Koe no Katachi review
Bullying is a concept that many have had to experience in their childhood. Whether it be from looks, intelligence, disability, or other causes, bullying is, unfortunately, commonplace in our society. Bullies are seen as terrible people and victims are shown in a light that causes those who witness it wanting to give the bully the pain they deserve. This is a traditional bullying story in media. However, A Silent Voice explores bullying in a much more realistic manner, showing a bully's life after their victim is no longer part of it, and asking relevant and thought provoking questions, such as: how does bullying
affect the bully's life after the fact, can bullying cause self loathing not only in the victim, but also in the bully, and the central question of the story, can a bully find redemption and forgiveness from his victim, even if his actions in the past were cruel and seemingly unforgivable?
Shoya Ishida is a high school teenager who is a former bully. His victim: Shoko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who's goal was to get along with everyone in her sixth grade class. Due to Shoya's boredom, he begins to bully Shoko, through means such as stealing her hearing aids, writing horrible comments in her notebook, and mocking her speech pattern. Shoya is not the only one to blame for the bullying, as classmates such as Naoka Ueno can be seen as accomplices, but Shoya was the main source. The bullying became so much of an issue that it caused Shoko to transfer to another school. This causes Shoya to become a victim of bullying from those who used to be his friends. Years later, Shoya runs into Shoko by happenstance, and is persuaded to right the wrongs he had created in the past.
The themes in this story are very risky and could easily have come off as manipulative. However, the way these themes are handled are a perfect portrayal of how these issues are in reality. Shoya is plagued by social anxiety. He is unable to look people in the eye, he isolates himself from those around him, and he imagines those around him speaking of him in a bad light, even if their conversation is completely different from his imagination. This is how social anxiety legitimately functions. As someone who has dealt with social anxiety most of their life, this represents exactly how it can affect a person and their psyche. It's not sugarcoating the issue, which is why it is so admirable. All of the themes portrayed are admirable for being blunt and straightforward about their effects. Bullying is not simply shown as a bad person harassing a good person and showing how the good person wins. It shows the long term effects it can cause for a person, how bullying can enhance a person's doubts, how a bully can learn from their mistakes and become a better person. It doesn't create a simpler way to explain the matter. It just shows the reality of bullying, making it stand out from many stories about bullying. Self loathing and suicide are also important topics in this, but these topics are best experienced when reading A Silent Voice rather than having them explained to you. These themes could have easily turned into a manipulative romance story akin to a Nicholas Sparks film, but the author took the time to give the story realism and care in order to make an impact.
The characters have arcs in the story that give them such strong development that they seem to be real people at some points. Shoya is the character with the most development, as he must learn from his past not only to change himself, but to guide Shoko through her fears and doubts. He distances himself from others, but must learn to open up to those around him and be a part of the world around him like he was once before. He must struggle and he does falter and slip back into his habits at some points, but he always attempts to make things right once again. Shoko is also a very well developed character. She is a nice person and never tries to cause fights with anyone, and she is willing to give Shoya the second chance he desires. Many have expressed dislike towards Shoko, as they view her as a typical Mary Sue and find her unrealistic. However, this is not the case. As the story continues, you begin to realize that Shoko is not perfect and has her own demons she must conquer. While I will not spoil anything, I will say that her psychological issues are handled very well and are not just there to make you sorry for Shoko. They are legitimate issues that Shoko must resolve. The rest of the cast does not receive as much development, as they are not the main focus of the plot, but many of them are very enjoyable and have their own role to play in the story. Tomohiro Nagatsuka is the first person Shoya is able to open up to. He expresses friendliness towards Shoya and and almost obsession with him. This is because Tomohiro has found his first friend. His bond with Shoya helps guide Shoya to opening up to others. He also has the best comedic moments in the manga. Yuzuru Nishimiya is also a vital character, as she is the only one who truly understands Shoko. She is very overprotective of her older sister and expresses understandable disdain for Shoya, though their relationship does improve as the story continues. There are many other enjoyable characters, but these are the ones that stand out the most.
While all of the characters are necessary to the plot, there are two that are very anger inducing, even if they are a vital piece of the manga. The first is Naoka Ueno. Naoka is the kind of person that never truly learns from her mistakes. As Shoya is progressing and learning to be a better person, Naoka continues to be the same childish and immature person she was all those years ago. She continues to torture Shoko and cause her pain, while giving an excuse for it that seems petty and ridiculous. She is very important, as it shows how some people will not put in the effort to change themselves and will remain the same even if a change is needed, but this does not change the fact that Naoka is an infuriating character. The other of these characters is Miki Kawai, a character who is possibly more infuriating than Naoka. Miki is a narcissist who changes herself based on what she believes others will like. She paints herself as a saint who cannot do any wrong, while she also participated in the bullying of Shoko, just not as vocally. She never takes responsibility for her actions and lets others take the blame. However, even if these characters are ones that are written in a frustrating way, they still serve a purpose in the plot, which you cannot fault them for. These characters are needed and should not be removed from the plot. Removing them would give the plot less realism and would overall weaken it.
A Silent Voice is not simply a manga you read for enjoyment. This is the type of plot that can change the way an individual thinks about certain subjects and can mold them into better people. This needs to be read by any bullying victim or former bully. Just as Shoko and Shoya had to move on from their past in order to change and improve from their flaws, those reading this may see that they need to change as well, and to not fear said changes any longer.