This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film A Silent Voice / Koe no katachi (2016). Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Naoko Yamada, the 2016 Japanese anime is based on a manga of the same name written by Yoshitoki Ōima. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
A Silent Voice / Koe no katachi (2016) – Plot Summary
Shoya is a young teenage boy who is trying to end his life. However, he changes his mind at the last minute and decides not to jump off the bridge. Shortly after, Shoya starts recalling the events that led him to that moment.
When Shoya was in elementary school, he used to taunt a girl named Shoko, a transfer student. At the time, other classmates also joined Shoya and began making fun of Shoko because of her disability: the girl is deaf. The bullying escalates and the school starts demanding for some answers. Although there were many culprits, the school deemed Shoya guilty of bullying Shoko. Shortly after, the whole school starts to shun Shoya.
As an outcast, Shoya becomes a victim of bullying too. Unable to cope with his current situation, Shoya takes his anger on Shoko and the two get into a physical fight. After the incident, Shoko transfers to another school. Branded as the guy who bullied a deaf girl, Shoya found himself alone at school. Unable to make new friends and being constantly reminded of his past makes Shoya fall into a deep depression.
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One day, Shoya helps another loner (Tomohiro) getting rid of a bully and the two become friends. As an attempt to make amends with his past, Shoya goes looking for Shoko. The boy finds her at a sign language centre and informs Shoko that he has her notebook (from elementary school). At first, Shoko is confused. But then, she decides to give Shoya a chance to prove himself.
Shoya starts going to the sign language centre more often to see Shoko. However, during the first few days a little boy by the name Yuzuru blocks all of his attempts to see Shoko. Later on, Shoya finds out that Yuzuru is not a boy, she is actually Shoko’s little sister.
During their meetings, Shoko and Shoya encounter many people from their past. In order to spend more time with Shoko, Shoya invites her to an amusement park along with other familiar faces. Naoka also shows up and forces Shoko to go with her on a Ferris wheel ride. Once Naoka was alone with Shoko, she starts blaming her for what happened to Shoya. Those words prompts Shoko to admit that she hates herself. Naoka loses her temper and slaps Shoko. Thanks to Yuzuru’s camera, Shoya and Shoko’s sister are now aware of what happened during that ride.
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A Silent Voice [DVD] (2016)
The group gathers once more, but things get tense and they start blaming each about what happened to Shoko back in the day. Shoya is extremely upset at their toxic behaviour and refuses to engage. Meanwhile, Shoko’s grandmother passes away. Therefore, Shoya decides to take the sisters to the countryside to cheer them up.
Shoya, Shoko and her family attend the fireworks festival together but then, Shoko excuses herself under the pretext of having some school work to do. Yuzuru forgot her camera at home, so she asks Shoya to go to their house and get it for her. When Shoya arrives at the girls’ apartment, he sees Shoko at the balcony. At first, he thought Shoko was admiring the fireworks, but then, Shoya quickly realizes that Shoko is trying to end her life. Therefore, he runs towards her and catches her. Although Shoya manages to save Shoko, he falls and enters into a deep coma.
In order to “repay” Shoya, Shoko reaches out to his old friends and explains them what happened. One day, Shoko dreams about Shoya saying goodbye to her and this prompts her to run to the bridge where they used to feed koi fish. Meanwhile, Shoya wakes up from his coma and runs frantically looking for Shoko. He stumbles upon her at the bridge and they both apologize to each other. Shoko feels immense guilt for what happened to Shoya after she left. However, Shoya wants Shoko to continue her life without that guilt. After confessing that he also once attempted to end his life, Shoya asks Shoko to help him continue to live.
Shoya makes his return to school. It’s school festival day and Shoko is there to provide him support. Meanwhile, a group of friends greet Shoya and give him a very warm welcome. Seeing so many people care about him makes Shoya burst into tears of joy. At this point, Shoya no longer avoids eye contact with other people and the “X” mark on their faces falls off.
A Silent Voice / Koe no katachi (2016) – Ending Explained
The story is essentially a tale of redemption. However, Shoya is not the only one seeking redemption in A Silent Voice, Shoko is trying to make amends too.
Now, one can understand why would Shoya want to atone for his past mistakes. The boy basically bullied a deaf girl and made her life miserable during elementary school. However, why is Shoko feeling guilty in all of this? In addition, why did Shoko try to end her life?
When Shoya made the poor decision of harassing Shoko in school when they were both younger, all of his classmates and “friends” turned their backs on him. However, Shoya wasn’t the only one making fun of Shoko, there were many others.
Shoya was definitely the main bully and the school punished him for what he did to Shoko, but he wasn’t the only culprit. Those who sat aside and watched others taunt Shoko are just as guilty as Shoya, but no one wants to admit that. Everyone was fine with the bullying until the school started demanding for some answers.
When the whole class shun Shoya for his behaviour, that was them trying to keep their hands clean. They were just as guilty as Shoya. However, instead of admitting their own part in all this, they chose the easy route and blamed it on someone else. That person happened to be Shoya.
At first, it feels satisfying to watch others stop being nice to Shoya. That was like instant karma for what the boy did to Shoko. However, things take a very sad turn once we realize that Shoya has now become a victim of bullying too. His inability to make new friends, made Shoya a complete outcast. That’s why he became depressed and thought about taking his own life.
The Meaning Behind The “X” Mark On People’s Faces
At the end of the film, Shoya sees the people around him differently, they no longer appear with a “X” mark on their faces. Why is that?
Before Shoya made peace with his past, he was a very lonely individual. He had no friends at school or outside of it. However, Shoya did not blame the situation on anyone else but himself. The boy felt like he deserved it for what he did to Shoko. As a kid, he used to think Shoko was the problem. As time passed by, Shoya realized that Shoko was the victim not him.
