A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi, also translated The Shape of Voice) is not the type of story I normally write about, but I found it so powerful that I’m going to make an exception. A Silent Voice is a manga by Ooima Yoshitoki. If you don’t read manga or have never read manga, you might be surprised by this story. Note that a major part of manga is visual, and you read the images and text from the right to left. The visual nature of the storytelling allows for a lot of information to be received through images, which works particularly well in A Silent Voice, since a primary character is deaf. But the story isn’t really about being deaf. It’s not even about being either a bully or bullied, which is a primary plot focus. The story is about being a person on the outside–someone who is not part of the group. As the story develops and changes, it becomes more and more of a question as to whether someone can ever be forgiven or redeemed for the bad things they’ve done in their past.
Minor spoilers in the next paragraph as I give a basic plot picture.
A Silent Voice begins in late grade school upon the arrival of a new student, Shoko Nishimiya, who is deaf. The protagonist, Shoya Ishida, is a very unhappy boy who commits a continual series of risky behavior because “life is a war against boredom.” He immediately begins bullying Nishimiya, demonstrating truly repulsive behavior and gathering bullying accomplices. However, the tables turn after Nishimiya transfers and Ishida becomes the object of bullying. He is marked as a bad egg, even worse for having picked on Nishimiya, and none of his personal complaints are believed by those in authority. Time passes and Ishida tracks down Nishimiya again, searching for absolution of a sort, but perhaps simply seeking out someone else who was always separate like him. Slowly a group is gathered representative of individuals on both sides of the bullying line. Some hurt and feel they’ve made up for it, while some feel they never can or that they never did anything wrong. Others were hurt and feel they should now hurt in return or that it was somehow their fault all along for being hurt. Others rewrite their memories, insisting they never did anything wrong to begin with. Taken together these individuals allow for a thematic exploration of whether someone can ever truly be forgiven for or move past the shadows of their past.
A Silent Voice began as a one-shot release in Bessatsu Shoonen Magazine and then was written out into seven volumes of manga (in non-manga terms, consider that a short story transformed into a novel). Crunchyroll has the North American release rights; you can follow that link for access to the translated manga. The 2015 Kono Manga ga Sugoi! guidebook, which is created by hundreds of manga publishing professionals, has ranked A Silent Voice as the top pick for male readers. The final volume of A Silent Voice was released last month and within the cover announced that A Silent Voice will be made into a feature anime film–more details about when the feature film will be available have not yet been announced.
Individual isolation and bullying are certainly major issues today. While Nishimiya may be the central character of appeal for many readers, I was particularly drawn in by Ishida’s faceted nature and growth. Between the characters and the themes, I think readers will find something to capture their interest. I strongly recommend this story. I believe it’s one I will remember for the rest of my life.