Creeping up right behind Your Name in the Japanese box office, A Silent Voice continues to show audiences how captivating anime films can be. Based on the manga by Yoshitoki Ōima, the film follows the story of Shōya Ishida, the former elementary school bully, as he cruelly bullies the new girl, Shoko Nishymiya, who happens to be deaf.
Shoya's bullying of Shoko starts off with simple teasing with his friends, but it gets taken too far and Shoya starts to physically hurt Shoko due to her disability. The consequences of such bullying leads Shoya to be reprimanded for his actions, along with becoming isolated from his peers.
Now in high school, Shoya continues to remain in isolation as the actions of his elementary school days continue to haunt him. He is so alone and guilty that he contemplates committing suicide. It takes reuniting with Nishymiya to allow both of them to start their journey of healing old wounds.
At first glance, this film may seem like it revolves around the romance between Shoya and Nishymiya, but instead it gives us an open and honest look at teenage bullying and suicide, and how strongly it can affect the lives of those involved.
Centering the film around Shoya gives us the chance to peer into the mindset of the bully, showing how his actions cause scarring not only on Nishymiya, but on himself as well. By no means does it make his bullying of Nishymiya excusable, but it opens up the idea of how young minds try to cope with concepts that they don't understand. The extra work of trying to communicate with someone who can't speak begins to take it's toll on Shoya and his friends, which leads the bullying to go from teasing to physically harming Nishymiya.
The film also shows how peer pressure amplifies bullying, as even though Shoya's friends don't go to the extents of bullying Nishymiya as Shoya does, they still laugh along with Shoya as he continues to bully her.
As the saying goes: "what goes around comes around," and now in high school, Shoya keeps himself isolated from others, as seen depicted by the 'X's on his fellow classmates. It isn't until he befriends one of his classmates (another victim of bullying) that he can reconnect with Shoko and begin the healing process for both of them.
We then see how Shoya and Shoko reconnect and start to build a relationship that has a better understanding of Shoko's disability. Director Naoko Yamada is so in sync with the adolescent mind that he shows the disconnect with younger children and understanding disabilities. Yamada also illustrates how these ideas can linger in the adolescent mind, as some of Shoya's friends continue to not understand the extent of Shoko's disability and refuse to accept that their previous actions were inappropriate.
Director Yamada also shows the struggle for Shoko to communicate with others without feeling like a burden. The struggle with her disability causes her to feel like she's ruined Shoya's life by being the source of his troubles and his isolation from his friends. This leads to Shoko trying to commit suicide, as she believes if she were no longer around, Shoya would no longer be isolated from his friends.
Suicide in our culture is often the result of bullying and this film doesn't shy away from it. Showing both Shoya and Shoko attempt to end their lives, with Shoya at the beginning of the film and Shoko towards the end, shows the toll bullying takes, from both sides.
The last part of the film illustrates how forgiveness and understanding are the best ways to heal. Shoya learns sign language to better understand Shoko, and Shoko tries her best to get along with Shoya and all of his friends. Sometimes it takes relying on others and taking that extra step to get a better understanding of others. These actions means that you are not alone in this world.
A Silent Voice gives us an honest look at the teenage adolescent mind and depicts how teens adjust to the world around them. Growing up is hard, and it takes effort to understand those who are different from ourselves. This film beautifully illustrates the effects of bullying and gives a voice to those struggling with disabilities like Shoko's.
A Silent Voice will officially be in US theaters on October 20, 2017. Will you be watching it?