A Silent Voice and its Perfect Portrayal of Social Anxiety

Spoiler Alert!

“Above all, I hate myself who have these thoughts. I chose to isolate myself. Maybe because I wanted to believe I wasn’t isolated.”

I am not exactly a very mentally healthy person. I have had problems with anxiety and just have a general feeling of nothingness most of the time (Though, I haven’t been diagnosed so I don’t feel comfortable saying that I have anxiety or depression). And there are very few works of art that have really touched with me in this aspect. The best example of it is probably Bojack Horseman. And while I have seen a lot of anime about mental health, only one has really worked for me. That being A Silent Voice

A Silent Voice, made by Kyoto Animation and directed by Naoko Yamada (Mainly known for her work on K-on, Clannad and now this), follows Shouya Ishida who starts bullying a deaf girl in his class by the name of Shouko Nishimiya. It’s all fun and games for Shouya until teasing goes too far and the class starts to turn on Shouya. The story sees Shouya as an older student who has cut off society from himself and develops a sort of anxiety.
But even though he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, he still feels the need to tell Shouko that he’s sorry for all that he has done. At least before he dies.

And why I decided to focus on Shouya in this synopsis, was because that’s what the movie is to me. The story is about Shouya Ishida and the effects of being outcasted from society. It has themes of depression and bullying, and Shouko is definitely a big part of the story. But to me, it was Shouya who was the best part of the movie. The portrayal of social anxiety is such a masterfully written part of the movie that it is hard to forget. And while I wouldn’t say the movie focuses on giving depth to this anxiety, it has so many small moments that explain so much about his characters. From making up voices for the people around him to the crosses being drawn over every face so that he doesn’t forget that he isn’t allowed to look at them. It’s surreal and at times scary to just see what happens to the character. To the point where I remember one line more than I do the entire movie. Similar to a lot of “tragic hero” stories, like The Social Network or A Clockwork Orange, we sympathize with this character whom we wouldn’t normally sympathize with. Sure, Mark Zuckerberg and Alex in those movies are harder to see is the subject of this sort of tragic hero. They are mainly shown as bad people but have glimpses of humanity, mainly from the acting. And while Shouya isn’t shown in this light to the same extent, having more scenes where we see him trying to prove himself as a good guy, I still think he could easily be a “tragic hero” kind of character.
And that’s what makes his character so good. While we see this extremely realistic portrayal of anxiety, which is probably why I find him so memorable, he’s also a very unique character in the way that he’s the bully. He fills a role I think movies have to have, to show another perspective. And in that way, A Silent Voice is a masterpiece.

But I can’t say the same about the rest of the cast of characters. While there were more characters than Shouya who were great, like Shouko herself and Nagatsuka, there are just way too many characters for this movie to handle. It tries to develop everyone but accidentally doesn’t develop anyone. It is what fuels this inconsistency I felt the characters in general had.
I think the way they approached this story was that they wanted every character to feel realistic. Or at least that’s how I felt that the comic was meant to be. But since a movie can’t be 5 hours long (unless you want to look “artistic”), many characters were left out on this depth obsession. While many characters had a lot of depth, a few of them didn’t have any. An example of this is Ueno. She is a character who feels extremely one-sided and doesn’t really get any development, even though she deserves it. And this is probably the main thing about the movie that I disliked. If the characters were more balanced, I felt it could’ve been amazing. but since the movie feels very unfocused, it made me enjoy the movie less. I can endure characters that don’t have a lot of depth. Your Name, one of my favorite movies of all time, doesn’t have a lot of depth in its characters. But they were consistent, realistic, got development and were very likable and so weren’t jarring (I didn’t want to bring up Your Name, but it’s a good example of what I’m trying to say) And I can’t say that all the characters in ‘A Silent Voice’ did that to me.

But even though I found the characters to be very inconsistent, the story definitely wasn’t. As I’ve already stated, I found the story to be very unique. Just the concept of having the bully be the protagonist is something I haven’t seen in any movie or show ever. And it isn’t the concept that makes it so good, but the execution. Shouya developing social anxiety is just a part of this execution. We get to see the reaction of every character when Shouko is bullied. Sahara changing school when her classmates tease her for trying to befriend Shouko, Yuzuru quitting school just so she can protect her sister or Ueno growing a hatred towards Shouko for breaking the class. They’re all realistic, even if they’re not always developed upon.
Many of the moments are as powerful. Shouko trying to kill herself, Shouya letting go of his anxiety or Shouko and Ueno’s discussion in the carousel wheel. And the music that fits those scenes with the psychological tone so well.

I can’t say that A Silent Voice is a masterpiece. It has too many inconsistencies to be called one in my opinion. But it’s a movie I don’t think I’ll ever forget about. Sure, maybe it’s just one character that keeps refreshing in my mind. But it’s something at least

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