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A Silent Voice UK Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Goddamit eyes…

What They Say:
Shoya Ishida starts bullying the new girl in class, Shoko Nishimiya, because she is deaf. But as the teasing continues, the rest of the class starts to turn on Shoya for his lack of compassion. When they leave elementary school, Shoko and Shoya do not speak to each other again… Until an older, wiser Shoya, tormented by his past behavior, decides he must see Shoko once more. He wants to atone for his sins, but is it already too late…? Contains the film on Blu-Ray and DVD with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles. Presented in Collectors packaging.

The Review:
With this getting a cinematic release in Japan and a limited cinema release in the west (including the UK), Anthem has a 5.1 English/Japanese audio track and a 2.0 in both as well, with the audio being superb in the Blu-Ray version – watched in both languages and no adjustments were required, the combination of the beautiful music and superb voice work (the dub even has a deaf actress Lexi Cowden play Shouko for extra authenticity and she is superb), being strong and recognizable as well as understandable for the characters played, it is a great listen on either format.

Set on a standard 16:9 – 1.78:1 ratio on a single disc with wide screen and full screen format like a movie styling, the Blu-Ray version as expected doesn’t have any problems and is gorgeous to watch through considering how flowing the animation is – making it one of the best non-Ghibli releases in that respect for anime movies. With obvious comparisons to Anthem Of The Heart considering the leads, the care and style is doing amazingly with both CGI and hand drawn animation integrated perfectly combined with using Ogaki City as the base and being very authentic to the area.

There was no packing for this test release.

We have a background of the sky, with pretty much all 8 main named characters with Shouko and Shouya at the fore front walking down a street – your options are Play Movie, Chapters, Setup and Extras – you can select subtitles in any language and appropriately there is an option of subtitles for the deaf as well as an option for songs and signs – pop-up menu is also available and for once, you can select extras in the pop-up menu which doesn’t tend to happen for most anime releases.

Quite a few extras on the release – we get a lot of the traditional ones with a twist; the two main songs are in music video format with Koi wo Shita no wa by AIKO and Koe No Katach by Speed Of Youth, a trailer, TV Spots, a rare UK TV Spot (with actual UK magazines and newspapers comments during the reveal).

We get a short video on the real life locations of the movie, with the art work transitioning into the real life areas used – only problem is that there is no dialogue or subtitles so without research (or watching the commentaries) you wouldn’t know exactly where they were…

The big extras are the four interviews. They are all fairly shot but with four key people of the movie – first we have the Director Naoko Yamada, talks about the original material, how the emotional aspect of the movie had to be showcased, the difficulty in creating the storyboards, the layers of the characters, the inner mindset of Shouya, her thoughts on the voice actors for Shouya and Shouko and how much of her own self was put in the movie – it’s the long of the interviews and quite in depth.

We get an interview with character designers Futoshi Nishiya on his decision to work on the film, the allure of the original story, drawing Shouya’s character and Shouko’s character both on their own and together, and looking back on the film, we get an interview with art director Mutsuo Shinohara with his impression on researching the city and how that influenced his work, his direction and his most difficult scene, and lastly the music composer Kensuke Ushio with talking about his working relationship with the director and responding to their vision and approach, how he created the music, what was challenging about it and who should watch the film. All different questions and approaches for some engaging interviews.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ooh boy…

This is the second movie in about as many months I’ve viewed which deals with a disability issue where muteness is a key factor – but whilst the excellent Anthem Of The Heart, the lead girl suffers from trauma and won’t speak, this one is definitely more obvious – the lead being deaf. And with the focus on things that even Japan suffers from and probably doesn’t want to admit (bullying, especially with the disabled) this movie can hit you in all the right and wrong places. But just like Anthem, it is a superb watch. Based on the 2013-2014 manga, the movie does differ a bit as couldn’t fit everything in a 2 hour movie, but it hits its own ideas and themes and gives an open but not bad at all conclusion.

The movie starts rather grim to say the least. We see a young man basically quitting his job, taking all the money from his account then closing it (to the music of My Generation from The Who of all things!) and appears to try and jump off something to commit suicide. It then cuts to the key flashback of the boy, named Shoya Ishida, in elementary school. A typical bratty young boy, it seems like he has typical friends and a loving mother and just your average kid. However, that changes when a new student enters the class. Her name is Shoko Nishimiya, and in probably the film’s most iconic scene, reveals a notepad asking her classmates to communicate with her via the notepad as she quotes ‘I am deaf.’

