In the summer of 2013, the first part of Koe no Katachi was released. Written by Yoshitoki Ooima, and based off a one-shot that was published earlier in 2011, the series quickly picked up a following in part, I think, due to its empathetic handling of its one Deaf protagonist. As a fan of the one-shot, I was ecstatic to find that the series found its way to the silver screen and that the people at KyoAni were going to be leading the helm in terms of animation because honestly, this story about growing, learning, and redemption deserves as much beauty as it can get.
Koe no Katachi (translated as A Silent Voice) centers on Shoya Ishida, a punk kid who begins to bully new transfer student Shoko Nishimiya because she is Deaf. After Shoko transfers to another school, Shoya is ostracized by his classmates for his nasty tendencies. Years later and when he is at his lowest, he again runs into Shoko. Regretting his previous actions, he finds meaning in his life by trying to be a better person, the first step of which is apologizing to Shoko and even asking to be her friend this time around. The film documents Shoya’s struggles as he tries to atone for his past as well as his journey in making and maintaining new friends while also giving time to Shoko, who finally has the friends she wanted, but still holds bitterness towards her deafness.
As far as most anime goes, typically disabilities like this are either presented in a way where the audience is supposed to feel bad for the character who has them, or that there’s some shocking twist where they have super amazing powers despite/because of their disability. Yet, I can’t recall there being a series, or at least not such a popular series, that focused on the issue of living with a disability in the slice-of-life genre. Placing it in this genre allows Shoko to be Deaf without it being her only character trait—it becomes normalized, and thus having Shoya do things like learning sign language also becomes normalized. In a similar vein, the slice-of-life genre allows the slow burn to see the effects of bullying over time. Both Shoya and Shoko suffer from his bullying, and the fallout from that never goes away completely. Shoya cannot bring himself to get too close to people while Shoko remains convinced that her deafness is only causing problems for everyone in her life. It may be difficult to watch, but it’s important for audiences to understand how deeply bullying can influence someone and that those influences don’t stop just because you move onto high school, or even after you leave school entirely. Also giving the message that you absolutely should apologize and try to become a better person if you did bully someone in your past is something we need to see more often.
Koe no Katachi was released in Japan on September 17th, ranking at number two on box office sales for its opening week. Since KyoAni was in charge of its animation and due to its popularity both in Japan and with Western audiences, a North American release should be announced before long. When it’s released in whichever capacity they decide to show it—be it a theatrical release or a smaller con release—even if it’s dubbed, I hope they present it in the way that theaters across Japan did: with subtitles so that Deaf fans, too, can enjoy seeing a story that may reflect part of their own lives.