"I do not want to see impaired the vigour of competition, but we can do much to mitigate the consequences of failure. We want to draw a line below which we will not allow persons to live and labour, yet above which they may compete with all their manhood. We want to have free competition upwards; we decline to allow free competition to run downwards." - Winston Churchill, speech of 11 October 1906, quoted in Paul Addison, Churchill: The Unexpected Hero


A Silent Voice (The Shape of Voice)

A two-hour teen drama anime that's on Netflix at the moment. My wife wanted to watch something romantic in the spirit of Your Name (which we both love). Indeed, Makoto Shinkai thoroughly recommended A Silent Voice when it came out, but actually it is both a darker and more flawed piece of work. First the darkness – the anime begins with a suicide attempt by a teenage boy, before we flashback to his primary school years where he horrifically bullies a new deaf student. The initial flood of sympathy for the character curdles as we see him shout at her, throw dirt in her face and rip out her hearing aids. The incidental details lend credibility to the depiction: the teacher is young, bored and ineffective; the are no father-figures anywhere to be seen. It's a useful corrective to to the idea that Japanese children are somehow always well-behaved, dutiful and hard-working.

The anime is about how as a teenager Shōya starts to atone for the mistakes he made as a boy, and learns how to build real friendships. Some of this is handled expertly. The pressure of social opprobrium is what leads to his feelings of worthlessness – suicide for several characters is seen as a way to remove a burden on others. If they can't get anything right, they might as well cease to exist.

The anime missteps when it dilutes its sense of realism by indulging in unnecessary theatrics. It starts out as a drama and increasingly slips into melodrama. At its most fanciful the anime contrives a serendipitous midnight meeting which is arranged almost telepathically. When the manipulation of an audience's feelings is this discernable, it loses its force. And there are several moments towards the end which stumble as a result. That's a shame, because with a few tweaks A Silent Voice could have hit just as hard as Shinkai's superhit.