Kimi no Na wa. is certainly a phenomenon, but it’s not the only anime movie that is taking the Japanese box office by storm. Many believe that it’s streamlining on the success of Makoto Shinkai’s masterpiece, but the fact is that Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice) has already generated a box-office revenue of ¥1.6 billion, even though it’s only been screened in approximately 120 small theaters.
The film is produced by Kyoto Animation (Kyo-Ani) and it tackles a couple of serious themes like bullying and features people with disabilities. It’s approach to these themes is the reason it has received amazing review so far.
Why has Koe no Katachi become such a hit?
The original version of Koe no Katachi was published in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. The mag has a small circulation of 60,000 copies, but the original manga became an Internet sensation for its risky take on certain themes.
A little while after the release of the original manga, a remake was published in Weekly Shonen Magazine, home of mega hits like Fairy Tail and Seven Deadly Sins, and with a circulation of over 1 million copies. It’s the second biggest manga magazine next to Jump. For a magazine that focuses on fantasy, sports, and comedy, it was pretty exceptional to have a title that deals with disabilities and bullying. Since the core audience of a shounen manga magazine is students from elementary to high school, the maturity of the themes clearly contradicted the age of the readers. It could have been a major disaster.
Except, it wasn’t. The public and the fans of the magazine started talking about the manga and its unique approach. The magazine took a serious gamble with this title. Imagine Marvel or DC publishing a sports comic without any super heroes. It could have worked, but the readers would have been shocked. The same happened to the readers of Weekly Shounen Magazine.
They became the talk of the town.
The New Era of Kyoto Animation
Kyoto Animation is part of the modern otaku culture. They are the studio that produced one of the most well-known anime in the western world, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and they are responsible for the mega hit K-ON! They usually focus in slice-of-life anime with a school setting.
Koe no Katachi is at the same time similar and different.
The bullying described in the original manga is cruel, uncomfortable, sad, but true. It’s that realism that makes Koe no Katachi such a hot. The way that it describes bullying makes you sympathize with both the bullies and the victims. It’s so controversial that I first doubted Kyo-Ani’s ability to turn the story into an animated film. The themes are so sensitive that even the publisher, Kodansha, once reconsidered publishing it.
I am glad that I was proven wrong. Kyo-Ani rose up to the challenge and created a masterpiece. Director Naoko Yamada truly captured the essence of human connections. That weird feeling I had when I read the original manga never resurfaced. I just enjoyed a wonderful movie that captures the purity of human relationships. The film contains some classic youth scenes like those in K-ON! The Movie, but it certainly maintains the ‘poison’ witnessed in the original. The bullying scenes that made me uncomfortable in the manga were transformed into something else, more light and rhythmical, a direct contradiction to what they were supposed to be. The voice actors did a great job in softening the unpleasantness of many scenes.
That’s not to say that the movie is all pink and pretty. The themes that governed the manga are still there. Kyo-Ani respected the original work and tried to be as faithful as possible. It uses the cruelty of the themes to make us question the quality of communication between human beings. Do we really try to relate to other people? Or do we actually hide away in our own personal world? The movie tries its hand to this kind of questions.
Until now, Kyo-Ani has created anime targeting the medium fans. With Koe no Katachi it opened its wings and it’s trying to reach the general public. It’s a movie that retains the essence of the studio in the art and the atmosphere, but experiments on new themes and storytelling techniques. This is why the studio is constantly gaining new fans. There is always a risk in going out of your comfort zone and trying something new, but the quality of the film made it possible for the studio to take its place in the spotlight and create a sensation that is here to stay.
It only remains to be seen if Kyoto Animation can keep the momentum and create more stories they can be proud of.