A Silent Voice is a VERY popular anime and I can see its appeal. This is an anime that is beautifully animated by the much beloved Studio Kyoto. It has a soundtrack featuring The Who! It promised to actually address the issue of bullying far better than previous anime and give it the serious look it deserves. It promised to be a beautiful redemption tale and love story all in one. This anime SHOULD have been amazing. Sadly, I was really not a fan of this film and was badly disappointed to say the least. I'm not trolling. I'm not being contrarian for the lulz. I'm quite serious and I'll explain why.
Warning! There will be some spoilers!
Bullying and its portrayal in anime:
Before discussing the technical things like art and music, I really need to cover this topic. Bullying is a real world issue that effects millions of people around the world and contributes to suicide, depression, eating disorders, etc. Unfortunately, anime has a long and generally horrendous history in terms of tackling this topic. Bullies in anime tend to be like bullies in a Stephen King novel. They tend to be 1 dimensional bastards that exist solely to torment our heroes and eventually get their grisly comeuppance. When I heard about an anime that would finally give this topic the respect it deserved, I was thrilled! Finally an anime could help redeem over 40 years of the medium doing it wrong. Here are some reasons I feel this film fell short.
A deaf girl named Shouko transfers into a 6th grade class and immediately the whole class start tormenting her and treating her like shit. Our MC Shouya repeatedly yanks out her hearing aids and destroys them in front of everyone. He does this EIGHT TIMES in 5 months and even makes her bleed out of her ears. The teacher just ignores this abuse until Shouko's mother complains. The teacher then singles out Shouya and only Shouya to be the fall guy. Does he get expelled? Suspended? Detention? Nope. His mother is told and she scolds him. Shouya doesn't take his loving mother's lesson to heart and physically assaults Shouko. The school STILL doesn't do anything against Shouya. Kid doesn't even get detention. I know Japan is a different culture than America, but WTF?! This all seems absurdly contrived.
Firstly, this would be far more believable if it was a Kindergarten class and not fucking 6th graders. Kindergarten kids have no established morals and really will bully kids in overt ways for being different. I still remember when a little Asian girl transferred into my all White kindergarten in Indiana. We all did "Asian Eyes". We all called her names. One kid started doing monkey chants, so we all started doing monkey chants. It was fucked up and I STILL feel bad about it now that I'm 30. By the the 6th grade, kids are FAR less likely to universally bully a kid for being a little different and the ways in which they bully are different. By the 6th grade, kids will bully by not talking to an unpopular kid, shunning them, and maybe attacking them on social media. A whole 6th grade class being supportive of physically beating up a little deaf girl and making her bleed from the ears is pretty damn unlikely to say the least.
Secondly, a character needs to do horrible things in order to set up a redemption tale. However, we are typically given a REASON why the character begins the story that way. This reason doesn't justify their actions, but it makes the audience understand the hero and what is going through their mind. Let's take a break from anime and look at another popular redemption movie, American History X. So why did Derek become a Neo-Nazi? He was raised by a father who was pretty racist and instilled a bit of that in him at a young age. Derek's father was murdered in a high crime Black neighborhood. Derek angrily blamed minorities for his father's murder and looked for groups to channel his anger. He ended up finding one of the many racist groups that exist in America both online and off, which reinforced his beliefs and helped mold him into the character we see at the beginning. Shouya on the other hand, is an absolute monster towards the handicapped for no reason. He comes from a loving, middle class family. He isn't a natural born sociopath. He isn't the least popular kid in school and desperate to make 1 person beneath him on the totem pole. He isn't being persuaded by some warped ideology that encourages bullying the handicapped in order to transcend traditional morality and prove himself an Ubermensch. He goes way farther than anyone else in his class and at no point are we EVER given a modicum of why or what he's thinking. Shouya begins the story a complete monster for no other reason than to set up a redemption tale.
Ok, so they fucked up a little. At least Silent Voice still tackles bullying WAY better than other anime...right? Honestly, no it doesn't. Let's set the bar really low and see how A Silent Voice compared to Elfen Lied, an anime that is widely agreed to have done a poor job tackling the issue. The main bully in Elfen Lied is a little brat named Tomoo. This kid is a 10 year old orphan being raised at a chronically underfunded and neglectful orphanage. Nobody is showing kindness to him, so he torments others in order raise himself up. At least we can understand Tomoo and his motivations, so point 1 goes to EL. Now let's look at their targets. Shouko is hard of hearing, but is otherwise an ordinary little girl. She is extremely cheerful and extroverted. No matter how much she is bullied, she forgives with saintlike compassion and tries to befriend Shouya, who just laughs at her and beats her up more. Lucy has red eyes and demonic horns. She objectively looks like a freak within her own anime. Prior to snapping, Lucy responds to bullying with the same cold, disdainful glare. Lucy doesn't try to befriend Tomoo. Her defiant attitude, difficulty showing emotions, and introverted personality all end up contributing to further bullying, which is accurate to real life. Point 2 goes to EL. Now lets look at how over the top the bullying was. The worst thing Tomoo did was beat Lucy's dog to death. Now in America, we value dogs at almost the level we value humans. Killing a dog is an unforgivable act of villainy. In most of the world, constantly ripping out the hearing aids of a little deaf girl, destroying them, and beating her up over a period of 5 months for no reason is far worse than killing 1 dog. Shouya's unbelievable, over the top cruelty exceeds any action taken by Tomoo. Point 3 goes to Elfen Lied. Congratulations Silent Voice! You just got owned by fucking Elfen Lied. You overrated piece of horse shit!
Plot and characters:
After 30 minutes of our MC being the biggest douche in anime that is NOT Dio Brando, we flash forward to high school. The entire class immediately switched from bullying Shouko to bullying Shouya. I guess they have exactly 1 target at a time. Now Shouya is a good guy and wants to make things up to Shouko. We of course already know Shouko is the most forgiving character that isn't supposed to be a Christ character or represent the very best of humanity, so our only real obstacle is another girl from their 6th grade class named Naoka. We see that Naoka still HATES Shouko and is an absurdly evil bitch because she blames Shouko for Shouya being bullied...even though she herself helped bully Shouya. In the manga, Naoka has her own redemption arc in parallel to Shouya's and ends up really developing as a character. In the movie, they had to cut that out and she's just an evil bitch that adds NOTHING to this story. She isn't even the antagonist of this tale. An antagonist actually ADDS something to the plot! I'm not going to spoil the whole ending, but I found its sentimentality to be utterly ineffectual. We also can't have an effective romance because that requires TWO likeable characters. The only character with any development and depth deeper than a rain puddle is Shouya. It's like the film writer honestly didn't give a shit about anyone else.
Yes, the art is pretty and cute and Studio Kyoto is awesome. The X's over characters' faces when they are rejecting Shouya was a cool touch. I don't have anything to criticize here. It was good, but not good enough to save this from being a mess.
Well...at least we got 1 song by the Who. That's more than most anime.
I really wanted to love this anime like everyone else apparently does. This was honestly one of the more disappointing anime experiences I've had in a long time. The characters besides 1 are badly underdeveloped. The plot is a contrived mess that utterly fails at tackling bullying better than past anime. The romance is lackluster and I got very few genuine feels out of this one. The art and production values are spectacular. The premise on paper is great. Then it all seems to fall apart. Kind of like Joker Game in that regard, which I won't bother reviewing because I just basically did. I'm not going to warn people away and scream to "Not buy the hype". Maybe someone else will have a different experience and really enjoy this film. This was just my experience and my own thoughts. I hope Your Name ends up being better than this!