Review: A Silent Voice, Volume 1
A Silent Voice, Volume 1
By Yoshitoki Oima
Kodansha Comics; $10.99
There’s a manga about everything, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that someone had created one to discuss bullying. And though I appreciate manga more than I am a fan of it, I was eager to read A Silent Voice and see how it approached the topic. Had it been any other kind of comic, I would have been mildly curious – probably expecting a personal narrative about how the author had been bullied and what effect that had on her or his life – but I wouldn’t have been eager.
Manga, on the other hand, with its long-form structure and emphasis on emotion, suggested a deeper look at the subject, perhaps with perspectives from both the bullied and the bully. My greatest hope for the book was some insight about bullies that went deeper than the usual revelation that they themselves have been bullied and are just passing on the pain. It wasn’t a confident hope, but I figured that even if it wasn’t very good, A Silent Voice would eventually have to find something new to say if only to fill its page count. What I didn’t dream of – but what it delivers so well – was a look at bullying so balanced that I not only understood why people bully but was able to identify at least the potential for bullying even in myself.
The book tells the story of Shoya, a rough, mean-spirited kid who rules his circle of friends and often pressures them into activities that they otherwise wouldn’t do. Picking fights, jumping off bridges into water, that kind of thing. For a while, I was worried about what Shoya meant for A Silent Voice. His stated motivation for his bad behavior was no more complicated than a never-ending battle against boredom. That kind of shallow characterization is something I’ve encountered in enough manga that it keeps me from being a fan of the form. It was disappointing to see it in a book that I had hopes for.
But as I kept reading, I began to see Shoya’s hatred of boredom as a mask for a deeper problem: impatience combined with self-centeredness. These are not rare traits in people. I’m prone to them myself. But they are exactly the building blocks that Shoya’s bullying is created from. His narcissistic need to be constantly entertained makes him a bully to his friends. But when a deaf girl named Shoko comes to Shoya’s school, that’s when things get out of control.
Shoya is mean to Shoko immediately. She takes attention off himself and he thinks it’s entertaining to pick on her. Eventually, he’s just challenged by her refusal to react the way he wants her to. But as the situation between them escalates, there’s something else going on in the school that I found fascinating. At first, the rest of the class is into helping Shoko. Her need to communicate through written notes is like a game. But as time goes on, the students grow less patient with the process and begin to resent Shoko. It’s not just the personal communication; she slows the whole class down as her teachers struggle to help her understand. Shoya is the most relentless bully of the bunch, but the whole class makes life harder for her.
This is where the book got into my head, because I could relate. I’m a patient person up to a point, but there are times when I’m trying to help someone and he just… isn’t… getting it. I hear myself sigh. I feel my eyes rolling. My answers get shorter. I just want this person to go away and quit bothering me. I don’t identify with Shoya, but I can certainly connect with those other students.
There’s a lot to recommend about A Silent Voice. Shoko is a lovely, sweet character and I want to see her succeed. Shoya’s behavior has intense repercussions that aren’t fully resolved in this volume. The drama between the two characters is complicated and I’m eager to see that worked out as the series continues. But where the book was so useful to me was its ability to make me impatient with Shoko too. I became complicit with the bullies, which made me feel horrible, which made me aware the next time I grew irritable with someone in real life. It didn’t make me less irritated, but it made me conscious of how I was tempted to treat the person and how that would make her feel. That means that A Silent Voice isn’t just a potential conversation starter about bullying, it also teaches empathy and has the potential to change behavior.
About Michael May
Michael May has been writing about comics for a little over a decade. He started as a reviewer for Comic World News and soon became editor-in-chief of the site. Leaving editorial duties to focus on writing, he joined The Great Curve, the comics blog that eventually became Blog@Newsarama and finally Comic Book Resources' Robot 6. In addition to loving comics, he loves his son and enjoys nothing more than finding (and writing about) awesome comics for the boy to read.
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