RPM: Koe no Katachi/A Silent Voice vol. 1
Whew, it’s been way too long since I’ve done one of these. This is mainly due to, well, not really finding anything in particular to talk about. When I originally decided to do this, I wanted to pick up books that were a little more obscure. Possible to obtain, but really trying to avoid any “HEY HAVE YOU HEARD OF THIS LITTLE THING CALLED ONE PIECE.” But between a high volume of manga now being translated and legally released online, combined with not really finding anything that clicked with me, the task was a bit harder than I imagined. I also didn’t want to fall into a slump of “here’s just an average book, I guess” every time I wrote.
With that, I will try to write any future “Randomly Picked Manga” when I do find something that lights a spark, rather than just any ol’ thing I find. Since I frequent my local comic shop more than I should, there’s no doubt I will find something. Not too long ago, after hearing a good amount of buzz, I decided to pick up the first volume of Koe no Katachi and, luckily enough, it was the exact thing I was looking for.
Shoya Ishida is an elementary school student who cares about nothing more than finding excitement in his life. Day after day, he dares his friends to do reckless acts of fun that would bring any old citizen to say “boys will be boys!” One day, it’s announced a new transfer student would be coming to his class. As the students are speculating just who the new student might be, Shoko Nishimiya arrives, and shocks everyone with the announcement from her notebook that she is deaf. While everyone attempts to adjust to her disability, Shoya decides this is another chance to spice up his life and decides to bully her every chance he can get. After months of enduring, Shoko is suddenly transferred out, with Shoya’s class then blaming and turning on him. His regret follows him all the way through middle school and high school, until one day he runs into a familiar face.
The thing that is most striking about Koe no Katachi is just how honest and blunt of a story it is. While in the above description alludes to Shoya being the only instigator, the situation is a lot more grey. Other students, and even their teacher, in some way choose not, or flat out refuse, to work with Shoko and her condition. Even though some students are adamant to help Shoko, they either lose moral or are quickly shunned for doing so. While bullying is certainly an issue in Japan (but frankly anywhere), as someone who works in those kinds of environments, I have to say that while I don’t see it often…I certainly hear about it. One teacher not too long ago complained to me she had to stay late for meetings after a few first-years got in a fight. Luckily, I haven’t encountered any abuse when it comes to the physical or mentally handicapped students I work with, but I have and do hear the comments every now and then: “Ugh, shut up,” “I don’t want to have to help them,” “They make it very hard here,” or ignoring the student when they’re around. It’s not in your face, but it’s there.
And for Koe no Katachi to have this mentality takes a lot of guts. Where the stereotypical manga might have a “main” bully, usually some bancho/yanki kid, who abuses the nerdy kid with glasses or whoever, Koe no Katachi makes the situation feel a lot more real. It’s not just the kid who doesn’t care about school, with some sort of bad background, that hands out the abuse: It’s the other classmates, or the teachers themselves, that become variables in the situation. It’s not just physical abuse or name calling; it’s the side-comments and alienation, too. I have to say at first I was quite surprised with this approach (for elementary school kids, they are quite conniving!), but after letting it settle and thinking about bullying when I was a kid and what I see now, it hit a little closer.
The art in Koe no Katachi also reflects this sensibility. None of the characters are particularly good-looking, apart from just being cute elementary school kids. One particular scene with Shoya’s teacher yelling at him actually left me a little uncomfortable, as the intensity of how he’s drawn reminded me of the tone I hear many teachers use on the kids here. While I do appreciate the overall look of Oima’s designs, many characters are never presented in a fashionable way, both physically and psychologically. But, I guess it doesn’t start out as a particularly pleasant story in the first place.
Koe no Katachi has been released on Crunchyroll Manga under the title “A Silent Voice,” starting not too long ago. However, this is not a review of the translated version, as I only have access to the original books. Having said that, Koe no Katachi is one of the most intriguing manga I’ve read in a long time. Between it’s narrative and the reality it presents, especially in a culture that is so quick to cover it, I’m curious as to where the consequences of Shoya’s childhood lead him. Even at the beginning, it seems Shoya is on a path of redemption, so I’m interested to see just how far he goes in the sake of forgiveness. And while he may want to be forgiven, this situation, and any situation like it, entirely lies with the compassion of those affected.
Title: 聲の形 Koe no Katachi, A Silent Voice
Author: Yoshitoki Oima
Serialization: Weekly Shonen Magazine
Available in English on Crunchyroll Manga