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Why “A Silent Voice” isn’t a Masterpiece


I N S I G H T – A N I M E


Joyita Faruk


This article contains spoilers.

 

Koe No Katachi or A Silent Voice is one of the most critically acclaimed anime movies to have come out in the past five years, and for good reason too. Unfortunately, that fact has made it nigh impossible for me to find people who share my view — of slight disappointment and frustration.

This article is to fill that void — I am taking the mantle of committing heresy on behalf of the handful of people who resonate with this feeling. What are the reasons you may wonder, with spite or intrigue — so, here I outline the ways in which Koe No Katachi fell short.

The ending reunion was flat and forced

One of the things I liked about the movie was that it wasn’t interested in presenting half-baked solutions, it was showing me the reality many in Japan face for being disabled. Hence, my first and biggest complaint is in the betrayal of this experience.

Why would you ruin the realism of the earlier scenes of human darkness by forcing a resolution between the characters in the end — and that too by inadvertently justifying how much Nishimiya and Ishida blame themselves? 

Everyone allows Nishimiya to hate herself for being deaf. And I get it, her naivete ended up making her a burden for the other kids. But the kids were never the ones meant to provide her the tools to help her cope with being different, the adults were. Yet, the movie never brings up the teachers’ responsibilities. The sensei was quick to point fingers at Ishida when Nishimiya’s mom complained, when he’d cast a blind eye to everything the kid had done in class before. 

And, that’s okay. That’s real. An accurate depiction of how these things go in reality.

So, why that idealistic, all-is-well ending? Redeeming characters like Ueno and Kawai who had done nothing to earn it feels like the way ignorant adults view bullying issues — something easy to forgive and brush off once the kids mouth a begrudging sorry. The entire movie is a testament of how bullying has lasting effects on the human psyche, and yet, in the end, this unearned redemption is hailed as a solution that justifies all the suffering.

The side characters weren’t fleshed out enough to warrant their plot relevance

Does anyone remember Mashiba? Because I had forgotten who he was by the time he reappeared for the slap-on reunion. 

Why is Ueno such a bitch? But more importantly, why does anyone let her hang around? It was frustrating to watch everyone play friends all of a sudden. 

And then we have Ishida’s great sin of telling cutting truths to the uninvited tag-alongs at the bridge. It makes sense for Ishida to internalise their words because of his self-deprecation. But why does no one in the movie hold anyone other than Ishida accountable for past transgressions?

Having unlikable characters is enrichment in a story, but having characters whose actions are incomprehensible to the end is just unsatisfactory to watch. 

Why I enjoyed watching it the second time — The missing pieces from the manga

Some of the incomprehensible parts of the movie become clear through the manga. To capture the essence of the work, a lot of its context had to be thrown away. But that’s why I couldn’t enjoy the film as a standalone. 

When I first watched it, I felt frustrated because I was told things, rather than shown. Ishida touting a sad face that he lost his two best friends makes less of an impact than watching him pretend to be his friends and stuff his birthday cake into his mouth in his room by himself. I couldn’t feel as betrayed as he did when everyone pinned the blame on him, because I didn’t know the other children were much more active participants in the bullying. In the movie, they were portrayed as more of passive aggressive taunters and enablers than anything else. 

I didn’t know Nishimiya had far more reasons and familial problems fueling her desire to end things. It ended up trivialising that decision by boiling it down to something revolving around Ishida and the ‘friend group’. 

Even though I didn’t read the manga in its entirety, finding out information about the characters helped me remember and understand their importance when I rewatched it.

The pacing and lack of development

The second half of the movie jumped from scene to scene so fast that I wasn’t even allotted the time to feel their gravitas and emotion. And it’s quite unfortunate because a lot of the bread and butter is cramped into that last hour. 

But it’s an adaptation, so what did I expect? In some ways, I feel they cut out the wrong parts. Since the movie focused so much on Ishida and the point of friendship, I believe there was no reason to drag out Nishimiya’s grandmother’s death. Considering how we don’t dive into her family problems much at all, it felt like a hollow addition.

It’s like the movie wanted to touch every point but never delve in enough for me to truly care. 

Final thoughts

After reading all that, you might find it surprising that I agree it is one of the best anime films to have come out in recent years. The reason I feel so strongly about its shortcomings is because the set was built for so, so much more. 

You have this stunning story of coming to terms with guilt, self-hatred, and social anxiety — the meat of growing up. Small strokes of brilliance such as the genius auditory direction that at times puts us in Nishimiya’s shoes or the bits of untranslated use of sign that breeds the discomfort the kids had felt make Koe no Katachi a movie worth watching. I can only imagine how much more powerful this film could have been, and to pull just slightly short is truly a shame.

