Sunday, April 30, 2017

[Anime] Shirobako Review

Shirobako – 8.5/10

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“…satisfaction has to be seen as lying in a considerable series of transactions, in a trend of behavior rather than a goal achieved.” - Robert White

Shirobako is a charming ode to teamwork and dedication.  Composed of equal parts humor, friendship, and stress (okay, mostly stress), it follows the everyday trials of Miyamori Aoi, a novice production assistant at Musashino Animation, as well as the experiences of her close friends from high school.  Together they have sworn to make an anime together some day and have entered into various anime-related fields (animation, CG, voice acting, and writing) to pursue this dream.  What raises Shirobako above the hordes of “cute girls” series is that at the core it has a firm grasp on both the pressure that young people experience entering the work force as well as the joy that comes from dedication to that same work. 

This grounding is what sustains Shirobako.  It is the fountain from which all its best elements flow, and the writers knew this.  There is no high drama, just the mundane interactions between people at an anime studio.  Action would be disingenuous, and romance distracting.  It has a great deal of friendship, but it is the subdued variety, reserved for professional relationships and after-hours relaxation.  It also tastefully declines to stoop to boorish fan service, being confident enough in its foundation to stay the course.

By sticking to its core themes, Shirobako allows us to follow along with the journey and, if we’re lucky, get just a small taste for ourselves.

The Good:

Increasing research shows that the crucial elements of happiness and satisfaction in life are a result of having one’s skills and interests be aligned with the task at hand, and that the result of these labors produces something of value to the world.  Shirobako takes these rarefied ideas and communicates them with a special verve that only a story can contain.  As a viewer, I experienced viscerally the struggle and uncertainty many of the characters were going through as they forged toward their dreams.  The simple challenges of overcoming self-doubt, frustration with failure, and the fear that their best was not good enough were eminently relatable.  And mixed in occasionally, those shining moments where all that they have endured comes together, and the realization that they have truly accomplished something sinks in.  Rarely has a series caused me to empathize so much with the seemingly trivial, yet vitally human, feelings of its cast.

The best of this is seen in Miyamori.  When people think of meaningful jobs, production assistant does not make the list.  The natural choice would have been to focus on a creative role, such as director or senior animator experiencing a grand sense of self-actualization.  Instead she is an office worker, organizing time tables and acting as the go-between for the departments.  It is thoroughly non-heroic work.  After all this talk of vital engagement, she seems a poor vantage point to see it in action.  And yet, we are pleasantly surprised.  It is not the job that makes the meaning, but the way it is approached.  Miyamori’s sincerity and struggles are not diminished for the apparently unremarkable nature of her job.  There is an art to being the one in between, and it is no second-hand happiness to support others. (Significant spoiler)

Supporting others is a "win-win" situation.

Miyamori’s sister also deserves mention for her role as a foil to what goes on with the main characters.  When she first visited I found her obnoxious, but she grew on me as I understood the source of her behavior.  Her job was meaningless.  Every day she put on a meek disposition and followed the company line.  It was a potent reminder that not all work led to the experiences that Miyamori (junior) had.  What I had tagged as “excessive” made more sense in light of realizing how she had to express herself elsewhere, for her everyday life was nothing more than a way to pay the bills.  By the time she left, I felt a bit sorry for her; it put what was happening in Shirobako into perspective.

Paired with these themes of fulfillment (or lack thereof) is a pointed expression of what it is like to be a young adult first stepping into the world.  In high school dreams seemed easy and exciting, but now real life has overtaken them.  Each of the girls face their own challenges, from figuring out their passions to improving their craft.  It is disorienting, terrifying, and exhilarating all at once.  Shizuka is particularly compelling.  She spends most of the series on the sidelines, not knowing whether she’ll ever make it into the hyper-competitive field of voice acting.  It was a bittersweet mixture to see her continued dedication in the face of repeated disappointments.  As somebody who never experienced such pressure, it came through loud and clear.  Once again I was impressed by the effectiveness with which the series explored this feeling while not becoming overly burdened by it.

Stupid tires...

