I really, really, really wanted to love this film, you have no idea.
The last time I did a standalone anime review (although, let’s face it, those annual recaps are basically filler for when I’m processing backlogged photos) was over a year ago for Your lie in April, and if you read that one you know how much I love that show. I wrote that review due to my enthusiasm for the show and it was intended to get people to watch it as quickly as possible (knowing that my 2016 recap would be far off… and as we approach the end of August 2017 it’s still no where in sight; it’s sad when your fillers need fillers).
This review, however, is for an entirely different reason. I’m still trying to process my feels for Koe no Katachi (聲の形) three — uh, four — nope, five days later (watched it on Friday night and I started writing this on Monday… through Tuesday… and now it’s Wednesday — hence the unusual posting day), and I hope my writing this out will help me do it.
Normally, I’ll either enjoy a show or I won’t, but this is the second anime I’ve watched this year that has made me think I’d love it since it was hitting all the right buttons but ultimately left me empty inside mourning what could’ve been. The other was My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, which had the same, albeit lesser effect.
SNAFU features a friendless pragmatist who has keen insights into life and human relationships. His observations were brilliant and often hilarious in their truthfulness, but other things in the show were lost on me — primarily character motivation — which ultimately resulted in my ambivalence toward it; motivation that is unclear or out of character will really destroy a work for me because it just makes it seem like the characters are in service to the plot and not vice versa.
Since it affected me to a lesser degree, I haven’t gone to the trouble of writing anything up on SNAFU, though I did track down the source material and might get around to reading it at some point. It’s possible that my comprehension issues were due to the sub I watched, but since it was a long show (two cours and two OVAs with a studio change in the middle; the art change didn’t help) I’m kind of hesitant to revisit it any time soon. It also takes me back to a discussion I had with a friend about my belief that anime adaptations need to be able to stand on their own; as a viewer, you shouldn’t have to be familiar with the source material to understand what’s going on. Expecting your audience to do homework in order to enjoy your show is sloppy and lazy.
That same friend watches a lot of anime, so when he went out of his way to recommend Koe no Katachi (The Shape of Voice aka A Silent Voice), it came with high expectations. A quick search revealed that the film was highly rated on various websites (MAL, AniDB) and I was immediately intrigued by the premise, which revolves around a deaf girl (Nishimiya Shouko) and the boy who bullied her (Ishida Shouya), since it was subject matter that I’d never seen addressed seriously in any of the anime I’d watched up to this point.
Granted, I haven’t watched as much anime as others have, but disability and bullying generally aren’t discussed by Asians anyway in my experience. We’ve all had experiences with bullying and I wholly expected to be left a blubbering mess by the end of it.
The fact that I’ve spent the last few days thinking about, writing about, researching, and re-watching (once in whole to make sure I got everything and enough in parts to count as a second) this film should tell you how much I wanted to love it and it tells me that something in it must have spoken to me on such a deep and profound level that I couldn’t just let it go, and I can’t help but feel it was mainly due to Shouko.
Shouko is probably the most moe character I’ve ever come across (accentuated no doubt by her disability), one that is real and grounded enough to avoid crossing the line into becoming a full-fledged moeblob. All of us can relate to feeling left out, feeling worthless or like a burden, believing that the world would be better off without us, wanting to be accepted, and wanting to be friends with others. She does the best she can despite her shortcomings but always feels that her best isn’t good enough. Even though she does wind up being other people’s (and her own) punching bag and doesn’t stand up for herself as she should, I loved her almost immediately, and maybe that’s why I’m having such a hard time reconciling my feelings for this film.
The director of Koe no Katachi, Naoko Yamada, also directed Tamako Market (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and both seasons of K-ON! (which I love). Of course, she also directed the K-ON! movie (which I only kind of loved) and the Tamako Market movie (which I kind of hated) so maybe I just don’t like her films very much. I think Koe no Katachi really should’ve been a series (it runs 62 chapters); even a 1-cour would’ve gone a long way towards addressing the problems I listed above (although I would likely be scared of the story devolving into slapstick humor or Shouko turning into a full-blown moeblob).
In the course of writing this review (the full version is 5-pages, honestly the longest thing I’ve written since the Looking for Miku script and prolly longer than most of my college papers), I did manage to work out a few of the issues I had with it (yes, there were more than I’ve presented here… many more) and I hope that the film will continue to grow on me as I ruminate on it further.
After all, I had an even more extreme visceral reaction to Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika The Movie -Rebellion- until I came to terms with it (luckily, I might add, since it was also what finally elevated Homura to Waifu status). I do have the Koe no Katachi manga on tap and will eventually get to it in the hopes that all my concerns will be answered, but, again: one shouldn’t be required to do homework in order to understand a work; in order to enhance the appreciation of it, sure — but that requires a different starting point.
Finally, is it worth a watch? I’ve basically watched it three times in the last five days, and I keep finding new things in it, some of which answer previous questions, others of which raise new ones. There’s a lot here, for sure. Why am I working so hard to like this film? I certainly wouldn’t go to this much effort with a film by Shinkai Makoto, who strikes me as immensely over-hyped and whose work never fails to disappoint me. There’s just something about this one that speaks to me, that makes me want to put in the effort and like it; I’m not sure if that’ll be enough for you.
tl;dr: Koe no Katachi is not for everyone and certainly has a number of character/story issues, but it may still win you over (or, at least, try its very best to).
If you’ve seen it, would love to hear your thoughts, rebuttals, and explanations on the full review!