The Ninjabot

Manga Feature: A Silent Voice

Posted on May 31, 2014 at 9:00 am by Victor Chaves

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Putting yourself in someone’s shoes is ridiculously difficult, especially when you can’t communicate with them by traditional means. That’s what the manga, A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi), attempts to convey. By following Shoya Ishida as he bullies the deaf Shoko Nishimiya from elementary school to high school, where he attempts to redeem himself for his past evils. It’s a great story of redemption and communication that will render any reader a crying mess.

Bitter Children

The story starts with flashback to when Ishida and Nishimiya first met, and so the first volume is concerned mostly with the past. If there was ever a reason to not want to read A Silent Voice, it would be this volume. Following Ishida, the reader witnesses him being incredibly reckless and mean to Nishimiya, throwing her hearing aids out the window, getting into scraps, and downright blaming her for all the social problems he suffered from bullying her. From that, we start to see Ishida become more isolated like Nishimiya, eventually becoming a bullying victim himself. After a nasty fight, Nishimiya is transferred to another school to which Ishida learns afterward that she was trying to be friendly to Ishida the entire time. Ishida is then wracked with guilt, stewing for five years in a pit of self-loathing until he meets her again in high school.

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After five years, Ishida decides to find Nishimiya in order to apologize, after which he’ll kill himself. During this time, he prepares to apologize to her by keeping an old notebook that she prized, as well as learning sign language. His suicidal plans change though after he sees Nishimiya again for the first time in five years. Ishisa then dedicates himself to making up for his part in Nishimiya’s terrible childhood. Most of the story takes place during this time, with Ishida questioning his right to redeem himself, as well as learning to communicate with others around him after becoming ostracized.

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Ishida’s struggle with accepting his past and trying be a better person is the main theme of A Silent Voice. Although Nishimiya is well-adjusted to her life, Ishida still struggles with his own inability to speak with others and befriend his classmates. In the first volume, it’s easy to hate Ishida for his actions. Even as we see the reasons for his behavior, and eventually the reason for why he becomes isolated and bullied, it’s very difficult to enjoy this character. What turns this around is the fact that Ishida actually starts to change and learn little by little. By the time he’s in high school, we see that he’s grown a bit more mature and makes attempts to repair the damage he’s done. This transformation is handled so well that I felt connected to Ishida almost before I realized it, cheering him on to become that better person. When he’s tempted to act in the same bullying way he used to, his struggle to stop those old habits makes for great drama.

There’s More To Communication Than A Voice

Although the story revolves around Ishida and his relationship with Nishimiya, there are also a number of supporting characters whose inability to communicate comes into the story, disability or no. There’s a specific story involving a girl who used to like Ishida, but because he changed so wildly since elementary school, she finds herself unable to connect with him the way they always used to. Several side characters and subplots involve characters who are unable to properly convey their feelings, usually because something in their personality makes it difficult to communicate.

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This is the crux of what makes A Silent Voice such a great story. It’s not the deaf character who has the most trouble communicating−it’s the people around her who not only can’t communicate with her, but with others in their lives as well. Nishimiya seems to be the catalyst that brings issues of understanding to the fore, and this book does an amazing job of connecting the reader to these issues. The message about communication is very easy to relate to, and the drama will leave you in a crying mess over these characters and their internal struggles.

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One of the best parts of A Silent Voice is the art style. Although the comic looks normal from a visual standpoint, the way Yoshitoki Oima (the author) plays with faces is extremely interesting. In a comic all about communication, Oima understands that people often communicate in verbally through facial cues and body language. The expressions emoted in this comic belie characters and their subtle thoughts; examples include how Nishimiya often smiles to show complacency, but a slight pain in her cheeks reveal the difficulty she feels being deaf. Additionally, Nishimiya’s mother has a cold look to her with a subtle hint of desperation when interacting with her daughter. These small details create amazing subtleties that more than make up for the non-dynamic art style. In truth, the wonderful integration of visual facial emotions connect so well with the story that without it, A Silent Voice would be much less engaging.

Read It!

As of this writing, 38 chapters of A Silent Voice have been translated into English, with more on the way as more chapters are released in Japan. Although only a few chapters have been released thus far, A Silent Voice sets itself apart as one of the best emotionally-charged comics available, and in general one of the better comics I’ve ever read. The story of Ishida’s attempts at redemption is amazing to read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Follow Victor on Twitter @fake_brasilian to see him engage in a the new game, “How Much Coffee Will Kill You?”

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