Finally, no praise of Shirobako would be complete without mentioning its insight into the anime industry.  While I am certain that somebody will stop me and clarify that some parts were not accurate (I highly doubt that the average studio has such a high density of attractive young women), I came away from it feeling I knew more about what went into the process.  It heightened my appreciation for the blood, sweat, and tears that go into anime’s creation, as well as the generational sense of how anime has evolved as a tradition.  The episode where they visited the old building was easily one of my favorites for showing how our current characters were carrying on a tradition, putting into perspective that their current struggles were what would create the foundation for the future.  In the end, it simply made me grateful for the anime I have come to enjoy.

The Bad:

Characters in Shirobako are not particularly developed.  This is not a bad thing.  Arguably, too much individual detail would fatally sidetrack it with a cast of this size.  It is best to hint at the depth of everybody with occasional glimpses rather than attempt to fully explore them.  However, this approach only works when we are given reason to respect the characters, and there are a few that come to mind that fail this test miserably.

The worst offender is clearly Tarou, Miyamori’s coworker at the production desk.  Despite featuring prominently in nearly every episode, he has absolutely no development.  He exists purely for comedic relief.  The series passed by several opportunities to enrich him.  Something as minor as a serious answer to why he worked in anime would have sufficed.  To know that there was somebody in there who had serious, realistic needs and dreams would have gone a long way.  I also had a love-hate relationship with Kinoshita (the director) as well.  We do have some reasons to value him, but he was cast in such an unfavorable light that it seemed like the message was often, “pity the silly fat man.”  It’s important to show that people have faults and can still work together as a team, but these two felt entirely defined by their flaws.

There's unimpressed, and then there's Miyamori unimpressed.

Also on the topic of mediocre characters, the dolls that represent Miyamori’s thoughts wore out their welcome part way through the series.  Early on, they were a clever way of showing her inner monologue: she wasn’t a perfect angel but had several conflicting impulses, many of which were not generous.  But somewhere around the halfway point the dolls began to take on a more active role, narrating scenes and explaining situations.  These were no longer Miyamori’s thoughts for herself, but obvious expositions for the audience.  This expansion of the role felt unnatural and ultimately made the dolls feel ridiculous.

Finally, I struggled with some of the sillier aspects of Shirobako.  Above I praised the series on how grounded its drama was, not relying on artificial inflation.  They unfortunately did not follow the same strategy with the comedy, which had a tendency toward complete ridiculousness.  The scene at the end where the director storms the office building was humorous….and completely out of place for the importance of the situation.  It took me out of the flow and dulled the impact of the rest of the episode.  This was also true on occasions when the series tried to push the emotional moments with odd…hallucinations; the three girls of Exodus! and the boat with the warriors appearing at the end stood out to me as simply poor directing choices that toed the line between strange and sentimental.

Speaking of Exodus!, my own personal enjoyment of the series was often impaired knowing that despite the wonderful teamwork that was going on, it was all for such run-of-the-mill trash series.  I know it doesn’t invalidate their experiences together, but it made me sigh a little to know it was all to bring such vapid stories to life.

I entered into watching Shirobako with many reservations.  It seemed too flippant, too reliant on cute girls and cheap sentimentality.  I was gladly mistaken.  Shirobako is a series that is entertaining, informative, and genuinely touching.  It holds its level of quality to the end and is a recommended watch for anime viewers.

"Joy’s soul lies in the doing.” – Shakespeare

Saturday, April 8, 2017

[Anime] Your Name Review

No introduction, but here's a picture of Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet striking Jupiter in 1994.  It hit with enough energy to leave Earth-sized marks on the outer atmosphere.

Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) - 7/10

The Good:

I went into the movie expecting certain things (romance, beautiful scenery, etc.) but what I did not anticipate was the comedy.  This caught me by surprise as the few Shinkai works I have seen featured little in the way of jokes and relied far more on the heartstrings.  The Freaky Friday routine was surprisingly enjoyable, how it unfolds slowly and with only one half at a time, then moving together.  Even the simpler gags, such as Taki(Mitsuha) fondling "his" breasts, became good running gags.  My personal favorites of this part were the pronoun confusion by Mitsuha(Taki) on the school roof and when Taki(Mitsuha) finally completely freaks the younger sister out in the morning.  Most of my enjoyment of the movie is derived from this first segment.

The more humorous early segments also did an excellent job of laying the groundwork of the latter half of the movie.  The characters were far more endearing for having laughed with/at them.  This is also a seamless way for us to learn more about our two main personalities; what they like doing, what they do with their time, their aspirations, their quirks, etc. all flow naturally from them having to explain to each other what to do and not do while in the other's body.

