earning him scorn by all his former friends after he tries to make them take responsibility too. After learning sign language himself over the years, he coincidentally runs into a high-school aged Shoko at a school (or something to that effect) for disabled children and tries to be friends with her. Unfortunately, his past won’t go away, and the morality of his redemption is called into question quite a bit as well for reasons you’ll have to wait for another post to clarify, but needless to say it’s a nice strong conflict to base all the plot around.
  • Ishida’s journey gets the basics down pat regarding why we’re supposed to care for it. We saw him fuck up in the past. We see how it affects him in the present. We discover that the journey is far from easy for understandable reasons, along with said journey always being prevalent even when he’s hanging out at a cat cafe. And we get a surprisingly large and surprisingly female-heavy supporting cast to help him out when they aren’t angsting over their own histories themselves.
  • It also really helps that Ishida’s past and present mirror my own to a degree. I was never a bully persay and definitely did not pick on the handicapped, but if you thought I was insufferable now, you should have seen me growing up. Suffice to say, I grew up shutting other people out, and my attempts to get out of that funk were riddled with issues, as a lot of people who no longer read this blog can attest to. In fact, he’s got to be the most I’ve ever related to a protagonist since Hajime Hinata from Danganronpa 3. Japan has really been nailing it lately in regards to getting into my inner psyche with their cartoons, although my own increasing age may play a factor in that.

I could easily tell what gender this person was upon first meeting, yet the movie had the gall to try and say I was wrong

  • I was reminded a lot of Clannad: The Motion Picture whilst watching Koe no Katachi and how it too was about a young dude going on a path to cure his angst whilst being aided by a large supporting cast. And I was also reminded at how said film was based on a much larger piece of work to the point that it had to truncate large sections of the original source, remove characters, and even change important plot details and personalities in order to work. In fact, now that I think about it, Koe no Katachi is basically an expansion of what the Clannad movie accomplished – and before you guys bring up KyoAni’s actual adaptation of Clannad, I mean a good expansion.
  • Mind you, I wish Koe no Katachi followed the Clannad film’s example of compressing long source material more. It more closely resembles the examples set by the Persona 3 movies in that while it’s fine with changing some plot details, it wants to keep all the important events into the narrative and can’t bear to remove any of the named characters to the point of distraction.
  • People like me who’ve never experienced the original source material are going to think something is strange when Mashiba shows up saying he wants to be Ishida’s friend with no buildup whatsoever, only to be going to an amusement park with him in the very next scene. And his dislike towards bullies only gets a brief mention before being swallowed up by the issues surrounding Ishida’s female company, who I could tell have large hatebases just by spending ten seconds with them. Unfortunately for those people, we have to spend a minimum of five minutes introducing each of them before they start playing any semblance of narrative role. A simple thirty-second flashback that Ishida narrates over would have sufficed, movie.

Naoka Ueno. Traditional tsundere childhood friend and just all-around pretty terrible human being.

  • You can tell that the director of this movie really loves emotional storytelling, because a lot of the visuals and narrative decisions seem centered on getting a reaction out of the audience. I don’t think it’s as melodramatic as some people have told me because they center all the angst around the idea that bullies and their victims are not as clear cut as most media make them out to be, but the parts that are more romance-oriented are very unnecessary. Especially since all that comes from them are justifications for why some of the females would go so far for Ishida, and that could have easily been accomplished by just being guilt partners. And it doesn’t exactly help when characters angst about having angst. I’d suggest they go to therapy instead, but then the film will animate that too, and god knows the movie felt long enough as is.
  • Also, do you remember the final episode of Scum’s Wish and how despite its good intentions in giving the characters some much needed closure, it felt incredibly drawn out until the last few minutes delivered on a powerful emotional ending scene? Well the movie’s length started to similarly annoy after it decides to continue from a scene that’s currently labeled on Youtube as “Koe no Katachi ending scene” for another ten minutes, giving closure to all the other characters that really only needed a one-minute montage at most to deal with. Then the last scene happened and I got really sad. Didn’t fully justify the delays, but man the final product was great.

KyoAni really like their bustling school festivals, don’t they?

  • I haven’t decided how much I like this movie yet and here’s why. Despite needing about twenty minutes of trimming, the romantic angle being a waste of space, and not really feeling much of a rush during the initial watch, Koe no Katachi really stuck with me after I finished the film to the point that I want to go back to it soon and see what I’d get now that I’ve adjusted to what it’s going for.
  • There’s definitely a lot to like about the movie. The core story is alright and prevalent enough to hold the film’s pacing issues together. The characters are all humanly flawed with two sides to them, if a little overdramatic in regards to how they express their other selves. And the overall directing is just wonderful from the silent conversations the characters partake in to the well-animated visual metaphors that keep me a fan of animation as a story-telling medium.
  • But most of all, I just like how Koe no Katachi shows that bullying isn’t as simple as their being a tormentor and a victim. In no way do I condone that shitty practice, but personal experience has taught me that sometimes the victim isn’t exactly helping, and sometimes the tormentor’s ignorance of what they’re doing can be a fascinating a character study in of itself. And then there’s the redemption angle and how both sides of the story see it. It’s definitely hard, but if it was easy to make up for past mistakes, then prison sentences wouldn’t exist.

This scene right here is when I truly realized the specialness of the film

  • At worst, I think the best adjective to describe Koe no Katachi is “broadly absorbing”. Whether or not I think it excels at anything in particular, it has pretty much everything I ask for an engaging visual narrative. We’ll see if my opinion changes on rewatch, but first impressions-wise, as long as you don’t find the occasional oddly paced event to be a deal-breaker and are not allergic to moody teenagers in general, Koe no Katachi is definitely deserving of all the praise showered on it, even beating Your Name in several important animation award competitions.
  • But keep in mind, I don’t care about said competitions. As long as they’re both good, and hopefully In This Corner of the World is good as well, then there’s definitely room for the two of them in my world. I mean I’ve still got plenty of unused space on my bookshelf to fill up.

Minor Quips

  • I wish I could get a group of friends I’ve known for less than a week to join me on an amusement park outing.
  • Part of the reason I don’t call this product by its English name is because the title has so many different translations, including an official one provided by the movie itself, that it’s too much of a bother to deal with.
  • Despite disabilities playing a big role, I never got that the film was trying to say anything about them other than they suck.

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