A Silent Voice – Koe no Katachi Volume 1 Review
A Silent Voice – Koe no Katachi:
Reviewed by: Linny
Synopsis: Shoya Ishida is a restless young boy, eager to engage in dangerous activities in an attempt to avoid being bored. As his friends slowly start to outgrow him, a new transfer student catches his eyes as a means to entertain himself and take out his growing frustration of being left behind by his friend. Her name is Shoko Nishimiya and she is deaf, which makes her the perfect target for his bullying. Things get so bad that Shoko ends up leaving the school and Shoya becomes the new target of abuse as everyone places the blame solely on his shoulders and the blame follows him all the way into high school. Tired of the guilt and blame, Shoya decides he needs to find Shoko and try to make things right even though it’s been five years since he last saw her.
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
A Silent Voice starts off strong by introducing Shoya properly, making it clear to readers that while he is somewhat of a handful, he isn’t a complete monster either. It isn’t trying to patronize him or make him seem like a misunderstood person, but emphasizing that Shoya is for the most part, just a very hyperactive kid who doesn’t really think his actions through. Though he seems unconcerned about the safety of the things he is coercing his friends into trying, he himself never hesitates to be the first or even only one brave enough to do it. He may not be the most likable kid starting off, but he seems pretty much your average naughty kid, not particularly evil or cruel.
Shoya feels real, like someone all of us have known or may have even been when we were much younger. Some readers might frown as he snaps at his mother, and all he gets in return is her saying that he is adorable when he is angry. It’s clear that to his mother, he is still very much her little boy whose words of anger do little more than amuse her. In fact, the mangaka does make a point to include a mini chapter about how Shoya’s mother is actually a very kind lady and if you still have apprehensions towards her, you do get to see her try her very best to make amends once she finds out about some of the cruel things her son did. When he loses his shoes and comes up with a clever plan to retrieve them, you might find yourself even rooting for him but you soon realize that he is somewhat of a brat and rather violent as he responds to an apology with a vicious punch. It’s still somewhat understandable though as it’s clear he just wanted some sort of justice and punishment for the thief.
As the chapter continues, we find out that violence really doesn’t faze him as he jokes around even after receiving a serious beating at the hands of an older boy, even though his friends are clearly upset and unsettled by the entire incident, unable to even look him in the eye. It’s another hint to an oncoming revelation, that his friends are already pretty uncomfortable with the way Shoya acts and the dangerous after school activities he likes to engage in with them.
There are some allusions to where Shoya got his thirst for an ‘exciting’ life as we find out his older sister is someone who claims that life is a war against boredom and changes boyfriends at the drop of a hat, a rate at which even her younger brother and his friends are surprised by constantly. It’s never implied that she is the one who encouraged him to be this rebellious and reckless but it does make it seem like a daredevil and carefree streak runs in the family. When his friends finally reveal that they have outgrown him, it’s a shocking revelation for Shoya who realizes that now that he has no friends, he might have to succumb to boredom and thus, end up losing his battle against it.
For readers who have had difficulties making friends or have had to lose friends due to moving to a different place or for whatever other reason, it’s a moment that might make you feel a bit for Shoya as you recall your own loneliness and depression about being friendless even though Shoya seems more fixated on the fact that he will be bored without them rather than the fact that he has lost them. His misplaced fixation could also be read as him being too young to fully process the loss of friendship but either way, it’s a moment when you see him at one of his most vulnerable states.
Just as he is left wondering how he is ever going to amuse himself again, in comes Shoko Nishimiya, and whether it was just bad timing or whether it was fated to happen, she earns his interest for all the wrong reason. Initially, he seems dumbfounded on how to treat this new person who is unlike anyone he has ever met before and seems more interested in exploring all the new experiences that come with having a different classmate.
What starts off as a mix of curiosity and boredom however soon takes a cruel turn as slowly but surely the teasing takes a cruel turn. As other classmates join in on the fun, and also slowly start to get frustrated with the extra work they have to do to accommodate a deaf classmate, they start to resent her and their jokes become more mean spirited rather than childish ignorance and curiosity. The final straw for the class is when Shoko’s tone deafness causes them to lose the choir competition. It doesn’t help matters that even their own teacher, Takeuchi-sensei seems to be somewhat resentful towards Shoko for the extra workload she causes. Though he never lashes out at her and often reprimands Shoya whenever he catches him tormenting or teasing her, his choice of words when reprimanding him make it clear even to Shoya himself that their class teacher is not happy about having Shoko in his class.
In fact, when the music teacher, Kita tries to get the children to learn sign language with her so they can all communicate better with Shoko, Takeuchi-sensei himself objects to it and chides her for trying to get the kids to learn something she herself doesn’t know. It’s not hard to realize that really, he himself is annoyed at her for trying to add on even more work for him and the children by forcing them to spend extra time learning sign language.
