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Not long after the film A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) debuted in Indonesian cinemas, the film became a phenomenon among anime fans. Many fans in the internet expressed their responses on social media, ranging from sympathy towards the efforts of Shouya Ishida to atone for his past sins to annoyance at the hypocrisy of Miki Kawai. But among those responses, there are debates arguing whether Naoka Ueno is the best girl or the worst girl. Though the debates are largely insubstantial, they still incite me to take a different look at the figure of Naoka Ueno from the perspective of social interactions in daily life.

© Yoshitoki Oima, Kodansha/A Silent Voice Movie Production Committee

Naoka Ueno was Ishida’s close friend who used to assist him in bullying Shouko Nishimiya back in elementary school. She is an aggressive person as she can be straightforward and rude. But if we set aside her rudeness attitude and see her as a straightforward person, then there are some points that we can evaluate.

© Yoshitoki Oima, Kodansha/A Silent Voice Movie Production Committee

According to Rathus (1986), assertive behavior is defined as someone expressing their feelings earnestly and telling the truth, not mocking, threatening, nor belittling others. Meanwhile Taubman (1976) stated that assertiveness is a statement about feelings, desire, and personal needs which are shown to others with confidence. Through the gist of these two theories, we can consider that Ueno is more than a character with gorgeous looks, but also a character who demonstrates assertiveness. This is exemplified in her conversation with Nishimiya in the ferris wheel that Nishimiya’s sister Yuzuru secretly recorded. Ueno assertively expressed what’s in her heart without any doubts, hoping to reach a mutual understanding with Nishimiya about her dislike.

In our daily life, we, of course, often meet many people with different traits than ours. Such differences can incite dislike or even hatred. And though we want to be honest with that feeling, we are often bound by social norms to avoid hurting others, or perhaps by our own cowardice. Being honest with our feelings is a freedom for each individuals, yet to be straightforward is a challenge for each selves. Ueno is also bound by the same constraints, but she can overcome it. Do not think that Ueno did not make any sacrifice to do so. Being labeled as evil and hated by a loved one is not an easy sacrifice for an 18-years-old girl to make.

© Yoshitoki Oima, Kodansha/A Silent Voice Movie Production Committee

Stepping out from the evaluation of Ueno as a straightforward person, her harsh actions are still terrible manners that places her as an antagonist in A Silent Voice. Ueno’s harshness is an expression of frustration at not getting the response that she wanted from Nishimiya, which also hinted that Ueno is also a childish person.

© Yoshitoki Oima, Kodansha/A Silent Voice Movie Production Committee

We can say that her behaviour are childish because Ueno did not try to understand Nishimiya and kept blaming the difference on Nishimiya. Thus, her attempt to make peace with Nishimiya ended as a one-way communication rather than an actual two-way understanding.

It is the same as in life; it’s hardly possible that we can promptly accept other people’s differences unless we are being forced to in a dire situation. There must be conflicts and misunderstandings that we need to go through because of our differences. When we become aware of this and try to fix the problem, there are always challenges that threaten us to repeat the same mistakes again and again.

In this short essay, I hope to broaden the view about Naoka Ueno and the motives behind her actions, so that readers can avoid making hasty judgments towards her behaviour. Even in characters that we dislike, we may find the mistakes and flaws that we may have in our selves. In the end, Naoka Ueno is a mirror for our selves.

A Silent Voice Review: Reading Beyond Spoken Words

The Indonesian Anime Times | Written by Riezal Guntara from KAORI Newsline | Translated by Zacky Dhaffa Pratama

This article is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the opinions and views of KAORI Nusantara and The Indonesian Anime Times.

KAORI provides an  opportunity for readers to submit opinions about Japanese popular culture and Indonesian creative economy. Write your opinion in English or Indonesian for 500-1000 words and send it to halo@kaorinusantara.or.id.

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