The preparation also deserves some praise for what it doesn't talk about: namely all the characters that don't matter.  This is probably a case where I'm more used to series than movies, but the movie knew which characters were relevant and important and didn't waste our time with the others.  We see enough of the main duo's families to know their situations, and enough of the associated friends to get a taste of their personalities.  And then nothing more, which is exactly what is needed.

Moving onto the latter half of the movie, what caught me the most was that Mitsuha was dead.  It really did put a hook in me when they discovered the destroyed town, and ultimately reading her name on the registry of victims.  The first part of the movie really did do its job with selling her.  Her "first" death scene was also solid for its unexpectedness.

Finally, it goes without saying nowadays, but Shinkai's films have a top animation budget so they look good.  Although in this case, some of my favorite animation was actually during the flashback Taki has from drinking the sak√©.  The chalk-stylized touch was enjoyable.  This isn't to disregard some of the grander shots, such as the view Taki has of the village at sunset, but the obvious push for the wow-factor in the scene slightly dulls it for me.

The Bad:

Shinkai loves to insert supernatural elements into his movies, and honestly I think they are usually the worse for it when things turn serious.  What worked as a humorous plot device to get to know our characters now turns into a convenient tearjerker way to have them forget each others names and be forced to find each other.  This type of complaint is the same I have made for series from Shiki to Clannad: I have a hard time getting any emotional traction with excessively artificial situations.  Cases of mutual retrograde amnesia are just not common enough.

My other primary problem with the end was the pacing.  I know that the staggered uncertainty is what people pay for, but for me it just felt dragged out.  From the moment that Taki goes back in time from the shrine, it is clear that the villagers will survive and our couple will get together in the end (if there was any doubt before, I guess).  All that remains is to execute the final arc.  When we snap back to the present the movie delays confirming that the village survived (we know they did), then dilly-dallies around with whether Taki will see Mitsuha in Tokyo (he will), and finally has them miss each other repeatedly until the inevitable conclusion (of course).  Again, I know this is what makes the movie so broadly popular, but for me it's simply cheap.

Ultimately, I still thought it was a solid movie.  I enjoyed the viewing and would recommend other people to go, but I would not consider it a moving masterpiece that it has been built up to be.

Monday, April 3, 2017

[Anime] Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (S1 and S2) - 7/10

As a franchise, Gundam explores the meaning and effects of war.  However, the quality of each series varies greatly with the premise being periodically undermined by immature attitudes and pseudo-intellectual exposition.  Often the gains made by depicting senselessness on the battlefield are promptly countered by melodrama and sentimentality.  True suffering gives way to teenage angst.  Because of these tendencies, Gundam as a whole is shackled to its more adolescent underpinnings, with giant robots as nothing more than a proxy for having superpowers.

Iron-Blooded Orphans defies this trend and is one of the stronger submissions to the Gundam franchise.  Driven more by the characters than the machines, IBO uses past suffering as a backdrop rather than a plot device.  The story centers on Tekkadan, a mercenary band composed of child soldiers who have rebelled against their former overlords.  Led by Orga Itsuka, this misfit collection of human debris must now face a society indifferent to their struggles.  In the process, they discover a sense of belonging and camaraderie that they have never experienced.

With this as a backdrop, IBO is far grittier than most Gundam series.  There is no glory in what the children of Tekkadan do; it is an act of survival, not honor.  This can be seen most clearly in Mikazuki Argus, the ace pilot of the company.  Unlike many protagonists he does not view his opponents as rivals.  They are obstacles, nothing more, and he will crush them without hesitation or remorse.  So it is with the rest of Tekkadan, desperately fighting to continue living in an apathetic world.

The Good:

The inherent quality of the plot.  Despite the inadequacies of the execution (more on that below), I would argue that IBO has one of the strongest Gundam stories to date.  The essence of the series is anti-heroic.  Combat is not admirable, idealism can be dangerous, and determination does not always win the day.  Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the ascension and demise of Tekkadan.

As the story begins, we are treated to a familiar narrative: a downtrodden group finds an inner strength, rebels against the established order, and will now change the world.  However, Tekkadan is composed of uneducated children, wily in combat but inept at intrigue and politics.  While early on their strengths are enough to carry the day, it was blind luck that led them to a kindly patron in the Turbines, a conscience in Kudelia, and diplomatic backing from Makanai.  This sort of fortune does not continue forever, and soon Tekkadan found itself in over its head.  Having risen into the ranks of power, they came into contact with those who knew how to wield it before they themselves were prepared.  Their boldness was an unwitting challenge to the greater forces of the Earth sphere.  Seeing this coming, Biscuit urged Orga to restraint.  But with his unfortunate passing there was nobody left in Tekkadan to keep it from plunging forward into disaster.

It is in this final segment that IBO is at its strongest.  The narrative is uncompromising: an intrepid spirit alone is not enough to overcome any obstacle.  While we have come to believe in our heroes, as they have come to believe in themselves, there is no last-second miracle.  The resources and planning of their enemies, as well as their willingness to use unscrupulous means, prove to be too much.  And so ends Tekkadan, with a last stand of its greatest warriors, guarding the exodus of the rest as they seek asylum and anonymity on Earth.

But what threatens to be a dismal conclusion is ameliorated by the subsequent events.  Although our heroes fell, it was not entirely in vain.  Gjallarhorn was not defeated, but the strife caused by McGillis and Tekkadan did force it to restructure and become more accountable for its actions.  Human debris, formerly a blind spot for most of society, was thrust into the limelight and abolished.  Even though Tekkadan itself may have failed, it is not forgotten.  This was a surprisingly satisfying end, offering hope while not betraying the ethos of the series.

In addition to the story, the depiction of combat adds weight to the view that strife is not glorious.  In most mecha series the fights feel clean, antiseptic, distanced from the human element.  In IBO the fights have a sense of dirty desperation.  The fighting continues until the pilots are beaten and bloodied, their suits in shambles.  The ragged edges, the dripping oils, and the shuddering half-functional maneuvers all contribute to the feeling that this is not merely for show, but an engagement of life and death.  While there are many examples, several of Mikazuki's battles come to mind: his annihilation of Carta Issue, the dismantling of the Mobile Armor, and his last desperate stand all exemplify the merciless, animalistic scramble that is IBO's war.

This brings us back to Mikazuki Argus.  Having seen multiple Gundam series, it becomes an expected trope that the top pilot is a cold and emotionally distant killing machine, with nothing but the mission on his mind.  However, inevitably, it is discovered that he has a good heart underneath and it has only been repressed by his tragic past.  An ideal vessel for the adolescent male viewers to self-insert and fantasize with.  Mikazuki is nothing of the sort.  A true case of emotional damage he is devoid of any internal moral compass, only beholden to Orga who acts as his anchor and handler.  Mikazuki is composed but fanatical in his devotion and is unfazed even by his later progressive paralysis from excessive use of the Alaya-Vijnana system in combat.  As he tells Orga: "Just tell me what to do and who to kill.  I will remove all the obstacles before you."  He is completely broken, but is a far more compelling character for it.

"Thank y-"

The Bad:

If I had to pinpoint one crucial failing of IBO, it is the lack of consistency and subtlety in storytelling and character development.  My exposition of the themes and plot above come only after extensive review and contemplation; during the actual viewing of the series I was lost.

First, while IBO can boast many outstanding scenes, the bulk of the episodes between these moments were implemented poorly.  The pattern was often the same: in preparation for a key situation we are suddenly introduced to characters, organizations, or technologies with which we had little or no previous awareness.  Given a short run up, we have little time to incorporate them into our understanding.  And once they had served their purpose, they are gone, never to be heard from again.  Mobile Armor, Dainsleifs, the orbital Earth colonies, the separatist Mars groups, Makanai, and the elections of Arbrau just to name a few.

This weakness in storytelling also extends to the characters of the series.  IBO has an ambitiously large cast, but is unable to adequately support them all.  We hardly get to know most of them, good or bad.  Take for instance Rustal Elion, commander of the Arianrhod fleet.  As the primary antagonist of the end of the series, one would expect us to know more about him.  Yet, he is only given a cursory introduction.  With no prior development, we can only be left confused as he is first presented as a regressive-but-respectable member of Gjallarhorn, to an underhanded tactician willing to exploit banned technologies, to an effective leader that heads a reformed Gjallarhorn in wake of the events of the series.  If the writers had been more skillful I would take these to be dynamic facets of a complicated character, but instead they feel disjointed and opportunistic.

Nowhere is this lack of development felt more strongly than with the members of Tekkadan itself.  Despite having 50 episodes to work with, most of them still felt more like stand-ins.  This is especially devastating when many of them begin to die in the final arc, and I did not know who some of them were.  It is not enough to focus on a character for a scant few episodes while they are "important."  Without the small touches that endear us, the non-essential points of development that remind us of who they are, we cannot invest in them as an audience. 

As this two year saga comes to an end, I find myself both impressed at the scope of the narrative and frustrated by its inexpert execution.  Its strong themes, battles, and death scenes (Lafter...) were often lost amid the disorganized wash of events.  However, the series stayed true to itself and stuck the landing, being engaging up until the last scene.  It is a worthy submission to the genre and I look forward to future Gundam series if they have as much heart as this one did.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

[Manga] Koe no Katachi Review

Koe no Katachi / A Silent Voice - 9.5/10

For Agatha

Social ostracism is a human universal: in order for there to be a group there must be outsiders.  Those with obvious differences are the natural choice.  Koe no Katachi is a story about the people on both sides of this experience.

Shouko Nishimiya is a deaf girl who has recently transferred to a new school.  However, her hopes for a fresh start are swiftly dashed when Shouya Ishida, a rambunctious but fairly normal boy, chooses her as the class pariah for his taunting and other antics.  This triggers an avalanche of abuse as the inconveniences caused by her disability become the grounds for her wholesale rejection by the class and teacher.  In the end Nishimiya is forced to transfer schools once again.  Unfortunately for Ishida the spite that was formerly directed at Nishimiya becomes focused on him, resulting in his own social isolation.

Years later in high school Ishida again meets Nishimiya, but with newfound empathy he seeks to atone for his bullying.  The resulting events of the manga lay them both bare, and they begin the slow process of healing together.

The Good:

The terrible clarity with which Koe no Katachi portrays the mentality of both the victimizers and victim is the bedrock on which the series is founded.

First there is Nishimiya.  Born deaf, she fundamentally cannot forgive herself for living.  She blames herself for her parents’ divorce, for the inconvenience caused by having to keep transferring schools, and ultimately for her own bullying.  It is the sad logic of the isolated that they believe they are at fault for their own suffering.  And since they are at fault, they are convinced they deserve it so as to remind them of all the trouble they have “caused.”

Next is Ishida who is given an insight into this same state after his elementary years.  However, as one who has fallen from acceptance his feelings are somewhat different.  While he also regards himself with a level of self-hatred he seeks to fix his mistakes.  That is, while he loathes himself it is because of what he has done, not who he is.

This distinction may seem small, but its effects are profound.  This can be most readily seen in the chapter leading up to Nishimiya’s attempted suicide.  Some may question why Nishimiya chooses this time to try to kill herself.  The answer is simple: she is too happy.  Here she is with friends now, enjoying herself.  It isn’t right in her mind.  She deserves suffering.  Ishida doesn’t think this way: while he also beats himself up, he seizes upon potential acceptance with a fierce hunger, such as when they attend the amusement park as a group.  He ultimately holds out hope for light at the end of the tunnel while she does not.

Last, I’m going to use Naoka Ueno, one of Ishida’s classmates that joined him in bullying Nishimiya, as a prime example of the tormentor.  Ueno is driven by her own desires and has reasonable self-esteem.  She isn’t evil so much as interested in her own well-being and willing to sacrifice the well-being of others for it – in other words: a distressingly normal human.

What is telling is when Ueno is faced with Nishimiya’s reflexive self-sacrifice she is incensed.  She wants Nishimiya to fight back, to give her justification for her actions.  But this fury more deeply stems from a lack of comprehension.  Ueno fails to understand Nishimiya because she cannot envision what it is like to not value herself.  It is completely beyond her ken.  She can only conclude that Nishimiya must be putting on an act, abusing her status as “disabled” to garner sympathy.

Another wonderful aspect of Koe no Katachi is its detailed drawings of faces and hands.  As a series that must portray the thoughts and feelings of a character who cannot speak them herself, Koe no Katachi devotes beautiful effort to ensuring that her voice is heard.  There are honestly too many pages to name where I was impressed once again by the detail given to the small details of expression.

