Just in time for Christmas and the release of the anime film version on Blu-Ray/DVD, comes a new collection of Yoshitoki Oima’s award winning manga. Years ago, Shoya Ishida led his peers in tormenting a hearing-impaired classmate, Shoko Nishimiya. When she transfers schools, Shoya finds he has gone from bully to bullied, and is left completely alone. Now Shoya struggles to redeem himself in Shoko’s eyes and to face the classmates who turned on him.
Since the series release, A Silent Voice has won praise worldwide including nominations for the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize and the 2016 Eisner Awards. In 2016, it was adapted into an anime film by Kyoto Animation that received considerable praise during its cinematic run in the UK earlier this year. Covered several times on this blog, the series is one of the most hard hitting manga series in recent memory and one of the harshest examples of the prominent bullying problem that unfortunately permeates Japanese schools. The opening volume is particularly brutal with Shoya blissfully unaware of the consequences that await him for his cruel bullying of his deaf classmate Shoko out of boredom and lack of empathy. That readers are still able to sympathise with Shoya when his classmates turn on him, placing the blame for the bullying Shoko has endured, is a testament to Oima’s writing ability.
The bulk of the series is set years later as a guilt-ridden Shoya has shut himself off from the outside world and has not had any friends since his past actions to Shoko. He tracks her down to try to make amends for his past behaviour. But this is not an easy story of redemption as Shoya must also win over Shoko’s mother and younger sister Yuzuru who are both resentful of the treatment Shoko was forced to endure. Yuzuru is a particularly great character warming to Shoya over time and despite her age often comes across as the most level-headed person in the series – having in some ways an understanding of her sister that other characters don’t. It’s through these interactions in his journey that Shoya is able to make new friends – namely the main source of comic relief Nagatsuka – and reconnect with his former classmates. But some of them aren’t as willing to look past his previous transgressions and some are unwilling to except their own culpability in Shoko’s bullying.
Along with the clear understanding and research Oima put in to understanding childhood deafness and bullying, one of the main highpoints is how she fits her characters into Shoya and Shoko’s scenario and provides different motivations and point of views that definitely add some shades of grey to the situation. Naoka’s resentment of Shoko for Shoya’s treatment after he was scapegoated for bullying Shoko, and Miki’s absolute refusal to except that she had anything to do with it create some rather shocking situations which is all made worse by Shoko’s delicate mental state as she finds herself feeling she is responsible for the unrest around her. Whilst most readers will face an emotional barrage reading A Silent Voice, there is also a strong degree of subtlety that works in the series’ favour with a lot of the characters being quite hard to read at times. This is aided by Oima’s nuanced art style which encourages you to not solely rely on dialogue to gain understanding of the characters – particularly Shoko who rarely talks.
This is easily one of the best manga series released in the last few years and this boxset is the perfect chance for anyone who has not read the series (whether they’ve seen the film or not) yet to check it out. For collectors, there are two bonus items exclusive to this set – a double sided poster and a replica of Shoko’s communication notebook. Well on its way to establishing itself as a modern classic, this is one manga/anime fans aren’t going to want to miss.
- Posted by Leo
A Silent Voice Complete Series Box Set is published by Kodansha on 21st December 2017 (£65.00, Paperback, 9781632366436)