A Silent Voice, Vol. 2

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.

After the pressure cooker that was the first volume of this series, it was somewhat inevitable that things would slow down and get a bit less traumatic with this second one. this is not to say that nothing happens, but we need to take a step back from the brink and see where our hero and heroine are now. Indeed, taking a step back from the brink is exactly what Shoya does, as after seeing Shoko again he makes a decision not to kill himself (which leads to one of my favorite parts of the book, where his mother confronts him about it and accidentally burns the money that he saved up for her. She’s presented as sort of a grown-up airhead much of the time, but I loved her reasoning in this scene as to why it was fine she burned the money.


As for Shoko, there’s a nice bit of narrative fooling that makes us think that we’re hearing her fairly negative thoughts about seeing Shoya after all these years. but in fact after a brief moment Shoko proves to be as sweet and understanding as you’d expect from a manga like this, and it turns out the narrative voice we heard hating on Shoko was her younger sister Yuzuru, who understandably thinks that Shoya ruined her sister’s life. This leads to her amusingly pretending to be Shoya’s boyfriend, which I didn’t buy for one moment, mostly as I assumed she was just a young tomboy from the start. Unlike Shoko’s mother (who not only does not remotely forgive Shoya for what he did to her child, but seems to have the ability to literally teleport in order to slap someone across the face), Yuzuru finally sees that Shoya really is making an effort to make amends, and starts to warm up to him by the end of the book.

Of course, it’s not as easy as that. I was impressed with how Shoya can still be resolutely unlikeable at times, even as we see him trying to deal with the fallout of various events (including serving a suspension for leaping into the river to save Shoko’s notebook), he’s still bad at understanding other people to a great degree. He makes friends with Tomohiro, who also seems to be bullied in his classroom, though that’s more for the traditional “I am pudgy and a bit of a nerd” than anything else, but we still get his POV of his fellow students as having X’s over their faces, which is a stark reminder of how in many ways his basic worldview hasn’t changed much. His guilt about Shoko drives him to learn sign language and apologize, but he needs to make more effort with everyone else. And that’s hard, given what happened in Volume 1, as no one will allow him to make that effort.

I’m not sure if this is going to go in a romantic direction – the ending seems to imply it might, but I’m not sure if that’s the best thing for this series, and in any case the two leads still have a lot more to sort through before that can happen. In the meantime, the second volume builds on the success of the first, and is not nearly as discomfiting.

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.


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.