Last weekend, a friend and I spent an entire day playing “otaku” as we watched the theatrical release of Koe no Kotachi, enjoyed a steaming bowl of ramen, attended a cosplay event, and purchased a few anime merchandise.
The success of Makoto Shinkai’s Kimi no Na Wa paved the way for more anime movies to gain some mainstream attention and this adaptation of Yoshitoki Ōima’s award-winning 2013 slice of life manga is the current recipient of the hype. Who wouldn’t be excited after seeing this heart-tugging trailer.
Koe no Katachi is seen through the point of view of its main character and narrator, Ishida Shoya, a student who is hurt and isolated for bullying their hearing-impaired classmate back in grade school. As he decides to rid himself of the guilt from being a bully and the loneliness from being shunned by his former friends, he gives up on his future and he ticks the days off the calendar until his premeditated suicide. To his mother’s relief, Ishida’s plan is unsuccessful and she asks him to promise to never think about taking his own life again.
Ishida goes to high school and crossed paths with Nishimiya Shoko, the shy girl he once bullied relentlessly. Filled with remorse, he takes the opportunity to walk towards the path of redemption by learning sign language to be able to effectively communicate with her. In spite of Yuzuru’s initial disapproval, Ishida manages to talk to Nishimiya Shoko and eventually, he is able to show his sincerity and gain the trust of Shoko’s boyish younger sister.
Nishimiya Shoko didn’t have the chance to befriend anyone from their previous class since Ishida’s constant bullying pushed her parents to withdraw her school admission. So, Ishida decides to reconnect Nishimiya with their old classmates: the kind girl Naoko Sahara, the vain class president Miki Kawai, and even Naoka Ueno who outright expresses her dislike for Nishimiya.
Ishida thinks that he can’t make new friends anymore as part of his karma but he gains a loyal bff in the funny Tomohiro Nagatsuka who usually gets all jealous and possessive when another friend, Satoshi Mashiba, joins the group.
“Me, You, Friends.” Nishimiya used to try to convey this message by sign language but to no avail since the immature Ishida back then didn’t even want to take time to understand her. Now it’s his turn to ask her the same thing.
Together, will they be able to heal their scars from the past?
The movie opens with The Who’s “My Generation”. The beats of this classic youth anthem is the total opposite of the film’s mostly tranquil atmosphere. The visuals are not as exquisite as Makoto Shinkai’s creations but Koe no Katachi‘s roughness has its own charms. Female director Yamada Naoko also intentionally includes some off-center shots and blurred gazes to represent Ishida’s vision and his inability to face the world head on. The lack of background music and the use of soft piano accompaniment instead of blaring pop songs give it some indie-ish vibes. Luckily, I opted to watch while eating quesadillas instead of chips at that time. It would’ve been awkward for me to munch on Doritos inside the quiet theater.
Koe no Katachi certainly have strong melancholic moments but there are some unexpectedly laugh-out-loud-worthy scenes to balance the tone so it doesn’t end up being as somber as 5 Centimeters Per Second. More than the edgy visuals, there is something gripping about the modesty of the film’s narrative. We’ve seen a lot of stories about handicapped characters which evoke both sympathy and inspiration, but the film presents the other side which is the bully’s growth as he emotionally struggles in his attempts to atone for his past mistakes. This successfully strikes a chord with the viewers since at some point in our lives, in one way or another, we may have contributed to bullying someone who seemed “different” from us.
I, too, find myself being able to relate to the characters’ plight. Due to my strong facade, I don’t think I was ever bullied in the past but I realize that I may have lived with a personality that has a bit of Ueno (someone who joins the bully), a bit of Kawai (someone who laughs and talks from behind and a class president at that), and a bit of Sahara (someone who tries to be nice but is too scared to be ostracized) combined.
Now that I have learned a thing or two about myself and have finally embraced my introverted side, I think I also ended up walking around, putting imaginary crosses on people’s faces sometimes. That moment when Ishida finally learned to look, listen, and let go – along with the movie’s super lit soundtrack *pun intended*- was such a wrenching moment, I can barely hold back my tears. This is a coming of age feels-fest compared to the fancy visual extravaganza that is Kimi no Na Wa.
The movie’s weakness, however, is just the same as any other adaptations ever created. Two hours may seem too long but considering that the original source material has 62 chapters, this running time is definitely not enough to develop each character’s arc. Despite the flaws, Koe no Katachi is one powerful film that’s a welcome addition to the growing number of crossover animated hits.