Koe no Katachi first started out as a one-shot and was later developed into a full manga that ends conclusively. The Koe no Katachi manga was later picked up by Kyoto Animation (KyoAni) and turned into a full length feature film that attempts to bring the manga to life. It has since achieved a high degree of popularity locally in Japan, as well as internationally.
The movie explores the story of Ishida Shouya and Nishimiya Shouko as well as those around them. Initially, Ishida has had a pretty good life. While far from perfect, he has more or less everything a boy could ask for; a loving family and friends to hang out with. When a deaf girl, Nishimiya joins the school, he starts to bully her because of his inability to communicate with her. It is fun at first for him, with everyone else joining in, but Ishida soon pushes Nishimiya too far and she transfers to another school. Appalled by his behaviour, those around Ishida soon begin to ostracize him. This treatment continues throughout his school life, leading to the present where the main plot of Koe no Katachi begins.
Before we begin, please note that this is not a review of the movie proper but a study of some of the things Koe no Katachi did. Also please understand that a topic that explores characters in-depth will require spoilers for Koe no Katachi, so please take caution if you have yet to watch it.
1. Character Flaws
This seems like the most obvious point, and thus is a good point to begin the exploration. The usual literary trope of the Mary Sue is extremely well known. This is a character who has no flaws and is good at everything. The world revolves around the character and events only happen when they are convenient. They are in no way relatable to a normal human being, because they ultimately lack the one thing an average person has: flaws.
There is not a single human being in the world without flaws. So how can we relate to characters without them? Koe no Katachi has a wide array of characters. Each and every one of them has a flaw of some sort. Furthermore, they aren’t the likable sort of flaw like being air-headed or ditzy, but ones that might even actively make you reconsider making friends with the person. However, at the end of the day, isn’t that what makes us, and these characters human?
Ishida is unable to interact with a normal human due to his fear of rejection. Nishimiya is overly apologetic and doesn’t try to fight for herself. Kawai tries to make herself lovable to everyone at the expense of other people. Mashiba is overly nosy in matters that he had no involvement in. Ueno always tries to interpret things to suit her perspective. This the main cast of the movie. Ladies and gentlemen, how could we possibly like such a motley crew of human degenerates?
Each one of them has such a fatal flaw, to the point that they almost seem like the most terrible people you could ever meet. They make mistake after mistake, always resolving situations in the worst possible way. Everything ends up falling to pieces all the time because of their constant screw ups and inability to act like civilized people. They act just like…us. We are at our core, frightened and afraid of the world around us. It’s all we can do to protect ourselves from the terrible world by lying, cheating and back-stabbing each other. Yet that is what it is to be human. Just like us, the characters of Koe no Katachi react the same way a normal human would when faced with adversity. They do not gain some sudden inspiration to join up as friends and tackle the problem. It’s all they can do to not even freak out, and all that is available to them is to kick and scream their way out of a bad situation.
2. Realistic Consequences
The science behind cause and effect is quite simple. Every action will have a reaction. That reaction will arise through a logical circumstance. If you hit a bottle off a table, it will fall to the ground. It will not suddenly fly off the table into the Earth’s atmosphere. So what happens when you bully a deaf girl each and every day? What is the natural reaction that the surrounding world will have when you make her life hard by destroying her hearing aids and force her to transfer schools just to have a life of normalcy? The world will push back, hard.
Ishida being ostracized by his peers is not a reaction that comes from nowhere. Of course they will look down on the bully who picks on the poor deaf girl who can’t defend herself. What else did he expect when he pulled that nonsense on her? No one is going to suddenly introduce a harem situation for our dear protagonist. It’s not going to veer towards a happy ending simply because it is a story and a story must have a happy ending. Ishida is definitely going to go through a lot of hardships for his mistakes.
Isn’t that just the same for us? How many mistakes have we committed throughout our lives? The people we hurt, and the relationships that can never be recovered; these are all just consequences of our actions, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. If our mistakes didn’t have consequences, why would the feeling of regret exist? It is because we feel the very pain of our mistakes that we can come to regret the wrongs that we have done.
Ishida isn’t just a character. He is a human being like us. There is no world ending disaster that will compel him to break beyond the mould he has been cast in. All that exists is the consequences for his actions. It is only because of these consequences that he can start to feel regret and understand the wrongs he has done, and start to change himself as a consequence. If he was but a character, we would be able to laugh and criticize him. “You deserve it for what you’ve done,” some might say. However, it is because he is a human being that we start to think, “Maybe this is something that he caused, but somehow I feel pity for him.”
Who hasn’t gone through something similar? Mistakes that we wish we hadn’t made but happened anyway? That’s why Ishida is such a relatable character for many of us viewers. We understand why he went through what he did, but at the same time it’s not like we enjoy his pain. All of us social creatures have been through the same at one point. We can’t say Ishida didn’t earn or cause it, but we can certainly empathise with him at the very least.