This leads to a sequence of seeing Shoko try her best to fit in and whilst some of the kids seem OK with her (the girl Sahara in particular), it seems like they find her a nuisance (even the teacher) as her lifestyle is complicating others. And so Shoya actively starts to pick on her, along with some of the other students – ranging from obvious (Ueno) to passive (Kawai – as she doesn’t seem to bully but goes along with upsetting jokes, even to Sahara just for trying to help Shouko). And worse, no-one intervenes…which comes to a big head when after one too many times of removing her hearing aids (and Shouya’s mother having to pay for all the ones he damaged – 1.7 million yen worth, referring the money the now older Shouya withdrew as it cleverly intertwines) Shoko gets injured, and from that, the teacher finally seems to do something…expect by do something, it is make Shoya the scapegoat. And whilst he was the main one, he (rightly) tells that all his classmates bar Sahara were also involved, but they deny it and they single him out as the sole bully…

…and thus they now bully him. He is initially blaming Shoko for this, but after a fight in the classroom he realises just how much of a problem he was to her. The next day, she transfers to another school and Shoya begins a rather lonely life of being ostracized, made worse because he slowly believes he deserves it and everything was his own fault, which whilst a lot of it was, means all his classmates got away with it.

Fast forward to the scene where he is saved from suicide, he is now in high school, still the same – to the point he has a condition where he blanks out the faces of everyone he doesn’t care to interact with a giant X symbol. However, he sees a way to make amends as he reunites with Shoko at a nearby sign-language school. It turns out he has been learning sign language for the chance to make amends (he even kept her notebook which had been thrown in a pond during one of his states of bullying). What makes this heart-warming is that as a child, Shoko signed something to him and it was only that she wanted to be friends, something Shoya is glad to do now.

However, others aren’t so happy. We see Yuzuru, Shoko’s younger sister (pretending to be Shoko’s boyfriend) is pretty angry at what he did to Shoko in the past so is acting as a deterrent. His mother also pretty much forbids him for seeing her. Still seemingly an outcast, he finally makes a friend with a boy named Nagatsuka who is a loner too due to being short and fat which becomes quite the nice friendship as Nagatsuka is very protective of Shoya and even when things get a lot problematic later he still doesn’t lose that friendship. He even joins Shoya on ‘dates’ with Shoko to feed the koi, but this causes Shoya to be suspended when Yuzuru photographs him jumping into a pond to save Shoko’s notebook (which is prohibited).

After being suspended, instead of getting angry, Shoya talks to Yuzuru, even taking her to his house to meet his mom (and adorable niece Maria) when it appears she doesn’t want to go home. They bond as friends which gives Shoya and later Shoko, the courage to try and reconnect with people. The obvious one is Sahara, who they visit, but also find Ueno who still seems to hate Shoko. It turns out Ueno is quite obviously jealous of Shoko but also hates the fact she constant apologises – thinking she is taking advantage of her disability. This isn’t true which makes Ueno quite an unlikeable character but at the same time with her jealousy clouding her judgement it makes her thing that…

…and even then it surprisingly makes her not the worst of the bullies. In my opinion, that belongs to Kawai, who obviously is a bit of a narcissist and believes everyone should listen to her behind that sweet exterior. Because whilst Ueno is obviously a bully, Kawai is hiding it – she exposes Shoya’s past to the rest of the cast whilst hiding what she (and the others) did. Shoya finally calls them all out after a visit to an amusement park brings back bad memories of an old friend of his, even ones who are blameless like Sahara and Nagatsuka, seemingly making him alone again bar Shoko and Yuzuru. What’s worse is that Shoko’s grandmother (along with Shoya’s mother easily the nicest adult figure in the movie) recently passed away, it is revealed that Shoko clearly blames herself for everything that happened both in the past and the present. Shoya decides to make sure he can be with her as much as possible, even to the point of her mother slowly forgiving him, but it comes to a head when they meet for a fireworks show, Shoko decides to head back early to do some schoolwork. By luck, Yuzuru asks Shoya to get her camera as she forgot to bring it, and when he comes back, he sees Shoko about to commit suicide….

He saves her, but he falls instead and whilst doesn’t die, Shoko injures her arm and he falls into a coma. This is finally the catalyst for all the classmates to realise ‘yeah, we’re a bunch of horrible people’ (bar Nagatsuka and Sahara) and whilst Ueno doesn’t forgive Shoko (leading to a moment where I cheered when Shoko’s mother slaps Ueno when she tries to blame Shoko for this), she and the others in their own ways get to reconnect and save him (even Shoya’s two old male friends helped him out of the river where he fell) – whilst a recovering Shoya meets Shoko to forgive herself for what she thinks she has done and to stop blaming herself. It leads to an open finale of Shoya finally removing the X’s from people’s faces and wondering if the two are now a couple (as an earlier scene Shoko confesses to Shoya but because of her voice, he didn’t understand but you wonder if he does now…)

