I remember reading the manga for this one a long time ago and definitely destroyed it. It was extremely mean spirited the whole time and even by the end a lot of characters got away with a whole bunch. Well, turning an entire series into a single film means there are going to need to be significant cuts around the board so maybe this adaption would be better. It does seem like in particular they cut out a lot of the pre time skip content to get to the modern day quicker. I would say its better than the manga.
The movie starts with a transfer student named Shoko entering Shoya’s class. She has difficulty hearing and as a result isn’t able to speak very well either. Shoya and the boys quickly decide to start bullying her and eventually the whole class gets in on this. They keep on breaking her hearing aids and talking behind her back. Eventually she transfers out of the class and everyone pins the blame on Shoya. He was the ringleader but everyone was in on it. We cut to a few years later where Shoya has decided to destroy himself but ultimately decides not to. He runs into Shoko again and decides that he needs to make things right and become her friend. Can he really do it though or is he too far gone?
Right away you can kind of tell how much you will like the film based on how much you can buy into Shoya’s arc. As mentioned, the film does a pretty good job of really cutting out a lot of the opening moments and kind of breezing through things. It’s appreciated but I definitely still didn’t like Shoya. He started out mild but very quickly began to escalate well past the point of no return. He is effectively a different character pre and post time skip, but even with that it was hard to like him.
He could have defended himself a lot better with the rest of the friends later on. When Miki was spreading rumors once again he should have quickly come clean and told his side of the story. Instead he retreated once more but not before taking shots at every character to make himself appear to be the bad guy again.
All in all, Shoya does his best to atone for his earlier mistakes. So you have to give him some props but it doesn’t mean you have to like the guy either. He would still be one of the weaker characters in the film. Unfortunately the best character from the manga (Satoshi) has a smaller role here. He still looks very good in his appearances though as he pressures Miki to do the right thing and just seems like a stand up guy. He feels like the most heroic member of the group to be sure. He’s just a lot of fun and I’d have liked to see more of him.
From all of the characters Miki is probably low key the most malicious one of the group. At least a character like Naoka is pretty upfront about how much she dislikes Shoko. Miki is always trying to play the victim card while constantly bringing up things from Shoya’s past. It’s impossible to ever sympathize with her and by the end you feel like she gets away with everything. That’s why she’s my least favorite character.
Lets talk about Naoka though. She used to be good friends with Shoya and his posse until Shoko entered the mix. Initially she did act friendly towards the girl but eventually it was just too challenging for her so she gave up and became a bully. A lot of things happened and after the time skip she is no longer friends with Shoya but she blames this on Shoko. It gets to the point where she even beats up on Shoko near the end of the film.
Naoka’s personality makes her a pretty fun character but it can’t disguise the fact that she is easily one of the meanest ones around. Her ability of cutting through all the passive aggressive comments of the others and saying it like it is really helps her character stand out. Definitely no excuse for physically attacking Shoko at the end though. It’s good Shoko’s Mom was there to fight back or things would have really gotten out of hand.
From the main characters Miyoko is easily one of the more minor ones. She was someone who at least tried to be Shoko’s friend but ultimately had to leave schools. I don’t believe it was her choice though so while she blames herself a bit later on, I don’t think she deserves any blame for that. She did the best she could while in school and at least gave Shoko some fond memories.
Then we have Tomohiro who ends up being Shoyo’s first friend after the timeskip. He’s a pretty nice guy and definitely gave a lot of solid emotional support when it was needed most. He’s just a stand up guy and is someone who actively sticks up for himself as well. I was also glad that he didn’t just turn on Shoyo after the main character’s last outburst and knew that he was just not having a good moment.
Yuzuru is Shoko’s younger sister and definitely a fun character as well. She certainly doesn’t mind trolling the other characters and next to Shoko/Shoya she probably has the biggest role here. Yuzuru gets a lot of quality character development throughout but started as a great character from the onset. She wanted to make sure that nobody was going to mess with Shoko again and went to great lengths to ensure that was the case. She made a lot of sacrifices to help out.
Finally we have Shoko as the main heroine. She’s definitely a very nice character but almost nice to a fault in some instances. She really makes sure to turn the other cheek when people are being mean to her and continues to try being friends with everyone to the point where she can be a bit oblivious. It’s the main aspect of her that Naoka has a problem with. Shoko always puts on a brave face even if it’s not 100% genuine.
I don’t think you can fault someone for wanting to look at things through a positive lens though. She could have been more self aware but at the same time she was still just a kid and one with far less social experience than the rest due to her hearing issues. It’s part of why the first act is a tough watch because she is doing her best while the entire classroom is just being tough on her.
You’d think at least the teacher would have stepped in but he didn’t do much here. In the manga he’s a lot more antagonistic though so at least they toned him down to just being someone who never actually acts. So Shoko’s definitely a very good character and one of the best ones. The film does a great job of having you sympathize with her situation. Her mother also looks very good. She may have a much smaller role but she is doing her best to help out like contacting the school and jumping into fights. She also went to great lengths to find Shoko when she went missing and in general just did all of the right things.
The animation is naturally solid here. It’s all pretty smooth. You’re not going to see a lot of striking colors for the most part as this takes place in a town where there aren’t a ton of electronics or things of that nature so it’s more about the character designs and such. The writing is also on point.
Ultimately what holds the film back from being one that I would solidly recommend is just how many aspects of the film are un-relentlessly tragic all the time. Just when you think Shoko is finally safe the bullying starts up again in the second half. As bad as Shoya was in picking on her early on, then you see him getting bullied extensively after that and of course he takes it out on her. We have a grandmother dying later on in the film just to heap onto the plate. There’s also the fact that both Shoya and Shoko are suicidal at different points in the film.
It has its happy moments but most of the film is fairly dreary with this. At least the ending is on a high note since a sad ending would have really been rough. As it stands, at least you do know that things are going to get better for the main characters and they are through the worst of it.
Overall, A Silent Voice makes for a better movie than manga. In this case cutting out some things just helped to at least dial back the mean spirited nature of the story. If you’re up for an emotional story of a bully turning over a new leaf and coming to terms with himself then this is probably about as good a story as you’ll find here. Alternately if you want a redemption story that is a little more upbeat, check out Final Fantasy VII Advent Children.