I dedicate this blog to comics in all forms, manga, autobio, superhero, art books, etc. And of course, since I need a challenge, I've decided that I'll read and write (short) reviews for 365 comics during 2015.
A Silent Voice is about two misunderstood kids who find themselves playing out roles crafted by a classroom at war. This is a common story, but one I'd never seen portrayed in manga, great that this topic is being realistically (or at least somewhat realistically) brought forward in this format.
Shoya is having a hard time adjusting to life in school, he'd rather be playing and goofing off than going to cram school and his friends are starting to get tired of his games. Shoko has a hearing impairment and has to wear hearing aides to school, since none of her classmates can speak sign language she has a hard time adjusting to school life and the other kids in class become annoyed when she needs help.
Shoya becomes Shoko's chief persecutor with the other kids egging him on. When one child steps forward to help Shoko, she becomes a target as well, until she eventually stops coming to class. At first it wasn't like Shoya really wanted to hurt Shoko, but when even the teacher laughed at his jokes and turned a blind eye he felt like she was supposed to be targeted, like she was supposed to be a victim. He was also angry at her for breaking the classroom harmony and changing everything. He blamed her for making the other girl leave school, for ruining their choir competition, for making the teacher take extra time in lessons.
Finally, everything comes to a head when Shoya destroys Shoko's hearing aides, costing her family $14,000 dollars. Even as Shoya starts to raise his hand to confess, the teacher is already blaming him and his fellow students, all of whom not only encouraged, but participated in Shoko's bullying, point their fingers at him and claim that they all tried to stop his bullying, but couldn't do anything.
Since that day Shoya becomes the target of the other students and his life becomes miserable. Every day his shoes go missing and eventually he finds out his former friends had been throwing them in the trash. He gets beaten up every day on the way home and has every form of bullying he'd done to Shoko re-visited upon himself.
He becomes even more angry at Shoko, feeling that everything would have been just fine if it weren't for her.
Through it all though, Shoko had always smiled at him and never gotten mad, even when he called her names, wrote mean things on the chalk board and dumped dirt on her head. Her continued friendliness towards him makes him feel even more guilty and angry and finally when he discovers her yet again trying to help him, he shoves her away and the pair get into a fight.
After that, Shoko changes schools and Shoya continues through his school years as an outcast. Eventually he comes to feel that it's karma for all the mean and horrible things he did to Shoko and wishes he could apologize.
The first volume covers the past history between Shoya and Shoko and the second volume starts a new history between the two as they navigate through forgiveness and eventual friendship.
I'd definitely recommend this series for any shojo manga reader, it has romantic and humorous elements to it, but it also starts a conversation about a 'invisible' topic that would be good to expose to more teenagers. There were points in the graphic novel that made me feel so angry I had to put the book down for a breather. The bullying is very realistic, even including the way teachers look the other way not wanting to inconvenience themselves until a parent gets involved and then the target changes to a different child. So infuriating.
A similar graphic novel, that would be bit friendlier for children is El Deafo, which I highly recommend. Although the graphic memoir is more personal and deals more with being different than bullying, there are some similar situations and elements to the two books.
More graphic novels that deal with bullying for kids and teens: