The Silent Qualifications of Friendship

Kamella Barrett, Contributing Writer

Taking place in Ōgaki, Japan, A Silent Voice follows the story of Shoya, a young man in his last year of high school intent on killing himself. With a last-minute change of heart and a promise to his mother, Shoya sets out to fix the wrongs he committed and seek forgiveness from the girl who impacted his life with her kind actions.

Shouko, a young girl in her last year of high school, a former outcast and bullied as a child simply for being deaf, is intent on killing herself. 

Seemingly on the same path, Shoya and Shouko meet again after many years of separation…

As a kid, Shoya was a part of the popular kids. He had plenty of friends and seemed to be the leader of the group. Shouko on the other hand had no friends and little to no communication with her new classmates after moving to Ōgaki. Shoya and his friends take it upon themselves to bully Shouko for the way she sounds, communicates, and looks because of her hearing aids. 

As a result of the language barrier in the classroom, their teacher starts teaching the children Japanese Sign Language. Shoya, put out by this, doesn’t put any effort into learning JSL, and is one of the only students in the class who cannot communicate with Shouko without the use of her communication book. 

Throughout the bullying, Shouko is persistent in her attempts to become friends with Shoya. She disregards the many broken hearing aids, the mean messages left on her desk and in her communication book, and reaches out to Shoya and tries to become friends with him. 

Shoya, pleased with his friends and the satisfaction his bullying brings harshly turns down her attempts; until he wished he didn’t.  

When word of the bullying gets to the principal, Shoya is thrown under the bus by his “friends” for not only bullying Shouko but physically harming her and breaking multiple pairs of her hearing aids that his mother had to pay for. 

Soon after Shoya gets in trouble for bullying Shouko, she moves to a different school and Shoya is left with no friends. The one who tried to become his friend, gone because of his own actions. 

The movie progresses to high school where we see Shoya still with no friends, but X’s on the faces of those he doesn’t interact with. With his reputation of being a bully, he keeps his head down, the guilt of what he did to Shouko following him around. 

After an act of kindness, Shoya finds himself with a friend. Confused by the sudden development, Shoya asks his new companion, Tomohiro, what exactly their relationship is and why he suddenly has a friend. 

“What does it mean to become someone’s friend? Like… is there some sort of friendship process you go through? Or like do you need any specific qualifications?” To which Tomohiro responds with, “gimme ya hand, kay? Ay, Ay! Now you and I is friends. It can be as simple as that, ya see. Friendship don’t got to do with no rules or qualifications. ‘Cause it’s about something deeper. A bond. And you just can’t break that.”

Tomohiro’s response struck Shoya to the core. But not only did it do that it changed his perspective on things. 

There are so many unspoken rules about what people want in a friendship. Loyalty, honesty, generosity, etc. These are all good things to have, but at the same time, they seemingly overlook the most important thing to have in any kind of relationship. Personality. 

This is what Shoya realizes. He had followers instead of friends. He didn’t know these people beyond what was on the surface.

Relationships are a learning process. A long list of silent qualifications, that although silent, always seem more important than the actual person themself.