The final film I saw at the Leeds International Film Festival was Kyoto Animation’s ‘A Silent Voice‘. A Silent Voice is quite an anticipated film in the Western anime scene, as of writing this it is on as many people’s MALs as Girls Und Panzer (which isn’t far behind Yuri On Ice!) despite it only having been available to a tiny fraction of that number. I do not have the data to give an accurate reason ‘why’ this is the case, though it being a Kyoto Animation movie of a popular manga is almost certainly A Thing (It being Naoko Yamada directed film, whilst important, is not something I’d think matters to most people).
I first heard of A Silent Voice about four years ago. A League of Legend streamer linked a scanlation of the one-shot – a single chapter manga – that followed an elementary school boy who bullies a new girl in his class because she has hearing issues. Eventually, as the bullying reached brutal and costly heights, the school ends up turning on the boy – despite having supported his bullying up to now – and he ends up in her place. This one-shot was brutal, but impressive, in that it was told from the perspective of a bully, but neither apologised for his actions nor demonised them. Instead it set out to depict the effects such abuse can have on both the bully and the victim before ending with the bully attempting one last shot, years later, at reconciliation. At the time I hadn’t read anything quite like A Silent Voice, thus I would proceed to recommend it to people, when such things came up, as it was my favourite manga despite being a single chapter long.
This one-shot would later be rewritten an integrated into a longer serialisation. Continuing on from the optimistic ending of the oneshot, the serialisation follows the protagonist’s attempts – now as a high schooler – to make up for his previous sins. This, I read first through scanlation and later through Crunchyroll once they picked it up. Branching out from the core relationship in the one-shot, the serialisation explored a large portion of the original class. It wasn’t just the protagonist who bullied the new kid, and it wasn’t like anyone didn’t try to defend her. Class dynamics are complex and messy, even more so for such young kids. Some were less open with their bullying, some only joined in so they wouldn’t be the ones bullying, and some ended up leaving the school themselves as they couldn’t deal with being bullied when they defended the new girl. That is the main baggage that the cast has to deal with years later, and their relationships with each other and themselves is what the serialisation explores.
The reason I’m emphasising the different adaptations of A Silent Voice is because I’ve been following this story for almost half a decade. I first read the one-shot before I’d begun University to study Physics with Philosophy, and I’ve watched the movie now in my fourth year of University where I now study single honours Philosophy. I’ve matured a lot since that one-shot, both as a person and as a reader. But more than this, it is kind of incredible to think how this film exists. Anime being produced at all is sort of an incredible thing in the first place. Whilst I do believe the cries of “Anime is going to die soon!!” are false, the reason they exist in the first place is that the anime industry doesn’t really make much sense by certain common metrics. I’m not meaning to say this set of affairs is good, just that the way the anime industry operates is both fundamentally Japanese and fundamentally impossible by Western philosophies.To think of how A Silent Voice began it’s journey as a controversial one-shot created by a 19 year old mangaka, published a few years later, serialized later still, and now has an animated feature length film helmed by one of the most talented directors in the industry.
The Silent Voice movie itself is phenomenal. It was easily the best movie I saw that day, which given who it shared that theatre with is pretty incredible. But I don’t think I can really give it the words it deserves. At the very least, I’d want to be able to re-watch it and talk about certain very specific moments. I’d want to show you those exact visual cues and how they work together. It’s use of water imagery, and how that threads together with characters repeatedly jumping off things. That the movie boils away almost all of the plot involved in the manga’s and instead depicts the key emotions between the protagonist and his victim. And how that works wonderfully, for the story that A Silent Voice tries to tell. Not necessarily one of redemption, but one of reconciliation, of finally being able to communicate those feelings with one and other that as children they couldn’t.
Oh and the original one-shot? The movie adapts it in it’s introduction as a montage to this. I really love this movie.
(A Silent Voice (manga) is available on Crunchyroll! The anime film, may or may not be coming to theatres near you in the coming year. At least the UK should be getting it properly whenever they get those last details sorted out.)