This movie is magnificent. It really gets into a lot of underlying problems a lot of countries have, but it feels like it is taboo in Japan (researching the movie I learned that a company tried to ban the publishing manga as felt it was too close to home and didn’t want these problems revealed) and the fact that the disabled are bullied, or bullying is an issue within the social strata and someone like Shoko screwing that up makes her a target, is something that needs to be brought up. Shoya himself is a character that has to develop as his immature kid character gets deservingly punished in one way with the money, but on the other hand, shouldn’t have been bullied himself after it as revenge considering he wasn’t the only one involved (especially as the teacher seemed to encourage it, chalk another one for characters who are unlikeable here…). Does Shoya’s actions in the present make up for the past? It depends how you view Shoko’s character in that she was an all-forgiving person and just wanted to be friends, plus a child mentality vs. a young adult mentality – all these can be questions for it. I view it as a character arc which comes full circle when he saves Shoko from suicide, not long after he nearly killed himself, as the act of forgiveness coming full front.

Considering a lot of the characters are deliberately played to be either questionable or unlikeable with the bullies, the mindset of them at least is explored (Ueno being obviously jealous of Shoko as she liked Shoya, but in her mind thinking she was deliberately using her disability as an advantage is a staple for something who is jealous) – others not so much but have other things that work with it. Kawai for example, is seemingly a nice girl but in fact uses crocodile tears to get her own way and tries to downplay her involvement with the bullying (Shoya even calls her out ‘you like the sound of your own voice).…because a character I didn’t mention in Mashiba, a boy she clearly likes seems to be suspicious in general, but he is the catalyst to Shoya as he actually does want to be friends and seems to try to fully showcase Kawai before being interested in her. Sahara as well is easily my favourite of the side characters, not only has she grown up to be intelligent and nice (as well as the tallest character) but she also tried to learn sign language as she wanted to meet Shoko again, and not only are she and Shoko friends again, she immediately is like a big sister to Shoya (you can tell because she is the only character that doesn’t have an X on her face when they meet again). And just Shoya getting a friend again in the first place with Nagatsuka is really sweet, especially when you realise he also has been left alone and feels very overprotective of Shoya, especially with the early interactions with Yuzuru, who also has superb character development as she slowly understands what Shoya went through and genuinely wants to make amends.

The development in general is what makes it work. Obviously both Shoko and Shoya go through tons, but just the simple things like Shoko and Yuzuru’s mother slowly accepting him, and apologising to Shoya’s awesome mom when he goes into a coma – the frustration of her having a deaf daughter but accepting it and loving her combined with her past means she comes full throttle as a character. Shoko of course seems like an all loving heroine but her own insecurities combined with her apologetic nature means she suffers a lot internally and because she blames herself for a lot, leads to her horrific conclusion she is better off for everyone if she wasn’t here. Shoya’s arc completes here when he saves her and she resolves to make amends as well and whilst Shoya and Shoko’s relationship is left open ending, you feel that it will become stronger.

Combine this with KyoAni animation done in the style of the manga, it is fantastic to look at and to listen to for the languages and music (kudos to the dub for getting a deaf voice actress to voice Shoko as well to add to the authenticity) – the movie tells a story which is basically about bullying, and the fact it certainly ISN’T harmless, combined with the fact it happens to a deaf girl, and with two characters attempting suicide (and apparently not getting help as well) you can also say this movie is a harsh look of society in general (not just specifically Japanese society though obviously that is the main case) when dealing with this sort of thing. Of course, it does get it’s happy (albeit open-ended) ending, and you hope for the best…or in my case get the manga out and read what else happens. So despite the unlikeability of some of the characters (which in truth are designed that way) the film is something that really needs to be watched, not just for the social commentary, but the fact it is a gorgeous, well performed, intelligent film.

And no, I still only have something in my eye…

In Summary:
A Silent Voice is one of those movies that really needs to be seen. Along with the obvious display that bullying is a problem (doubly so for a disabled person), the lead Shoya realises harshly both in his mind and physically what he has done, and tries to make amends. He slowly does so and through the cast of characters, both likeable (Shoko, Sahara, Nagatsuka, Shoya’s mother), become likeable (Yuzuru, Shoko’s mother) or are unlikeable whether obvious (Ueno) or not so obvious (Kawai), he does go through everything and more so, leading to a conclusion which whilst not 100% satisfying (it does feel a bit anti-climatic) it resolves a lot and the commentary it gives us is worthy to be watched. Highly recommended, though it is a bit pricey for the collector’s edition.

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: October 30th, 2017
MSRP: £44.99
Running Time: 130 minutes
Video Encoding: PAL
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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