It’s definitely most interesting watching how even the adults react to Shoko. While some might praise Kita-sensei and frown at Takeuchi-sensei for being so cold, one has to realize that Kita only has to accommodate Shoko for music class and Takeuchi has to deal with her on a much more intense level. Of course, Shoko is an angel and a sweetheart and one would be wrong to resent her for the complications that she herself has to battle with on a daily basis, even the manga itself mentions how having Shoko in the classroom causes a lot of complications for everyone else.
It’s definitely not okay that Takeuchi is acting out on his frustration and projecting it onto others, but one has to atleast understand why he is acting so. Readers might find it somewhat easier to forgive the children’s behaviour as they are after all children but it is unfortunate that nobody steps in to truly help them understand their new classmate better. It is an uncomfortable truth that happens all the time even in real life and A Silent Voice deserves attention for helping to bring this issue into the spotlight especially in such an engaging format.
Some readers might also be unnerved to read the part where Shoya talks about how he reacts to animals. Depending on your culture or upbringing your reaction may vary as he talks about salting slugs, chasing pigeons, interfering with the path of ants and doodling on cats. Some might be able to brush it off as ‘kids will be kids/boys will be boys’ but it becomes pretty disturbing as he immediately equates Shoko to those animals, things that he apparently thinks exist merely for his entertainment and whose feelings contain no merit.
A Silent Voice is NOT an easy read and is definitely going to tug at your emotions as you watch Shoko endure more and more bullying with each page. Even when there seems like she might finally have a friendly and helpful classmate, the dislike for Shoko spreads to her friend who ends up being bullied herself to the point of skipping school to avoid the bullies. The story does a great job of portraying the victimization of Shoko and how quickly it spreads and grows, making the reader acutely and painfully aware of how difficult this all must be for this poor and lonely girl. It’s all the more sad when you realize that even her own mother might not be treating her right and you wonder just how this poor girl manages to keep a smile on her face.
Eventually, Shoya’s actions are brought to the light of the principal and it is then we observe how a situation and people can change colours in the blink of an eye. When confronted by serious consequences for the bullying, everyone in the class is all too eager and happy to pin Shoya as the sole culprit for all the ill treatment that Shoko received. WHile there’s no denying that he was the instigator and the one who constantly broke her hearing aids, it’s somewhat repulsive to watch his classmates all saving their own skins by vilifying him completely and shaming him now that the bullying has been called out by the authorities.
Even if you initially feel like he is getting his just desserts, it’s impossible to ignore his classmate’s hypocrisy as they then promptly change their bullying attention onto him and forget that they too wholeheartedly joined in on bullying Shoko in the past, and are now engaging in equally despicable behaviour towards Shoyo. If all this wasn’t frustrating enough, it will drive you crazy to watch Shoyo only grow more hateful towards Shoko, blaming her for his new status as the class pariah, rather than realizing that his classmates are the true demons in this case.
A Silent Voice is an intense tale, one that’s filled with a lot of emotions and shows all the ugly sides of human nature. It’s an honest tale, one that will upset you but for all the right reasons. It’s a story that makes you learn some lessons without being preachy about it. It has an unlikeable protagonist but he is someone whose actions are understandable if unforgivable and might even help you see yourself or others in a new light. As Shoya is forced to accept his new life of being a complete outcast that’s looked down on by everyone else, his outlook on life becomes extremely bleak and depressing.
What’s also noteworthy about this manga is how well it balances the moments when it’s loud and when it is restrained. The pages depicting the bullying of Shoko and Shoya do a great job of depicting first the innocence and then the spite behind it. It also expresses Shoya’s ensuing depression perfectly, never being too ham fisted about it. In fact, when Shoya makes a very bold decision in the final chapter of the first volume, it’s portrayed in the most subtle and tasteful manner that you have to read to truly appreciate it because I couldn’t truly convey it without riddling this review with even more spoilers. If you do end up trying this manga, do know that the first volume does end on somewhat of a cliffhanger, making this entire volume feel like set up but in a way that makes you curious to continue reading, rather than being frustrated that you just read an entire volume without really touching on the main story.
If you are someone who enjoys reading stories that fill you with strong emotions without being extremely contrived, A Silent Voice deserves to be on your reading list if it isn’t on it already. Based on only the first volume, it seems like a tale about a frustrated and lonely teenager who is trying to make amends for his childhood mistakes as he pays the price for it a hundred times over. Despite its Japanese setting, it’s a tale that might sound or feel familiar to readers from other cultures and maybe even remind them of someone or something from their own childhood. There is a single Japanese mythological reference made in the volume but the translation notes will make it clear to anyone reading the story. If you’re on the lookout for a story that will rip you to shreds and then slowly build you back up, pick up this heartfelt story right now.