3. Similarity to Human Behaviour
There are two instances within the movie where an attempted suicide happens. In media, suicides are usual hyper dramatic situations that occur. A character goes through a breakdown of his usual self, runs to the nearest rooftop he can find, and pretends that he can fly. This is coupled with much screaming, countless onlookers and the dramatic reactions of his friends and family. However, that is certainly not the way a normal human acts.
Ishida’s attempt at suicide is quite placid. In fact, he doesn’t even consider it at first. The thought has to creep in his head slowly. At first, he tries to right the situation in any way he can think of. He tries to reconnect with the friends that have left him behind. It is only when he realizes that he can’t fix it, that he starts to give up. Yet, he doesn’t consider suicide at this point. The thought has to sit in his head for a long time, turning stronger as the years pass and the isolation gets to him more and more. There is no trigger for it. Ishida simply sets his affairs in order, and decides on a date that would be best and sets himself off on his final journey. It is only his encounter with Nishimiya that eventually saves him, but the thought was considered heavily.
Nishimiya’s attempt at suicide is also quite similar. She didn’t learn that she was deaf and decide to run to the razor and kill herself. It took years of exposure to being a cripple for her to start considering her circumstances. Nishimiya begins to feel that she is a burden on her friends and family. It is her presence that causes the idealistic life of Ishida to fall to pieces. Her reunion with him is also, from her perspective, what caused his newly reformed friendships to break. With all these things in mind, Nishimiya decides to commit suicide in secret, falling through the night sky in silence. It is only Ishida’s interference that saves her in the end.
Unlike dramas and anime, humans aren’t as dramatic as we think we are. While many things are done on a spur, a heavy topic like suicide isn’t. It’s slowly stewed in our heads for a long time. The thought of fading into existence is a heavy one. We can only begin to consider it when the thought of our thoughts ceasing is a preferred to suffering any longer than we have. Even then, we don’t just take a knife and plunge it into our hearts. We take the time to consider the methods, the best time to go and many other issues that come with it. Ishida and Nishimiya are just like us. We can only be glad that Koe no Katachi handles a heavy topic like suicide in a mature and understanding way, not using it as a springboard into more dramatics.
4. Lack of Dramatics
A story always has a climax of some kind. It represents the culmination of everything that has come into play up until now. It is like the punchline of a joke, the payoff of the story we have seen thus far. The climax is the consequence of the actions that were undertaken throughout the course of the story. Normally, a climax is tense. Emotions are heightened and it wouldn’t be out of place for characters to start shouting at each other.
Koe no Katachi doesn’t seem to have an identifiable climax at all. Is the climax the point in which Ishida lashes out at everyone on the bridge? Or is it the moment when Nishimiya decided jump off her balcony? It’s honestly hard to tell! The one thing that is missing from each of these pseudo climaxes is something a climax usually has, a high level of drama. While some moments are certainly tense, there isn’t a huge amount of drama in each scene. Sure, Ishida talks down to his friends, but it’s not like he’s standing there declaring they are all assholes and he could never possibly be friends with them. All he does is expresses his views.
Real life doesn’t have climaxes too. Everything moves in one fluid motion. Events occur one after another. Regardless of the consequences, life simply moves on, whether you want it to or not. So Ishida parted with his friends. So what? Life moves on for everyone. No one breaks down crying and upset over it for half the movie. Ishida simply continues with his daily life. In reality, there is no such thing as drama. Everything simply…moves on. We can’t just stop moving after all.
The characters of Koe no Katachi do the same. They don’t just stop because something severe happens. Events continue to happen one after another whether they are involved or not. Some choose to continue their daily lives like normal. Others change in a small but distinct way, but are otherwise the same as before. Near the end of the movie, Ishida says something to that effect, “We haven’t really changed who we were from before, but simply learned to accept ourselves.”
Each and every one of their character defects are still present by the end of the movie. They aren’t better people by the end credits. All that it is, is that the consequences have led them to getting along better and their lives are simply better for it. Sure, there are slight changes to their personality here and there, but their core as a person has not changed. There isn’t a dramatic trigger for them to change who they are overnight. They are who they were and will forever continue to be so. That’s just how a human being is.
Koe no Katachi is a great anime film, despite some minor shortcomings. It truly tries its best to explore the character of human beings as a whole, and how they interact with each other. Of course, its interpretation is not perfect, just like our interpretation of the movie isn’t perfect either. However, it does make a damn good effort of it. By the end, viewers are left with questions that have no answers. It’s a movie that makes us think, and these thoughts might make us all the better as human beings in the end.