Review: ‘A Silent Voice’ Has a Great Setup, But It’s Only a Passable Journey

Based on Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga about harassment and redemption, this Japanese anime works well enough as a gentler alternative to the bleak-as-hell The King of Pigs from South Korea. It may not look as gorgeous as the eye-blisteringly beautiful Your Name, but by sticking with animation, A Silent Voice is able to pull off a unique narrative trick – following its characters from primary school to teenagehood.

The film centres on Shoya Ishida who, as a boy, picks on Shoko Nishimiya because she’s hearing-impaired. There’s no underlying reason here; little Ishida just thinks she’s a freak and you’ll want to punch him right in the prostate for how he torments her. It’s only when his fellow classmates exile him as The Bully that he realises how shitty it feels to be the outcast.

As a teenager, Ishida feels incredibly horrible for the pain he caused her, and the film does a great job showing the heavy luggage of regret Ishida has been holding all this time. From the slump of his walk to the giant blue X that covers the faces of the classmates who have barred him (i.e. almost everyone), you really feel for the guy and root for his salvation.

It’s a great setup, but the journey is only a passable one. While it’s bold of the film to tackle heavy issues like suicide and stigmas around disabilities, it doesn’t quite have the warming grace of Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbour Totoro) or the grounded subtlety of Hirokazu Koreeda (Like Father, Like Son). Director Naoko Yamada often instil a suitably soothing quality to her storytelling, but too often slams the brakes to let the take-home message slam us in the face. It’s especially clunky to see Ishida’s mind get blown when he learns the meaning of friendship.

‘A Silent Voice’ Movie Times