 


Joyita Faruk, a self-proclaimed Bakugou Simp™, is on her miserable, caffeine-addled journey towards being the laziest workaholic she knows. She’s currently preparing herself for the pains of carpal tunnel syndrome, because she types 100k word fics on her phone…Send her well wishes at [email protected]

 

One Comment

  1. You ask many questions. I have not read the manga, but from watching the movie, I’d give the following answers:

    >Why would you ruin the realism of the earlier scenes of human darkness by forcing a resolution between the characters in the end — and that too by inadvertently justifying how much Nishimiya and Ishida blame themselves?

    I’d say this is a genre thing. You see, this movie is designed, mainly in purpose, and somewhat in execution, according to the ancient Greek tragedy. The purpose of the tragedy was to evoke “catharsis” in the audience, which roughly means that the audience can experience the consequences of the choices of the main character, and therefore learn from it. Most of the “drama” in a Greek tragedy is a consequence of internal strife within the main character, and this is also very central in this work.

    One peculiarity of the Greek tragedy is that it usually ends with a “Deus ex machina”, the “God from the machine”, which is in fact referring to someone dressed as a divine figure that is being held aloft via a mechanical crane. More generally, it refers to a miracle at the end of a story. Miracles are, of course, “unrealistic” (“miracles” do occur, to a certain extent. It would be much more miraculous for no miracles to happen at all!) , in the sense of not fitting into the “realism” genre.

    So why would the Greeks end a story about human struggle with a fairy godmother waving a wand? Mainly out of consideration for the audience. If the tragedy is successful, the audience will be deeply entrenched into the main characters’ struggle. Since the tragedy is not about rising, but about falling, the real end is at the deepest point. But ending the story there would not only be deeply depressing, but also unsatisfying. In ancient theater, this is a serious concern, for you do not want a mob of emotional Greeks physically demanding an ending. So, the deus ex machina is used to shock the audience into reality. The reality that this play is just a story, no matter how real the content of the story may be. It also is designed to make the ending not too depressing.

    So, yes, the ending is “unrealistic”, and dissonant with the tone of the rest of the movie. I believe this is exactly the point of the ending. It is also rushed. This is less forgivable, but understandable, as it is already a quite lengthy movie. As a side-note, such tonal shifts are not uncommon in more… psychological anime. Consider the end of Evangelion. The content is the same as the rest of the show, but the massive tonal shift alienates most of the audience. Tonal shifts are frequently unpopular, although I can appreciate a well executed one. Those in Steins;Gate and the related VN’s in the “Sci;Adv” series are among my favorites. The “youthful optimism” into “shit just got real” tonal shift charms me every time. But I digress. Another question:

    >Why is Ueno such a bitch?
    Ah, a very good question. But let’s answer a more important question first: why are most of the classmates so flat? I think this is another example of an awkwardness that the movie uses to increase the identification with the main character. Do you remember your classmates from elementary school and high school? How well developed are the characters that you didn’t count as your friends? Mine are very flat, because I never saw more of them than their surface. As the main character had no more friends, all his classmates are, understandably, flat.

    So, to return to the main question, on why Ueno behaves like the daughter of a whore. I think it is but one of the “archetypal” perspectives on redemption. Most of the classmates do not believe in redemption, the change of a sinner into a decent human being. Ueno is no exception, although she has a different approach. Her cynicism questions the role of the victim, and notes that the behaviour of the main character is, given the presence of a deaf girl that refuses to accept her role as an outsider, is perfectly understandable. So, she avoids the question of redemption by claiming that the main character was never a sinner! This, of course, has the unfortunate implication of blatant victim blaming! The scene on the ferris wheel makes this very clear: she is very honest and brutal in directly blaming Nishimiya for being such a terrible victim, although she also makes clear that this is in the past and doesn’t want this getting in the way of any future endeavors.

    (As for some of the other classmates, Sahara avoids the question of redemption by simply running away from anything that is unfriendly to her, Kawai does not appear to look beyond the surface of anything at all and therefore doesn’t even comprehend the concept of personal change (she reminds me of borderline personality syndrome patients)

    So, why is Ueno such a bitch? Well, why are you being such a critic!? “… on behalf of the handful of people who resonate with this feeling.” Bah. Be honest, you’re just doing this for yourself! Stop being so selfish, Ueno!

    … Jokes aside, some people simply are more cynical than others, and feel the need to air it even if this would be socially undesirable. Nothing wrong with that, if you ask me. Society, however, has a different opinion here.

    Well, enough answers for now. Feel free to ask if you have any questions are other hate-mail.

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