Dealing with Demons in Koe no Katachi

Even if a big theme of Koe no Katachi is redemption, it also holds valuable lessons on adapting to one’s social environment…

Koe no Katachi may be a story about redemption, but it’s also a story about social mores. Specifically, it investigates what it’s like to be missing information when it comes to the concepts of honne and tatemae, and whether this absence impedes on a person’s daily life with others.

To start with a more obvious use of honne and tatemae, Shoko’s smiles hide a lot of pain from her past. Yuzuru notes that Shoko uses polite smiles on everyone, even family members, because despite the fact people have been mean to her, she still holds out hope that she can get along with others (and their subsequent hangups about her). Multiple characters, including Shoya, wonder about whether Shoko is thinking more than she lets on, with Naoka throwing this idea into the open when she questions why Shoya is trying to redeem himself with Shoko as a reason. In much the same way, Shoko’s silence during a lot of critical moments speaks volumes, even though she doesn’t actually speak for most of the story.

Furthermore, there’s the duplicity of what relationship Yuzuru has with Shoko. Early on in the story, Shoko’s mother appears at the hair salon to get her daughter a boyish haircut, and this does end up being more than a throwaway point when Yuzuru shows up afterwards. It comes full circle when Yuzuru mentions in the final volume Shoko is the one that’s been cutting her hair. Both Shoko and Shoya even go on to pursue hairstyling as a career in the end, although they insist it’s for more than just seeing each other…

Outside the Nishimiya family, Naoka and her tsundere ways come to mind (because the point of tsundere is to have a discrepancy between honne and tatemae). Naoka tries to get Shoya to go back to his old ways multiple times, which could have been to convince herself she was seeing “the Shoya she knew back then” – in a sense, it’s the opening of the unknown section of the Johari window from Caligula episode 1, with both people’s positions holding a honne/tatemae discrepancy (Naoka and her true intentions for doing what she does, while Shoya’s discrepancy revolves around why he changed his mindset). Likewise, her prompt reply after Shoya finally obtains Naoka’s email demonstrates how her feelings for him conflict with what Shoya is aiming to do at that point in time.

Even how the mangaka demonstrates Shoya’s views of people – through crosses on people’s faces or the lack thereof – brings to mind Goodnight Punpun in how not showing “reality” can create more symbolic meaning than telling the story straight. Trying to “read” between the lines of the crosses is harder than straight storytelling, and gives the moments where crosses are involved a sort of dramatic gravitas. This culminates in the final volume where Shoya confronts his demons – both the fears inside him and the people around him – and the crosses flop to the floor like used paper, showing how he has finally dropped the tatemae in order to reconcile the feelings behind it.

Koe no Katachi is full of people bending honne and tatemae to their purposes, so this post probably doesn’t cover every instance of it and I don’t think I could list them all. However, by examining how people change to suit their “audience” and the atmosphere of a situation, people begin to understand each other. I think that’s the beauty behind this story.

Koe no Katachi has been highly praised as a movie, so I admit I was a bit nervous tackling the manga for it after having read it all. So, how do you think about how Koe no Katachi handles what people are like vs. what they present themselves to be? Do the movie and the manga have any differences I haven’t talked about?



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