A Silent Voice Vol. 1 (Kodansha)

SilentVoice

CREDIT: Kodansha

Rating: 5/5 – A Bully Learns the Error of His Ways…But is it Enough?
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

Shoya Ishida is bored. His world is a mundane, humdrum litany of what can only be called existence, not living. His life is at the point where he dives off balconies and bridges as part of his ‘Daredevil Club’ just to break up the monotony of the world around him. A heavy burden for any sixth-grader to carry, don’t you think? So when a new student is introduced to his class, and it’s discovered she’s deaf, he and his fellow classmates waste little time in picking on her.

It’s that line “…and his fellow classmates…” that comes into play here. Shoko Nishimiya does her best to overcome her disability and work to fit into the world around her. Unfortunately, she’s been put into what can only be called the cruelest classroom in manga history. Even the teacher is unsympathetic to her needs, and does nothing to stop the ongoing bullying. While there are a few students and teachers who try to help her – one is willing to learn sign language to better communicate with her, as an example – for the most part the people around take delight in yelling at her, pulling out her hearing aid, and other feats of meanness.

As with any situation, the bullying goes too far, and Shoko’s mother threatens to take legal action against the school unless someone steps forward. Shoya is made the scapegoat, and while he was certainly one of the ringleaders of the group, he wasn’t the only one. In the face of getting into serious trouble, though, his ‘friends’ and classmates throw him under the bus and deny any involvement in the bullying, and Shoya is ostracized by his schoolmates right through middle school and high school. His reputation, deserved or embellished, precedes him wherever he goes, and he comes to terms with the fact that he’s going to die friendless and alone. The bully now gets to have a taste of what it’s like to be an outsider. Just desserts? Maybe, but Shoya sees the error of his ways and is determined to make things right.

Whether you were one of the bullied or a bully yourself in school, this book will likely strike a chord. Creator Yoshitoki Oima tackles the subject unflinchingly. The school’s treatment and lack of understanding of Shoko’s needs make them just about as culpable for her situation as Shoya himself. Future volumes promise to examine not just Shoya’s quest to redeem himself, but his classmates as well as they deal with their betrayal of him (and Shoko), to say nothing of Shoko herself and whether she’ll forgive her tormentors or not. I did a little research on this series before committing to it and one thing that has me interested in following it through its completion is the idea that every person in the book has a flaw. Even Shoko, the victim in this story, has an overly apologetic side to herself, viewing herself as the source of the problem when she did nothing in reality to warrant it. The story’s willingness to explore this gray area where nobody is absolutely good or evil gives the book a realness that makes it worth picking up.

Pick this book up with caution. Getting through this first volume might take a bit of effort on the part of some readers, depending on their past. If you were ever the victim of bullies in the past, this might hit a bit too close to home for you. I get the impression that the overall journey will be worth it, though, as Shoya seeks out Shoko to attempt to apologize for what he did to her. It would be nice to think that all bullies realize the error of their ways, and their victims could be forgiving, but this is a manga, and the real world behaves with a different set of rules.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
(al@comicspectrum.com
)
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