Koe no Katachi is a film from 2016. It was produced by Kyoto Animation. Yes, the same studio behind Air, Nichijou, K-on, Hyouka & others. It’s based off of a manga by Ooima Yoshitoki. I don’t know much about her and my response to most of what I’ve seen from Kyoto Animation has been pretty middling. Let’s hope this is a positive exception like K-on & not a negative one like Nichijou.
We open with a new student, Shouko, entering a primary school. Where she’s immediately bullied for being deaf. I hear that they’re pushing the kid in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs for an encore. Any way, this results in her changing schools and the boy who led the bullying against her being ostracised. Who would’ve ever thought that bullying a deaf girl might make people think that you’re a total jerk? We cut ahead a good deal of time. Our protagonist, Shouya, is miserable. He regrets everything he did in the pas and he’s contemplating suicide. But, before he makes his attempt, he stops by Shouko’s new High school so that he can use the sign language he’s learned to apologise to her for being a prick. Impulsively, he also asks her to be friends. And thus begins his tale of personal redemption.
Let’s start with the narrative issues with the film. The big one happens about three quarters into the film and I can’t go into too many details without major spoilers. So, let’s just say there’s a bridge scene that involves some major contrivances that don’t make a lot of sense. We’re talking contrivances on the level of Steerforth randomly showing up everywhere. And I’m pretty sure Steerforth was stalking David because he didn’t know the socially appropriate way to request bum stuff. At that time I think it would’ve been to ask him if he wanted to be confirmed bachelors together. But I digress. Going back to the film, it’s one of those cases where a writer really wants a big melodramatic scene but there’s no way to get there without massive leaps. There’s a lesser leap taken to bring a bunch of the characters from their childhood friend group back together.
With that being said, I did enjoy the redemption narrative. It’s pretty well handled with some stuff that explores why Shouya bullied Shouko as well as the consequences he saw from it, and not just socially. The whole arc of them reconnecting and putting the past ugliness behind them is pretty nice and I like that the past continues to loom over them and have an impact instead of being lazily written off with an “and everything is forgiven forever.” The pacing is really well done and manages to keep things compelling with several sources of tension to explore at any given time. It also manages to keep things fairly subdued, mostly, and down to earth instead of relying on cheap melodrama. Unlike some school dramas I could mention.
The characters ultimately make the film work. You see signs early on that Shouya feels badly about what he’s done, as he should, which makes his transformation believable instead of the time skip being used as a lazy plot device to just not develop the characters. Which is something I’ve seen far too often with time skips in media. The film also does give you a strong sense of what he’s gone through as a result of his actions and how it’s shaped him. I also like that the children use more subtle, realistic bullying methods instead of the over the top, extreme shite you see with your more one-dimensional bully characters. As a whole, the characters are just really nicely fleshed out & develop in very natural ways.
The area where it kind of suffers is from some characters who just don’t seem to have much purpose. Shouya has a niece, sister & brother in law and none of them are really relevant to the story. About the most any of them come into play is that he has to leave his flat at one point to pick up his niece which leads to an encounter with Yuzuru but there are plenty of other things that could have potentially been used to make the meeting happen. I guess at least the niece gets some dialogue. His sister and her husband might have one or two throw away lines each. Satoshi is another one who doesn’t seem to do anything. I’m not sure why he’s here. Maybe so that he has a couple new friends instead of just reconnecting with all of his old ones. Or maybe it’s a case where the manga had something for them to do and the film had to cut it but they got to stay provided they promised to stay in the background and not affect anything. So, like Derpy in most episodes but significantly less cute.
this is one element that the film deserves full credit on. It looks phenomenal. The character designs are intricate. The backgrounds are detailed. The animation just looks damn nice. It is very pretty to watch.
The acting is really good as well. Irino Miyo does a great job as our protagonist. Hayami Saori is, by far, the best. You could actually believe that she’s deaf when she delivers her lines. She has that characteristic enunciation. They got some good music as well. We open up with The Who’s My Generation before moving into Ushio Kensuke’s sound track, which really complements the atmosphere well.
There really isn’t any.
Koe no Katachi is a really good film. At its heart, it’s a story about a young man coming to terms with his past mistakes and becoming a better person. It’s definitively drama done well. My final rating is going to be a solid 8/10. Next week is going to be a look at gdgd faeries.