Finally, while Koe no Katachi has many outstanding pages, there is one in particular that touched me more than any other: Nishimiya’s resolve in Volume 6, Chapter 45, pg 17-18 (read right to left).  A few pages before we see Nishimiya’s younger self, battered and hurt, expressing to her sister one desperate wish: “I want to die.”  This is not an idle thought or a petulant outburst after a bad day.  Nishimiya, in her soul, does not believe she deserves to live and be happy.

But in the aftermath of her attempted suicide she has been confronted with something that she never imagined: her self-hatred had hurt those closest to her.  But, this anger…it was for them wasn’t it?  Didn’t her mere presence cause them pain and grief?  How arrogant could she be to ever think that a nasty, useless creature like herself had the right to forget this?

And yet…they cry.  Her mother, her sister…even Ishida…they cry for her.  Why…?  Was she…was she really worth that?  No…yes?  She had hurt them again, but…they loved her still.  She has been hurting alone inside for so long…does she deserve to now cry with them, for herself?

In this moment of remorse, pain, compassion, and release Nishimiya feels for the first time that she has value as a person.  I cannot emphasize enough how hard it is for her to do this.  Her whole life has been built on believing she is nothing.  To turn this around is possibly the most difficult thing she has ever done.  And as the chapter closes we see her realizing the truth: she has to live.

The Bad:

Without a doubt, the weakest portions of Koe no Katachi are the final 8 chapters.  Nishimiya’s attempted suicide is the climax of the series.  In that darkest moment everybody’s worst fears are realized.  The aftermath of this event lays bare the realities of the situation: that half measures and kind intentions were not enough.  But at the same time, it offers the hope that having passed through this ugliest of times people may renew and strengthen the bonds between them.  Ending with Ishida’s reunion with Nishimiya on the bridge, after both fearing they may never see the other alive again, was a perfect finale to this arc.

This is, in my opinion, where the manga would have best ended, with perhaps a couple of chapters afterward to round things out.  Instead we are treated to a lengthy and somewhat meaningless denouement, where details that did not matter before are given extensive coverage.  How all the characters would spend their futures was of no concern.  Nor, really, was the movie they were making; the entire scene where the professional artist berated their poor production was particularly underwhelming.

What made this worse for me was also the unfocused and ambiguous nature of the “friends” at the end.  I hold Koe no Katachi in very high regard for most of its psychology, but in this area it was tenuous.  The behavior of many of the characters in the hospital continued to reinforce that they were still focused on only themselves.  Kawai’s speech in particular was disgusting with its self-serving pantomime of compassion.  And yet, in the last few chapters we are shown that apparently Nishimiya is to continue to spend time with these people that resent and despise her, and that they are actually going to build a bright future together.  This goes beyond forgiveness into the realm of masochism.  Up until the very end of the series I felt uneasy, waiting for Ueno or Kawai to make another move; this isn’t the feeling one should have if they’ve truly become friends.  As such, this aspect of the resolution felt false to me, as though the author was caught between realism and a storybook happily ever after, and in the end faltered for a confused compromise.

The other notable weak point of Koe no Katachi is Ishida’s “best friend,” Tomohiro Nagatsuka.  In a series full of amazing characters, he is a caricature.  We learn almost nothing about him, except that he is slavishly devoted to Ishida because of his lack of friends and he has dreams of being a director.  He receives no development and his main purpose is to act as hybrid of comic relief and font of positive energy.  Even his visual style doesn’t match the rest of manga.  That I never took him seriously as a person is the harshest critique I can give.

Finally, I want to leave a remark about the captions at the beginning and ends of the chapters.  They were terribly mismatched with the tone of the series, frequently full of phrases that sounded like cheap commercial endings.  “What will happen next?  Only the clear blue sky knows!”  “Now…the story…begins...”  “How will everyone respond to this reunion?”  Thankfully I could mostly disregard them as they had no actual impact on the story.

As I end this review, I fear that I have given a false impression by my criticisms.  Koe no Katachi is a deeply moving portrait of what it is like to live in the shadow of others’ lack of empathy, and a hopeful expression that such times do not last forever.  I was moved to tears by its poignancy.  It is a story that I would recommend to anybody, if just to remind them how important being understood and valued is.

“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved -- loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” - Victor Hugo, Les Miserables