A Silent Voice was Different from the Manga, and that’s Okay

There have been a lot of comparisons between the movie and manga versions of A Silent Voice, and to an extent that’s understandable. The movie did cut a lot of material, and I can see why that would leave some people less than happy with the adaptation. Personally though, I’m fine with the changes from the source, and I think that the cuts generally made the film a better work.

I could agree with the complaints if the movie came across as a direct adaptation that just left out material. There are plenty of adaptations that are the exact same other than missing some of the content, and that’s never very fun. But I never got the sense that KyoAni’s film was meant to be a direct adaptation. In fact, I’m fairly certain that the movie was going for something entirely different than the manga, or at least something different enough to warrant the changes it made.

As director, Yamada Naoko made the smart decision to cut out extraneous parts of the manga in favor of focusing on her bread-and-butter: portraying characters as people, primarily through excellent animation and direction. Rather than giving focus to the side characters, she made the decision to center Shoya and Shoko. It’s true that this resulted in some characters being underdeveloped, but focusing entirely on our two leads resulted in what was ultimately a more focused and emotional experience.

Ignoring all but two characters would backfire spectacularly if the execution of their story was imperfect, but Yamada made sure there were no flaws in the presentation of their struggles. Particularly excellent was the body language of the characters, something Yamada is well-known for focusing on. Just look at this clip, where Shoya’s bounding steps and loose motions show how comfortable he is in his school, while Shoko’s smaller steps and reserved pose demonstrate her nervousness as a new student. This clip only gains further value when we just saw a grown-up Shoya walking slowly, ready to attempt suicide. We can also look at this clip, which uses a shot of students’ legs as a way to show that Shoya is almost incapable of looking people in the face. As always, KyoAni’s top-class character animation is key to making these shots work, and it pays off, emphasizing the humanity and legitimacy of these characters.

Of course, the character animation isn’t the only way the film impresses visually. One thing that surprised me was how well the film conveyed sound through its visuals. I think a deaf person would be able to understand the emotions central to the film, even without captions, because audio was not the central tool for conveying meaning here. Everything, especially the emotions of the characters, was expressed visually. This wasn’t just done with character animation, but also with great shot composition. Many shots of Shoko display her away from everyone else, conveying both her literal separation from others as well as her inability to hear them. These shots that show her at the playground are a great example, as they show her physically distanced from others, as well as metaphorically trapped by the bars around her frame.

All of these visual aspects contribute to the themes of communication, depression, redemption, and self-love which are all clearer and more realized in the movie. The heavy focus on Shoya and Shoko only made their personal redemption that much better. The fact that they finally found a way to be happy by the end, the fact that Shoya became capable of looking directly at others again; these are the things that Yamada wanted to emphasize the most, and she did an amazing job at it. The paralleled shots of Shoya putting his hands over his ears at the beginning and taking them off at the end really encapsulate what Yamada was trying to achieve with this movie. It’s a film about people, more specifically about two people who are unable to love themselves or look forward, and by the end they become able to do those things again.

So yeah, this is a very different work than the original. It cut out major subplots and characterization in order to focus on a central idea. But that’s totally fine. Shoya and Shoko were always the core draw, both in the manga and in the movie, and I’m happy that they got all the focus this time around. I can understand why some people want a story that’s better in a traditional way: a story with more well-rounded characters, with a more deliberate pacing, and with less focus on the themes over the actual plot. But I’m personally far more interested in a film made by the director, not by the source’s writer. I can admit that this is partially due to a bias towards Yamada, but I don’t think that detracts from my points.

KyoAni and Yamada’s work here is excellent, and it only reaffirms my idea that the goal of an adaptation is to make a good work, not just to copy the source. I’m sure that some of the changes were simply made in order to fit within a movie, but Yamada clearly knew what she was doing, because none of the changes were made at random. Everything in the film was deliberately chosen to be there, and it worked to create a true masterpiece. For massive fans of the manga, I can see how it would be a dissapointment, but as a movie I think it’s one of the best, and I’m happy it made the decisions that it did.

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