Monday, December 5, 2016

REVIEW: A Silent Voice (manga, vols. 3-7) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy

I'm so torn on this series. I use star ratings on other sites, and every single volume left me questioning which rating I should go with.

I feel like this series would spark some great conversations, but parts of it are incredibly unpleasant to read. And I understand that parts are supposed to be unpleasant to read, but it just got to be so much. I also feel like most normal people would have just gone their separate ways and made new friends rather than try to untangle the horrifically snarled knots that these characters kept picking at. The final volume was pretty good, but there was so much awfulness to get through before that. Not surprising, I guess, considering that this series deals with both bullying and suicidal thoughts, but somehow I thought that the first volume would be the worst of it. It wasn't.

This post contains major spoilers.

A Silent Voice (manga, vol. 3) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy – Shoya successfully rekindles Shoko and Miyoko's old friendship (Miyoko was Shoko's friend who completely stopped coming to school when the other kids started being awful). However, the experience leaves him feeling a bit off, so he decides to try fixing more things he ruined back when he bullied Shoko. His next effort is to find Naoka, but that goes badly, resulting in both Shoko and Tomohiro getting hurt. Naoka liked (and still likes) Shoya and blames Shoko for driving them apart. Shoya feels more and more unworthy of being around Shoko. Shoko, meanwhile, finally confesses her love to Shoya, but she does so verbally, and he misunderstands her speech.

Wow, this was a painful read. My vague recollection of volume 2 indicated that Shoya had started to move past some of his negative feelings, but clearly not, because he was a horribly guilt-ridden and self-loathing mess here.

Shoko is still an enigma. While I had guessed that this series would eventually pair her and Shoya up, Shoko's “I love you” in this volume was a complete shock to me. It made no sense at this point in the story and felt uncomfortably like the series was being made more and more about Shoya. There has still hardly been anything from Shoko's POV, and I found myself wondering how she really felt about Miyoko's “fun” day. Did she enjoy it as much as she seemed to, or was she just pretending in order to keep things from becoming awkward?

Also, I absolutely hated the addition of Naoka to the story. Thinking about it now, I've realized that something about her reminded me of FLCL's Mamimi, another character I disliked.

While I was happy to have discovered that the series was only 7 volumes long and that I could therefore finish the whole thing during my vacation, this volume made me doubt whether that was something I really wanted to do.

A Silent Voice (manga, vol. 4) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy – Shoya, Shoko, and others have a fun/awkward day at an amusement park. Naoka tries (unsuccessfully) to reunite Shoya and an old school friend of his. She also tries to talk to Shoko, but Shoya later learns that it went badly, with Naoka saying that Shoko ruined things for Shoya and her. Shoko ended the conversation by saying that she hated herself. The volume ends on a sad (but less strained) note, with Shoko and Yuzuru's grandma's death, which is when we learn why Shoko's mom is the way she is. Her husband divorced her for having a deaf child, leaving her to support two kids on her own (she'd only just realized she was pregnant with Yuzuru when her husband ditched her), with only her mother for support.

I liked this volume more than the previous one, because at least the second half was less strained and awful-feeling. I prefer this series when it really digs into the characters' thoughts and lives, and this volume provided a deeper look at the women who raised Shoko and Yuzuru. I still don't really like Shoko and Yuzuru's mom (using sign language at the dinner table is “indecent,” according to her), but this volume left me feeling like I understood her a bit better. Still, thank goodness Shoko and Yuzuru's grandma was warm, gentle, and supportive towards them, because their mother sure wasn't. Ugh.

I am still frustrated with the way this series is avoiding Shoko's POV. The conversation at the amusement park indicated that there's definitely more going on there than she usually lets people see.

A Silent Voice (manga, vol. 5) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy – Tomohiro's movie-making plans fall apart when it's revealed to all that Shoya was once Shoko's bully, and that several others in the group were either involved or did nothing to stop him. Shoya loses nearly all his friends but tries to keep going and stay happy for Shoko's sake. However, Shoko sees this whole thing as being her fault – she believes that nothing good comes of being with her. So, at the end of the volume she decides to commit suicide by jumping out of a window in her home. Shoya catches her just in time.

