2017 was a monumental success for anime as an artistic medium. We saw My Hero Academia breathe new life into the shonen genre, Recovery of an MMO Junkie address the reality of women in gaming, and Made in Abyss challenge expectations of what a chibi series can show. However, possibly the biggest surprise was A Silent Voice – a movie that sent shockwaves through the anime community due to its heart-wrenching story and realistic depiction of living with a disability.

From its opening minutes, A Silent Voice draws the viewer in. Its first scene, set to The Who’s My Generation, evokes fond memories of spending your childhood out exploring with your friends. For a short while, the audience is transported into the past and in many ways, Shoyo (the main character) is simply a template to project onto.

The problems come when Shoyo meets Shoko, a new student who suffers from deafness.

a silent voice
A Silent Voice. Credit: Shochiku, 2016

Children fear what they don’t understand, so it’s natural to expect some kind of bullying. However, the audience knows what Shoyo does not – that life is already harder for Shoko than anyone else in the class. As the bullying gets worse, Shoyo is not only isolated from his classmates, but also from the viewer.

It’s not often that the main character is effectively the antagonist. You actively find yourself rooting for Shoko and feeling that Shoyo deserves to be bullied for what he’s done. By setting him up to fail, A Silent Voice shows how easy it is to become a bully – after all, effectively, you are now in the position that Shoyo was at the start of the film.

Despite all his actions, Shoko forgives Shoyo later in the movie and the two spark an uneasy friendship. Because Shoyo is happy, the viewer is lulled into a sense of false security that magnifies the shock factor of events that take place at the film’s conclusion. There is a message woven throughout this film that is all too easily missed: small actions can have life-changing repercussions.

A Silent Voice shows just how easy it can be to stop bullying.

Shoko in A Silent Voice
Shoko meets the class. Credit: Shochiku, 2016

If you see something, say something. However, like Shoyo’s classmates, it’s often easier to pretend nothing is happening than to actually step in. As adults, we can view this situation objectively and say we’d have done something differently but real life is rarely so simple. By viewing the world through Shoyo’s eyes the audience is almost complicit in his bullying and feel responsible for what happens to Shoko, even years after the events took place.

At its heart, A Silent Voice is a film about the hardship of growing up and the feasibility of redemption. It is beautifully animated, poignant, and the English dub even has deaf actress Lexi Cowden in the starring role. If you haven’t already, check out A Silent Voice – it’s a rollercoaster of emotion and one that deserves all the praise it’s received.

Ian Garland

Just an ordinary guy who woke up one day in the magical world of anime reviews. Check them out... or don't, i-it's not like he likes you or anything...

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