*Major spoilers on Koe no Katachi incoming.
Koe no Katachi is perhaps one of the best anime films I have ever seen, and from looking around Reddit and talking to others about it, it seems I’m not the only one who absolutely adored the movie. It had a wonderful premise, lovable characters, an unforgettable message, and so much more. By the end of the film, I was tearing up quite a bit (a lot). Koe no Katachi truly deserves all the praise it receives. However, one aspect of the film seems often overlooked both among fans and critics: the beautiful, moving soundtrack.
So today, I wanted to write about the gorgeous music of Koe no Katachi composed by Kensuke Ushio, specifically by analyzing my favorite piece from the movie: Lit. Not only does the song sound mesmerizing and heartfelt, it also successfully parallels the story of our protagonist Ishida Shouya, mirroring the journey the audiences witnessed in a wonderful final song. It’s a truly fantastic piece deserving of much more praise, and hopefully you’ll find my analysis interesting. Let’s begin.
*Here’s the link to the soundtrack, give it a listen if you don’t remember it. The entire OST is available on iTunes as well.
**I have a terrible ear for instrument-recognition so please correct me if I misheard any of the instruments. They shouldn’t matter too much to the point, but thanks for understanding anyway.
Lit plays twice throughout the movie. It first plays once near the beginning (approx. 29 minutes into the movie), when Ishida reflects upon his recent meeting with Nishimiya. It’s a fairly short sequence, but it does play an important role in giving meaning to the song. We’ll get back to this later.
The second instance this song plays in is during the very last scene of the movie (around 2 hr 3 min.), when Ishida walks through the school festival and lets the Xs on everyone’s faces fall off. This is a scene I’ll refer back to several times, as combined with the OST, this 3-minute long scene is what made the film a masterpiece for me.
Now let’s start the analysis, which will be split into three parts based on the OST’s instruments and melodies. The sections are pretty obvious if you listen to the song, so you should be able to figure them out based on the timestamps I write down.
The first section of the soundtrack is a solo piano section, lasting from 0 to 42 seconds. The most important detail to note here is the 4-bar melody (lasting from 0 – 10 seconds) in this section that is reused constantly throughout the soundtrack. I’ll refer to this melody as Ishida’s theme, for reasons I’ll explain soon.
The beginning of Lit is a soft and mellow piano solo. Notes are drawn out, and are played with longing and hints of hesitance. However, there is a certainty to the notes. The melody is kept constant, and the notes, while quiet, do not change in volume.
Earlier I mentioned that Lit plays twice during the movie. In order to analyze this first section, we need to look at the first scene in which Lit plays. The scene I refer to occurs immediately after Ishida’s mother confronts him about his suicide attempt and burns his money. In the following scene, only this first section plays in the background, with four important details playing out on-screen. As Ishida rides his bike to school, first, his future best friend Nagatsuka cycles past him. Then, Ishida recalls his mother’s face when she initially received his money. Afterwards, he remembers moments from his recent meeting with Nishimiya, particularly regarding his request for friendship. Lastly, he reminisces to a further past, when his childhood best friend publicly called him out as a bully on the first day of junior-high, right as the music fades.
These scenes, in combination, represent Ishida’s lack of social relationships at the moment. A loner, similar to him, passes by him without care. His mother holding the envelope represents his effort to end his last genuine connection in the world. Recollections of Nishimiya represent the seemingly impossible concept of friendship, and his memories of junior high show the moment he accepted his life as a friendless, rejected loner.
Now let’s relate those visuals back to section one of the soundtrack. The piano, which plays softly by itself, represents Ishida, living life by himself, keeping away from others’ problems. In addition, the notes, often held longer and containing some quiet longing, parallel Ishida’s inner wish to redeem himself from his past mistakes and perhaps even make friends: a side of him he rarely shows and often deliberately holds back (as partly shown by the Xs on people in the movie).
However, this first section has one more thing to say, particularly in its last two notes. For the last two notes, instead of transitioning back to a repeat, the soundtrack rises an entire octave, reaching higher notes that greatly differ from the rest of the song. There’s a change: a shift from the normal, monotone track. The rise represents the spark inside Ishida, one that urges him to give a chance to himself and the people around him. Soon after the song ends, the next scene shows Ishida making acquaintances with Nagatsuka for the first time. The rise in the song’s notes represents Ishida’s rise out of his loneliness in a sense, and the materialization of his small yet yearning desire to connect with the world.
Then comes the second section, which starts with a powerful transition at the 43-second mark. Consisting of drums and cymbals, the transition into part two of the soundtrack quickly overwhelms its previously quiet volume, with completely new instruments coming into play. The beat of the song is drastically faster. The sound itself is more vibrant and colorful. The song transforms into something different.
The melody after the bar-long transition starts with a powerful chime strike, and immediately Ishida’s melody plays again, but this time, switched from the grand piano to a mallet instrument (perhaps a vibraphone). And over this faster yet constant melody is a new presence: the higher toned flute also enters the song, playing on the off-beats in between Ishida’s theme. In a bright new harmony between the two instruments, the slow, quiet song transforms into a vivacious, passionate melody.
