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A Silent Voice is a somber movie that knows when it needs to make you laugh—and that’s no easy task.
In sixth grade, Shōya Ishida bullied deaf transfer student Shōko Nishimiya. After Shōko was transferred out of the school for the intense bullying, Shōya became everyone’s new whipping boy. Five years then pass and Shōya tries to make amends for his bullying by befriending Shōko. But, old scars resurface as Shōya reconnects with Shōko and their former classmates.
A Silent Voice is a movie heavy on drama, human relations, and repentance—which makes it a movie somewhat weighed down by its atmosphere. However, there are glimpses of humor throughout the film, especially the first half.
At first glance, this seems like a very poor idea, considering the subject matter—i.e., the bullying of a deaf girl and the repentance of the bully. However, the humorous moments actually serve an important role in the movie, giving the audience room to breathe before heading back into content that eats away at the psyche.
One of the earliest instances of humor is about thirty minutes into the movie. It’s a very short scene where Shōya’s mother accidently burns the money he is paying back to her. This scene actually plays on very dark humor—Shōya is paying his mother back before his failed attempt at suicide—however, we need to be able to let out a laugh from the very serious content that came before this scene. That content is Shōya, and by proxy his classmates, bullying Shōko in the sixth grade. Thirty minutes of that type of content is very grating on the psyche, so by having one small scene where we can let out a laugh is incredibly important, even if it’s morbid and dark humor.
This how A Silent Voice works for a majority of the fist half. We’re shown content that’s very somber or heavy on drama, but then shifts to a quick humorous scene. In fact, soon after the money-burning scene, we’re treated to a beautifully comical scene where Shōya’s friend Tomohiro Nagatsuka and Shōko’s sister Yuzuru Nishimiya are in an argument with each other. This scene separates the prior melancholic scene where Shōya is pondering the meaning of friendship and the following scene between Shōya and Shōko. Without the argument between Nagatsuka and Yuzuru to let out a sigh and some laughter, we’re left grasping for anything to relieve ourselves from the core of the narrative.
Interestingly, though, the use of humor peters out in the second half of the movie, making watching the second half emotionally difficult. And this is also where we can see how important the humor in the first half is. Too much emotionally heavy material can strain a person, so to let the weight off we turn to laughter.
This is something manga author Tsukasa Hojo (Cat’s Eye, City Hunter) once discussed with his long time friend and mentee Takehiko Inoue (Slam Dunk, Vagabond) in the February 2017 issue of Monthly Comic Zenon. “People can’t stand a heavy atmosphere in a story for [too long]. They want to [breathe] when tense scenes [keep coming non-stop],” he said. There is a lot of truth in this statement, and it’s something we don’t realize until we pay conscious attention to it.
With the second half weighed down by the core conflict of the narrative, there is little room for laughter. This is where Tsukasa Hojo’s thoughts really come into play. We’re given about an hour of content that’s related to death, fractured friendships, and two very lonely characters. At a certain point, we want to breathe a sigh of relief and laugh, but we’re not given the chance.
This is why it’s important the first half of A Silent Voice uses the humor. It relieves the stress of having to watch so many downtrodden scenes in a row at just the right time.
Anime Now! Managing Editor Richard Eisenbeis really summed up how the story isn’t meant to be humorous. Yet, having those small moments where we can laugh strategically placed in the first half of the movie lets us enter the story on easier terms, rather than being dumped into a somber story head first with little support. It may be hard to think humor in a dramatic story makes it better, but as Tsukasa Hojo said, “People can’t stand a heavy atmosphere in a story for [too long].” And we get exactly the right amount of humor in just the right doses in A Silent Voice so as to not compromise the story while keeping the audience in a sane state of mind.
A Silent Voice is available for streaming on Amazon Prime UK. The DVD and Blu-Ray are available for pre-order on Amazon UK. Madmen Entertainment released the movie in theaters in Australia on April 6, 2017 and New Zealand on April 16, 2017.