Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Silent Voice (manga, vols. 1-2) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy

I heard about A Silent Voice via a review I now can't seem to track down. I don't think I'd have touched this series, otherwise. The covers are, quite frankly, boring and make me think of visual novels, with static shots of the characters sliding on and off the screen.

However, I'd have been missing out, because this series is lovely and has the potential for a great deal of complexity. I'm a little nervous about how things will eventually turn out, since the series deals with some very heavy subjects, but Oima seems to be handling everything with the care and sensitivity it deserves.

Warning: my post contains spoilers.

A Silent Voice (vol. 1) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy – Shoya Ishida is a kid who does stupid stunts because it gets him the attention he craves. However, when his friends start to move beyond all that, he begins to feel both alone and bored. And so he picks on the new girl, Shoko Nishimiya, who is deaf. He makes fun of her, takes her hearing aids, etc., until one day the teacher goes before the class and says that Shoko's mother has complained about the eight hearing aids that have been broken or stolen in the last five months – approximately $14,000 worth of damage. Suddenly, Shoya becomes an outcast. After he and Shoko fight and Shoko transfers to a new school, Shoya becomes more and more of a loner.

This is ugly and awful and feels very realistic. Shoya seems to have problems at home – his mother is nice but works constantly to provide for her family, and his sister brings a new guy home every few weeks or so. Which gives some background, but doesn't excuse Shoya's cruelty towards Shoko. Shoko, for her part, is kind enough to try to keep Shoya from knowing the full extent to which he is being bullied. Once she leaves, though, all the kids who did nothing while he bullied Shoko or laughed right along with him suddenly become his tormentors.

Basically, this is a condensed example of just how much school can suck. The teacher was no better than his students. In fact, I'd argue that he was worse, because he was supposed to be the adult in this situation. Yes, he talked to Shoya about his behavior, but his actions were half-hearted, and he too showed frustration at another teacher saying they should all learn at least a little sign language. The panel where he snarled at Shoya was kind of terrifying and, I think, a good example of just how bad a teacher he was. Shoya interpreted it entirely as his teacher being angry at him, but I think his teacher was also terrified that he might be considered partly responsible for the damages, since he did so little to stop it, and so he turned those feelings on Shoya.

While I liked this (although I'm not sure “like” is appropriate here), I did think that there was some clarity issues. A few things were a little harder to follow than they should have been.

A Silent Voice (vol. 2) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy – It's a few years later (I think? I forgot to write it in my notes). Shoya finds Shoko again. He's prepared to take whatever she dishes out, because then he plans to kill himself. Except it seems like she wants to meet again, so he can't die. He clashes with Shoko's mom, who's willing to hate him in Shoko's place, and Yuzuru, Shoko's sister, who also hates him for Shoko's sake. Yuzuru calls herself a boy, specifically Shoko's boyfriend, so she can act as Shoko's protector. She gets Shoya expelled, but he's not really mad, because he feels he's brought this on himself.

Shoko's family is filled with people who want to protect her without asking what she wants. Shoko's mom never listens to her – we saw a prime example of this in volume 1, when she tried to insist that Shoko get a short haircut so that she'd look like a boy, despite Shoko clearly indicating that she wanted a longer cut. Shoko's sister is a bit better, but she can't understand why Shoko doesn't hate Shoya. To be honest, I'm also not entirely sure why she doesn't hate Shoya. She certainly has reason to. I kind of wish Oima let us know more about what she's thinking, because there are times I worry that she'll turn into a stereotypical saintly deaf girl. Thankfully, she does demonstrate that she gets angry, just the same as everyone else, or she wouldn't have fought with Shoya in the previous volume or her sister in this one.

Shoya has been pretty much friendless since the end of volume 1. In this volume, he gains his first friend, Tomohiro. We also learn that Shoya now has a niece that he helps his mother take care of – we still haven't seen Shoya's sister, but apparently she had a kid with the guy she hooked up with in volume 1. I liked seeing signs that Shoya has grown as a person. He's more responsible and less angry, and he actually took the time to learn sign language since the last time he saw Shoko.

The problem is that he doesn't know if he deserves forgiveness and happiness. He doesn't really know what he wants, or what Shoko wants - after all, he thought he'd be dead long before any of these questions became an issue. What is the appropriate outcome here? I'm honestly not sure. I like the guy Shoya is starting to become, even though he still has a long way to go, but that doesn't mean he deserves forgiveness. However, that seems to be the direction Shoko is taking, and, like Shoya, I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Even so, I'm willing to see where Oima's going to go with this. This volume had so much in it, and I felt that Oima handled it all really well, from Shoya's aborted decision to kill himself, to his mother's reaction after she realized what he'd planned to do, to Yuzuru's anger. The only thing that I worry about is Oima's handling of Shoko.

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