A Silent Voice, Vol. 1

By Yoshitoki Oima. Released in Japan as “Koe no Katachi” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

There have been many manga releases here in North America that deal with the subject of childhood bullying – it’s a theme in Japanese manga that is getting more and more of a workout lately, as the ability to simply blame the victim and look away gets harder to do. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s always accepted or welcomed. A Silent Voice won an award for its original one-shot chapter, but took years to get released as a series – in fact, there were apparently lawsuits. This is likely due to the fact that it has not one but two things that there is a desire to gloss over and not bring out into the open – childhood bullying, and disabilities.

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The blurb on the back cover says the word heartwarming was made for a manga like this, and I can only imagine readers will finish the first volume and want to give the writer of that blurb a good swift kick, as this initial volume is all heartbreaking instead. You can see why this title was shied away from. It’s not shy about showing exactly how a culture of bullying works, and how quickly it can turn against anyone. It shows the apathy and outright cruelty of teachers, how parents can seethe with anger or merely stand there unable to do anything. And in the end our hero, who’s a childish brat who discovers that harassing a deaf girl is a good outlet for his anger and boredom, is driven to the point where at the end of this volume he’s looking to put all his affairs in order so that he can kill himself. This is a heavy book.

If there’s a fault in this initial volume, it’s that there’s really TOO many characters who we simply don’t like. Shoya’s boredom and desire for excitement (and lack of desire for learning) is understandable, but you desperately hope he will mature, and cringe as the book goes deeper and deeper into how he feels about Shoko’s mere presence. The children are quick to go along with what Shoya does, mostly as they find it incredibly annoying to have to deal with Shoko’s disability. And the kid’s teacher is loathsome, wanting nothing more than to shuffle these kids on and make sure they don’t do anything embarrassing, with a side dose of cruelty.

As for Shoko, she’s a bit of a cipher right now, aside from being shy, but there’s a bit of deliberateness in that. She is the outsider, the different one, the one who NEEDS special attention over the other kids. It’s notable that she’s deaf but doesn’t know sign language – a well-meaning but easily cowed teacher tries to get the kids to learn it, but that goes precisely nowhere. Shoko’s disability doesn’t automatically make her better, faster, or stronger like other cliched works – she’s an average kid, can’t sing because of her hearing… honestly, it’s seeing her insistent effort on trying to br friendly with everyone despite all the abuse that is the most heartwarming part of this series.

We end on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I suspect that this reunion will go poorly, but I really want to see more. Most of these characters are horrible, but the author does a great job of making you want to see them mature. And it’s also a good, non-shiny look at how disabled children might be treated in a society that believes the nail that sticks up must be hammered down. Definitely recommended.

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Comments

  1. Widya Santoso says

    I picked up the first five tankubons last year, after reading about it in Anime News Network, and the last two volumes in April. I’m halfway through reading the volumes now as my pre-sleep routine, a chapter per night.

    I was worried that many of the first volumes would be concentrating on the bullying that Shoya inflicts on Shoko, but I was pleased to see that it only takes up that first volume. As for the reunion… well it’s a surprise.

    I’m really looking forward to reading the English volumes, although I suspect I will save them and read them over one binge session, to lessen the impact of that first volume.


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