A Silent Voice (4 stars)

A Silent Voice

Tender and truthful anime reflecting on the ripple effects of bullying, from director Naoko Yamada

Like recent anime smash Your Name, A Silent Voice makes beautiful, affecting work of teenage emotional turmoil. In almost every other way, director Naoko Yamada and scriptwriter Reiko Yoshida's adaptation of prodigious young mangaka Yoshitoki Ōima's strip is its own beast. Gentle and intimate where Your Name was epic and fantastical, Yamada's subtle drama reflects on the ripple effects caused by bullying, adopting unusual perspectives to illuminate the subject afresh.

The ostensible focus is Shōko (voiced by Saori Hayami), a deaf girl who moves to a new primary school. Yet a bold step is taken with the decision to emphasise the viewpoint of Shōya (played by Mayu Matsuoka as a child, later Miyu Irino), the brat who bullies her relentlessly. Lobbing Shōko's hearing aids out of a window is barely the half of his terror campaign: cut to five years later, and a teenage, depressed Shōya has become socially ostracised himself. Equipped with sign-language skills, he turns to Shōko in pursuit of friendship, and redemption.

Although the script sometimes buckles under the weight of the many characters surrounding this central duo, the limpid animation makes delicately expressive work of conveying their predicaments, fears and complexities. Drawn with depth and texture, the corridors of the schools stretch out ominously – a shy kid could get lost in there. If the characters' features seem indistinct by contrast, they demonstrate the semi-formed muddle of teenage life.

A tremendous sensitivity to light and shade – sunlight glances off a riverbed, fireworks burst in the sky – mirrors the emotions of teenagers caught in the full, blinding glare of feelings they're not fully equipped to handle. As A Silent Voice takes darker turns, it doesn't always feel equipped to negotiate those twists; the resolution, certainly, is overstretched. Yet it stays tender and true to its characters' intricate inner lives, so much so that the climax transcends its potential for melodrama and feels moving and hard-earned.

Selected release from Fri 17 Mar.

A Silent Voice

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • Japan
  • 2h 10min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Naoko Yamada
  • Cast: Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Megumi Han
  • UK release: 17 March 2017

Shōko (Hayami) is a deaf girl who moves to a new primary school, where she is relentlessly bullied by Shōya (Irino); five years later, Shōya is a depressed and ostracised teenager who reaches out to Shōko in search of friendship and redemption. A gentle and intimate drama about emotional turmoil, with a moving and…