This post has been sitting on my drafts for the longest time (it’s been more than eight months, I think) because it’s just so difficult to share about this specific time in my life. But I figured I need to learn how to let this shit go and not end up crying every time I talk about it. So let’s try this one out. (Although I don’t think I’ll ever stop crying whenever I talk about it.) This is going to be one of those times that the anecdote is so deeply ingrained in the review. Actually, the review might be sparse in reality because I might end up too caught up with my feelings.
So prior to watching A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi), I’ve seen and loved Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) and have been on the lookout for more great Japanese animated movies and Koe no Katachi was recommended to me. So all this time, I thought Koe no Katachi was a romantic story. I was so excited to watch it that I didn’t even check its plot because sometimes I like going into a story without any expectations or notions.
So imagine my discomfort when apparently, Koe no Katachi deals with bullying. I was bullied during my freshman year in high school. I lived in a dorm (yes, at a very early age of 11) and I was away from my family during weekdays, only going home during weekends. (Thank goodness for weekends.) And I was bullied. My roommates ganged up on me and badmouthed me to our classmates as well, and even all the freshmen in the dorms. They had a codename for me (it was “cow”) and while I do understand that I did something wrong then for them to hate me, I didn’t think everything they did was warranted. I mean, they could have just talked to me! Or just plain gave me the cold shoulder for one wrong thing I did. (Apparently, I talked bad about each of them when that person was away from the room. I didn’t realize that and I can’t remember doing it but I’m really sorry to have done that.) But instead, they were downright mean. Even batchmates I didn’t really know (we were 240 in the batch) called me “cow” behind my back. My classmates didn’t want to be partnered with me. I ate alone and sometimes cried to my food. I was at the guidance counselor’s office a lot. I went home during weekdays when I couldn’t handle eating alone anymore and staying in the same room with them. (I’m already crying as I’m typing this.) It was really hard. I did have friends in the dorm but they were all sophomores. More often than not I slept in their room so I wouldn’t have to see my roommates or I went back to my room super late in the night when everyone was asleep so I wouldn’t have to see them.
Things did get better during the last quarter of the school year and they ~forgave~ me and we became ~friends~ and hung out together but in all honesty? I could never feel like we’re really, actually friends. Even now, 12 years later, while I’m not exactly holding a grudge (I don’t hate them or what), I could never forget everything and be friends with them. Real friends. I think my self-esteem issues were amplified because of me being bullied, as well as me being as closed-off to people.
Back to Koe no Katachi. I guess I should have looked for trigger warnings because watching it was painful and enraging. Our heroine was bullied for being different (she’s deaf) and our hero even ripped her hearing aids off of her ear multiple times, resulting to wounds and blood everywhere. And yet, our heroine just wanted to be accepted and still kept yearning for that from these ruthless people. And I know how that feels because back in the day, even if people hated me, I cared. I cared so much. I wanted them to at least tolerate me, if not like me. I know how it feels to seek for validation from the people who most likely won’t and don’t care about you. I know, the characters in Koe no Katachi were middle school kids then, but I honestly couldn’t stomach it.
Then we went to their high school selves and we see our hero is now the outcast, with anxiety and even thought of suicide to end his pain and suffering. I loved the representation and I was so miserable because I could feel the hero’s suffering. I understood him and wanted him to seek help, find a support group, and feel better.
But with the thinking that this was a romantic story, I just felt icky all over. In fact, even without it being romantic (as is apparently the case with the film), I just couldn’t get behind the heroine being that forgiving. I was projecting my own experiences on our heroine and I couldn’t find it in me to be as forgiving as her. I know that bullies can be reformed, and they can change and be kind. But I hated how Koe no Katachi humanized these bullies. They were kids, sure, but being a kid does not excuse violence or meanness. I know that a person shouldn’t be “cancelled” just because of a past mistake, especially if that person has rectified their ways and is doing good now. I know all that. My mind knows.
But my heart couldn’t follow. I know the hero has suffered immensely after being the bully and has reformed, and while I felt bad for him, I also didn’t want him to be now all chummy and friends with our heroine. He’s kind now, sure, but I couldn’t get behind the narrative. His own suffering didn’t mean he’s now absolved of everything he did, even if he was sorry. My mind wants to be open-minded and kind and forgive him but my heart couldn’t.
Call me an unforgiving monster or a grudge carrier and after this, I can’t even deny that. I just see myself in the heroine and the emotional and mental distress that I’ve undergone before from my own bullies couldn’t be quantified and fixed and erased. I’m civil with my former bullies but that’s all I can be towards them.
And because of my personal experiences, I couldn’t love Koe no Katachi. The animation was great, sure, but I honestly can’t remember anything else from the film because I was so consumed by my own feelings and projections that I couldn’t even enjoy the film. In fact, this film made me so miserable, making me relieve the days I was bullied and then showing me how easily these bullies could think that they’re all forgiven, without the guilt I would assume they should have. Sure, the hero was very sorry but the others? They were fucking not. It made me feel miserable because I kept on thinking that maybe this was how my bullies were. Suddenly “forgiving” me and befriending me after everything they made me go through and making me feel as if I should be thankful for the kindness they bestowed. And the Dianne of then lapped it up, loved that they finally accepted me, when the Dianne of now just feels sad and mad for freshman Dianne because she didn’t deserve all that. (I’m crying again.)
I have to end this post now because I can’t continue typing anymore because it physically hurts whenever I think back to those days. If you’ve loved Koe no Katachi, good for you! If you were bullied before and loved the movie, can you tell me how and why? Did I interpret the film wrong?