Koe no Katachi tells the story of Shoyo Ishida, a high schooler dealing with the aftermath of his bullying of a classmate in primary school. His victim, Shoko Nishimiya, was a deaf girl who recently transferred to the school, and for some reason her disability gets under Ishida’s skin and due to a mix of being unable to express himself and wanting to play up to his friends it leads him from picking on her to eventually hurting her. This eventually lead to her transferring as well as his friend group shunning Ishisda through the rest of primary school, middle school, leaving him quite broken coming into high school.
And that’s where we really get into what I believe is this film’s greatest quality, it’s ability to get the viewer into the mindset of the characters. It’s no surprise that the general theme of this film is communication, and the character’s struggle with it. On the surface we have Shoko’s deafness and how everyone has to adapt around her, while on a deeper level how the characters just fail to convey what they want, or have their messages misconstrued. From Ishida’s side we have the X’s across everyone’s face as you’ve seen in the trailer, which do overstay their welcome as the film goes on, but in it’s earlier moment’s really help to solidify how separate he feels from everyone else, and how rewarding it is when the barriers eventually come down. If you want another look at a very similar concept I’d look into Anomalisa from last year, where every background character has the exact same face to convey how bored the main character is of the people around him.
There’s also other techniques such as the Ishida imaging the voices of those around him, as well as choices of framing that separate him from everything else, which might not be the most original ideas, but they all fit together very well to create the overall effect of solitude, as well as conveying the sense that at some point it stopped being genuine seclusion and more of a mental issue.
For Nishimiya the framing is also used to help empathise with her condition, tending to focus on body language in conversations rather than purely facial expressions. This is somewhat of a trope in anime generally, as it’s much easier to cut-away to something stationary then to animate a whole conversation, but this goes past the trope by introducing detailed animation into this cut-aways as well as putting interesting twists on some of the shots. This also works well to tie the two main characters together, as while Nishimiya is more interesting in body language, Ishida is struggling to look people in the eye.
As a side note I also really enjoyed that the sign language moments weren’t subtitled. Obviously this effect is a bit lost on English viewers as we have subtitles anyway, but it was still effective to draw the audience into their conversations more. It makes them more interesting, as you’re either seeing people’s reactions to things before you know what they said, or trying to piece together what they said, and as the film gets on it becomes rewarding as you pick up bits and pieces yourself, and begin to understand moments in a conversation. It also benefits the characters as their knowledge of the language is a reflection of their investment in the relationship.
Anyways, one last point I wanted to mention about how the film works to get into the headspace of the main two characters was the score. Overall I found it a bit too all-over-the-place for my liking as it either didn’t mesh right with the tone of the scene or just felt like it was trying to force a change in tone too much, however it did have some interesting effects on some tracks. So typically for scenes where there is either a communication break-down they use twinkly high pitch piano notes, which ya know is generally the norm for emotional scenes, but they added another layer to it by adding a really warbled corrupted sound in the lower frequencies, almost like you downloaded a really crappy MP3 online. I just really enjoyed it because, at the very least it made the score have a bit more depth to it, which really worked in the cinema, but also as it was a small detail that isn’t inherently noticeable but again adds to this level of empathy for the characters, as the obvious comparison is it being like Nishimiya’s hearing aid.
Unfortunately that’s not all the notes I have with the sound though, as there were a few scenes where the sound design had a noticeable drop in quality. Not the actually fidelity of the sound but in occasional scenes it seemed like sound files were just missing with things that would obviously make a sound being silent. Now just going off what I’ve said already you could think it was just an effect that I misunderstood, but they use silence to emphasise points throughout which is rather obvious when they do it, effective but obvious, and these problems are also present in scenes where Nishimiya is not even present so there is no basis for that to be an effect. 90% of scenes were fine of course, but I don’t think you should ever have to be thinking about the lack of sound design mid-film, and it took me out of the scene.
My biggest problem with the film though is that it feels like an adaption, it feels like a series on fast-forward, most notably in its characters. Now while I don’t think theres anything particularly bad about the characters in this, barr one or two that have the personality of cardboard, I have to quote Harrison’s ‘The Great Wall’ review by saying it’s just that there are so many of the fuckers. At least 4 or 5 characters could be completely removed from this film with no detriment to the story or the main characters arcs whatsoever.
It’s not just the fact that they’re in the film that’s a problem. I have no problem with films with large casts if they make their time on screen either worth it for the entertainment of the audience or for relevance of the overall film but they’re just there, background noise at best, wasting time at worst. Before I go into why I think they’re there I do just want to reiterate that I’m not talking about all the secondary characters, as a few I found had good chemistry, genuinely enjoyable to watch, and served a purpose for the films theme and main characters.
Actually you know what, I just looked up the poster for this film so here you go. Here’s who could be taken out of this film easily, and that’s not even all of them.
Right, back to the point, why do I think they included them in the first place? Well, like I said this is an adaption, this is a long running manga series turned into a film and the characters are the baggage that comes with that. From my brief look into the original series I can see two things, firstly that the second half structurally is changed quite a bit, while I can’t comment on the quality of the change that at least proves to me that they’re not afraid to take some risks with this adaption. On top of that I’m also aware that the director and Kyoto Animation have worked on adaptions in the past that have been very well praised both in their own right and as adaptions that improve on the original. However, in those cases all original material was still included, as they were mostly TV series, and there was also additional content included. This isn’t the case with a film though, as you are mainly taking away from the original, with very little room to add.
The second thing I took away from looking into the original was the layout of the series, where it seems clear that it very much fits into an episodic format. After the initial set up of Ishida confronting Nishimiya they are slowly introduced to a wider circle of characters that add to their friendship group. Each one of these friends has their own issues, sometimes directly linked to Ishida’s past actions, and these problems reflect on similar problems of the main characters. However, they work together piece by piece to help the friends problem, in the process helping themselves, and eventually by the end the group comes together as a whole and the main characters reflect on how they’ve changed. The problem with A Silent Voice is that it knows you can’t tackle all of these individuals stories or you’ll leave no time for the central conflict, but on the other hand it doesn’t want to give up these precious characters, either because of their relevance to the themes or simply because fans like them. What you get instead is an assortment of rushed sidepieces that show up all the time, sometimes for literally no reason, they attempt to steal the show for a minute, before disappearing until the next time they’re needed for drama.
If I sound quite annoyed by this it’s not necessarily these characters causing that annoyance, with the exception of that one red headed guy in particular who I will refuse to name because that implies he has a character as well as a few not on the poster here, it’s just that they take away from the main story, which I believe needed more time anyways. Moments that could be spent developing the central relationship of the film are instead thrown away to these side characters and squandered.
This is made worse by the fact that I found the ending to be a bit of a let-down, not due to the actual events themselves, I think they were well executed, but there wasn’t enough build up to the events due to all the messing around with less important characters, and so not only did the events of the ending seem to come relatively suddenly, but they also felt rushed. There were rewarding moments near the end of course, however by that point I felt like the film had lost its focus and sadly made me more disconnected from the main characters as opposed to connected to the group, which is what I think they wanted to achieve.
If you want to complain about how I didn’t get it in the comments be my guest, or if I got something wrong, genuinely a discussion would be interesting. If you did like this though and want to see more there will be a link on screen or in the description to our anime review playlist or you can just check out our channel. Thanks for listening.