Bullying is not something that is commonly used as the central element of a story in manga. However, A Silent Voice challenges this convention by using bullying to tell a tale about two children who face the consequences of such actions, and traces their lives following the experience from both sides.
Shoya is an energetic kid, and hates boredom more than anything. For this reason, when a deaf girl named Shoko begins to attend his elementary school, he takes advantage of her disability to entertain himself at her expense. As his bullying gets more and more violent and abusive, the girl’s parents notice and Shoya gets shouldered with all of the blame, becoming isolated from his classmates and reaping what he had originally sown.
If you are an avid slice-of-life fan, you will likely enjoy the series, but A Silent Voice is the kind of story that could appeal to just about anyone.
Oftentimes manga is something that is read for enjoyment because it captures what isn’t possible in our world, or focuses on a series of unlikely circumstances that create an intriguing story. In this way, A Silent Voice is unique: it tells a story that is not only possible, but relatively plausible as something similar to what can and does happen in real life, and this actually strengthens the narrative’s power to emotionally move its readers, myself included. It’s a story about bullying, something that has become such a common buzzword that merely saying the topic doesn’t evoke any sort of emotion in the listener. However, it illuminates bullying in a way very rarely experienced by one individual person by offering the entire story for readers to witness, and this alone makes A Silent Voice’s first volume interesting.
The true motive force in the narrative is the depth with which it tells the story, a depth achieved with its characters and minor details. The characters are simple and believable: Shoya, the bully, is an energetic kid who is always looking for ways to entertain himself without truly understanding the consequences of his actions. Shoko, the victim, is a deaf girl whose disability has given her remarkable humanity despite being bullied by just about everyone in her life. In a way, it is easy for the audience to relate to each of them, and this is because the characters feel so natural; there is nothing contrived or out of place in their characterizations, it all just seamlessly makes sense within the story thanks to the minor details.
When I say minor details, I am referring to the slightly more subtle bits of information provided in the volume. Shoya’s sister and her many boyfriends leads him to his general philosophy that life is a war against boredom. Details such as these enrich the story by providing more context for the way the characters behave. It’s not just the details that provide information about the main characters directly that drive the story, however. It’s the minor characters and how they react to situations that help best provide emotion to the narrative. This ranges from Shoya and Shoko’s teacher, who seems to be helpful at first but whose passivity towards the bullying actually exacerbates the problem, to the fellow students who so easily turn on Shoya when the school finally cracks down on the bullying.
All of these factors create a series of events that evoked substantial emotions from me as I read. A Silent Voice’s first volume was probably one of the most painfully good stories I have experienced in the manga format, and although the tale was heart-wrenching, I found myself unable to put the volume down until I had reached the final page. I felt sorry for both Shoya and Shoko, who in truth were equally the victims. It’s amazing how the actions of someone at a young age can be so dramatically devastating for the rest of their life, and Shoya most definitely faced long-term consequences in his isolation from companionship for all of those years.
If there was one thing about the first volume of A Silent Voice that bothered me, it would be the fact that I really need the second volume. Most of the story is quite depressing, and since it begins with a scene (which is illustrated in color in the book- thanks, Kodansha!) and then flashes back to explain the events that led up to the first scene, I was left with a feeling of, “Well, what happens next?” Thankfully, the story is hardly over, but if you are not the type of person interested in reading a series that will evoke sad emotions, then you might want to avoid this one for the time being, although you will be missing a very interesting tale.
A Silent Voice volume 1 is most definitely a gem of a story. I enjoyed the uniquely realistic and in-depth exploration of bullying, including both the reasons behind it and the consequences after for both parties. While the story is not a light, positive one, it is a powerfully harsh and emotional tale that will leave most readers (including myself) clamoring for more, and its overarching appeal to all audiences allows me to highly recommend it not only to manga enthusiasts but to anyone interested in an honest perspective into one of the most common everyday tragedies that seems to go largely unnoticed.
A Silent Voice was published by Kodansha Comics USA on May 26th, 2015. Authored by Yoshitoki Oima, the series began in 2013 in Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine, and concluded late 2014. Volume 2 will be published in English on July 28th, 2015. A feature film adaptation has been announced and is in the works.
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*Copy provided for Taykobon by publisher
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