However, we hear more than just these two main instruments. On top of the melody and the offbeat, there are ambient noises resembling a high-pitch chime, the cymbals entering in at different points, and other wind instruments providing additional background as the offbeat fades. This isn’t a solo or even a duet anymore; the song is a harmony among a myriad of unique instruments, each playing with passion and euphony.
This second section, with its drastic shift from the first section, represents the majority of the film’s story: Ishida’s change as a person, and his struggles to accept others into his life. We first hear the swift crescendo from the drums, an unexpected yet impactful change symbolic of the brief meeting between Ishida and Nishimiya at the rehabilitation center. But immediately following the swift development in the song is the entrance of the vibraphone and the flute, which represent Ishida and Nishimiya, respectively, in the story.
Ishida’s theme carries over into this second section, but on a different sound: that of a mallet instrument. This represents Ishida’s shift in perspective as he first asks for friendship from Nishimiya; while he is still the timid, depressed student before his meeting, a spark of hope and possibility of change was burning within him. Similarly, the mallet instrument, while having the same key layout to the piano, produces a fundamentally different sound. Ishida has yet to completely accept the world, but within him, hope for change is out there somewhere.
Then we have the offbeat on top of Ishida’s theme in the form of the flute. This, of course, represents Nishimiya, a character who couldn’t be more opposite to Ishida in terms of history, but one who ends up helping him through troubles similar to her own. In the film, we see that Nishimiya, the subject of Ishida’s horrible bullying, comes to help Ishida recover from his depressed, hopeless outlook on life, while also being assisted by Ishida in coming to love herself for who she is. In the soundtrack, we see the flute, offbeat and completely different in melody from the theme, enter and complement Ishida’s melody in a cooperative harmony, reflecting the deep connection between Nishimiya and Ishida in the film despite their clashing past lives.
Lastly, we hear the other instruments, from ambient noise to cymbals, add to the theme at various points. These represent the other influences on Ishida throughout his journey, such as Nagatsuka, who rekindles the joy of friendship in Ishida’s world view, and Yuzuru, who helps Ishida connect to Nishimiya.
The second section of Lit represents the largest portion of Ishida’s journey in the film, symbolizing the numerous friends he made throughout the story, as well as the blossoming bond between him and Nishimiya. It’s no coincidence that this second section plays over Ishida’s view as he gazes upon the festival around him, looking at his friends, family, and everyone else, crying tears of happiness as he recalls the faces of everyone who supported him in his journey to recovery. The reason Ishida was able to let the Xs go and open up to the world around him was because of the friends that supported him all along, and there’s no better way to show this than to have multiple unique instruments producing one, beautiful song over the heartfelt main theme.
All of this change culminates in the beautiful ending at the third section of the song. After the second section’s ending with a resonant, clear vibraphone strike, we are greeted by the short and soft third section. Lasting only about 15 seconds, this last section, similar to the first, uses only a single instrument. However, instead of the piano, this time Ishida’s theme is played by a solo acoustic guitar.
Ishida’s theme throughout Lit has transformed from a grand piano to a vibraphone, a change in fundamental sound but little change in the basic layout. However, as the final transformation of the melody occurs, Ishida’s theme is played on the guitar, an instrument that both sounds and plays completely differently from the piano. Ishida has changed in the core as a human being, leaving his life as a timid, hopeless loner who found no beauty in the world, and embracing his new identity as a loyal friend, able to recognize the wonderful people that surrounded him all along. He lets the Xs drop from everyone once and for all. The world around him didn’t change; instead, he realized that it was delicate, complex, and hopeful from the beginning. He simply had to reach out and listen.
This third section plays to a beautiful cut to Nishimiya’s happy smile; Ishida’s story has concluded. In the first section of Lit, we recalled his lonely presence, and in the second section, we looked back on his journey, seeing the influences that allowed him to add color to his monochrome, depressed view of the world. Now, in the last section of the song, we see Ishida looking back at the person who started his journey and helped him conclude it, and ultimately led him to find beauty in the world and people around him.
As the film concludes, we are given one last scene: silhouettes of two people walking side-by-side, presented in a small, circular window. Now, this is one of the harder elements of the film to grasp with solidity, but to me, these seem to be the shapes of Ishida and Nishimiya walking towards the bridge railing, where they so often met and bonded. It’s a beautiful way to end an equally beautiful film, especially when the bridge was the location behind some of the most important conversations between Ishida and Nishimiya.
The film ends with these silhouettes, surrounded by a black background, being filled with bright light and filling the whole screen, revealing the title amongst the blue sky, right as the final note of Lit resounds in the air.
In an interview with composer Kensuke Ushio, Ushio stated that the title Lit meant light; it’s so very fitting that this film ends with an overwhelming flash of light, accompanied by the song titled “light”. As Ishida and Nishimiya approach the bridge, a scenery symbolic of their first meeting, as well as their bright promise to help each other live, this light fills the world of the movie itself.
The world can seem like a dark place at times, and when there’s no one around to help you through the harsh times, it can seem like light is nonexistent. However, by accepting the people around us, I think we can bring light into the darkest moments of our lives. To me, that’s what Koe no Katachi and Lit are about.
Thank you for reading.