The “X” mark on people’s faces signifies distance. Shoya avoids making eye contact with other people because he feels unwanted. Shoya’s past still haunts him everyday and he feels that his classmates are still judging him for what he did many years ago. Therefore, Shoya looks down on himself and avoids interacting with others. Deep inside, Shoya feels that he’s somehow unworthy and that he does not deserve having good things happen to him.
After the accident, many of Shoya’s “old friends” came to see him at the hospital. When Shoya got back to school, many were eager to see him. Seeing that reaction from his classmates, made Shoya feel that he was no longer alone and unwanted.
When Shoya cried at the end, those were actually tears of joy. He finally gave himself permission to feel happy again, something that Shoya hasn’t felt in a very long time. Having friends again, gave Shoya the confidence to face others and look at them in the eye. When Shoya made peace with his past, he finally understood that he made amends and that he’s a better person now.
Why Did Shoko Try To Kill Herself?
Shoko is a kind-hearted girl with a very low self-esteem. That’s very evident, when Naoka confronts Shoko. Instead of standing up for herself, all Shoko did was to apologize. That reaction did not stem from fear, but from Shoko’s own insecurities. The girl genuinely believes that she’s the root of everyone else’s problems. That said, when Shoko learns that Shoya lost all of his elementary school friends because of what happened, she automatically blamed herself for it.
When Shoko was standing on top of her balcony, her thought process was rather simple: if she’s out of the picture, then everything will go back to normal. However, Shoko was wrong. Just like Shoya was wrong when he almost decided to jump off that bridge.
Ending her life, wasn’t going to solve anything. When a person dies, they are also leaving their loved ones behind. That’s why the mothers (Shoko’s and Shoya’s) were so upset at their children for trying to end their lives. More than upset, they were heartbroken.
In reality, Shoko had nothing to do with Shoya’s “friends” abandoning him. As mentioned before, they were all just as guilty as Shoya because they didn’t speak up about what was happening. Nonetheless, they were all too coward to admit that. Laughing together with Shoya when he was bullying Shoko, makes them his accomplices.
Shoko and Shoya – Relationship Analysis
Shoko and Shoya’s relationship is complex. Shoya used to be Shoko’s bully, but now he’s trying to befriend her. At first, Shoko was uncertain about Shoya’s true intentions, but then, she decides to give him a chance to prove himself.
After spending more time together, Shoko starts to develop romantic feelings towards Shoya. However, the boy is too oblivious to get the hint. At first, Shoko’s crush on her former bully might seem rather innocent, but it goes deeper than.
When Shoko was on that Ferris wheel, she reveals her darkest secret to Naoka: Shoko hates herself. The girl is just as unhappy now, as she was during elementary school. That might also explain why Shoko was so quick to fall for Shoya. For the first time in Shoko’s life, someone (from the opposite sex) was paying attention to her and attending to all her needs. Having said that, Shoko crushing on Shoya shows that she’s been feeling lonely for quite a while.
Shoya’s oblivion to Shoko’s feelings is a reflection of his own guilt. How could Shoko ever have a crush on her former bully? That’s what Shoya thought, and that’s why he totally ignored (inadvertently) Shoko when she was confessing her love to him.
The way how Shoya tries to repent for his mistakes is almost painful to watch. The boy goes above and beyond for Shoko, which is cute at first, but treating Shoko like a victim is not the best way to overcome the past. Even Shoko can see that. Watching Shoya trying so hard to make amends triggered an enormous sense of guilt in Shoko. The girl feels like she’s somehow holding the boy’s life back, hence, Shoko’s attempt to end her own life.
After Shoya’s fall, both realized that they needed to do better and move on from their past. While Shoya was unconscious at the hospital, Shoko tried to repair some past wounds. Therefore, she reached out to Shoya’s old friends and by the time Shoya made his comeback, he was no longer the sad boy wandering the school corridors alone. For the first time (in a very long time), Shoya had a group of friends waiting for him and willing to support him.
A Silent Voice is a beautiful tale about atonement. The film tackles a lot of sensitive issues such as bullying and suicide and it does it in a quite brilliant way. Shoya, the protagonist, starts as an awful boy who cruelly bullies a deaf girl. His despicable actions lead his classmates to turn on him. At first, it looks like Shoya is getting what he deserves. However, things take a sad turn once the viewer realizes that Shoya has now become a victim of bullying too.
Watching A Silent Voice is quite an emotional journey, because it shows that people shouldn’t be solely defined by their past. For instance, Shoya starts as a bully but in end he becomes a much better person thanks to Shoko and others. As a matter of fact, many will even find themselves rooting for Shoya to forgive himself so the story can the happy ending that it deserves. In addition, it was refreshing to see Shoko becoming stronger and more proactive towards her own happiness.
Naoka is probably one of the most controversial characters in A Silent Voice. She’s not nice, that’s for sure. However, Naoka deserves some merit for being true to herself. She does not try to “act nice”, just because others are expecting her to do so. Before the bullying incident, Naoka and Shoya were in the same clique and Shoko’s arrival disrupted that whole dynamic. That’s why Naoka “hates” Shoko and slapped her in the Ferris wheel. She’s angry at Shoko for being selfish and only thinking how those days affected her, when the events impacted others around her too.
Overall, A Silent Voice is a very noteworthy watch and it will definitely pull some heartstrings especially when we see Shoya crying tears of joy in the end. Another aspect that I quite appreciate in A Silent Voice is that it doesn’t try to sugar-coat things. For instance, making the bully fall for his victim would be a total cliché and a quite boring story to watch. However, the film kept everything very real. In my opinion, watching Shoya and Shoko become real friends is way more meaningful than seeing them in a budding romance.