Remember that teacher from volume 1 who was a horrible asshole who should never have been put in charge of kids? Well, Shoya got to see him again in this volume, and he was just as much of a horrible asshole. He basically said that Shoko's very existence guaranteed that there were going to be problems in the class. Never mind that he could have done more to stop it since, you know, he was the adult in the room.

I have no idea how I feel about this volume. Shoya was once again abandoned by just about everyone, and Shoko was totally not kidding about hating herself. Despite her constant sweet smile, she must have been hiding as much self-hatred as Shoya. The main characters in this series are enormous pits of self-hatred, and it's terrible.

A Silent Voice (manga, vol. 6) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy – Shoya saves Shoko but ends up in the hospital, badly injured and unconscious. This whole volume is about the aftermath of Shoko's suicide attempt: Shoko helping Tomohiro finish his movie in an effort to fix what she feels she broke; Yuzuru upset because the pictures she'd kept taking hadn't stopped Shoko from wanting to die; Naoka remembering how she stood by as Shoya was bullied; and Satoshi realizing his desire to become a teacher was all about his own creepy wish to monitor the kids of his own former bullies.

This series is so dark, and this particular volume is pretty violent. Naoka beats up Shoko because she blames her for Shoya being in the hospital, and Shoko's mom attacks (like actually physically attacks) Naoka for beating up Shoko. I wasn't surprised that people like Naoka and Shoya's mother blamed Shoko for what happened to Shoya, but I hated that they did, because she was hurting too. If Shoko's emotional wounds had been able to manifest as physical wounds, she'd probably have been hospitalized too.

I hadn't realized Yuzuru's morbid photography was more than just a phase. Apparently Shoko had tried to kill herself before, and Yuzuru's photography was her way of trying to make Shoko want to live, without actually saying so. Which...didn't really work out so well. She comes to the conclusion that she should have talked to Shoko about Shoko's past suicide attempt, and...I don't know. Remember that Yuzuru is actually Shoko's younger sister. I agree that she should maybe have been a bit less vague about telling Shoko that she wanted her to continue living, but at the same time Yuzuru has carried so much on her shoulders for years. I hate the idea of her taking on even more.

The bit with Satoshi really, really creeped me out. There was a hint of some of this in, I think, volume 5, in the way Satoshi handled things when he witnessed a younger kid being bullied. He put a stop to it, yes, but the way he did it made me wonder just how scary he'd be once he was in charge of a classroom. This peek into his motives for becoming a teacher wasn't pretty, although thankfully he'd gotten to the point where he'd realized that too. Still, it seems kind of unfair that characters like Shoya, Shoko, and others had to have the most damaged and ugliest sides of themselves put on display for other characters to see, while Satoshi just gets to quietly reconsider his future with no one the wiser.

This volume finally gave readers a few pages from Shoko's POV, sort of. It was basically like getting to see the world the way she sees it, but with none of her thoughts to go with it. Which got me googling whether deaf people think in terms of an “inner voice,” which in turn made me think that Oima really could have done this part better. At some point, I need to see if I can find any reviews of this series written by deaf people.

A Silent Voice (manga, vol. 7) by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy – Shoya wakes up and is determined to truly listen to and look at people, even the ones who are cruel or who hate him. He's also determined to apologize to his friends. However, talking to people is harder than he expected, and he freaks out a little when he sees Tomohiro's movie and accidentally shouts out that it's awesome. The movie is unfortunately not well received by a judge at a public screening, but everyone gets over that. After that, it's time to think of a post-high school future. Shoko wants to go to Tokyo to study to be a hairdresser, but Shoya is scared about her going to a big city. Meanwhile, Shoya decides to be a hairdresser too, in order to eventually take over his mom's business.

I definitely have some issues with this series as a whole, but this was a pretty good ending. It was nice seeing Shoya and Shoko's mom bonding over drinks and stories about their husbands leaving them, and I really liked Tomohiro's film, or at least the way the group worked themselves and their experiences into it. It was a silent film so that everyone, including Shoko, could enjoy it on the same level, and it dealt with bullying.

I disliked the way so much of this series came to be more about Shoya than Shoko, but in a way this volume turned that around a bit. While there was a sense that Shoya had grown internally (even though he briefly took a few steps back when he tried to convince Shoko not to go to Tokyo), he hadn't thought about his future at all, and it showed. Him deciding to become a hairdresser didn't feel like something he really wanted to do, but rather like the only possible future he could think of for himself. On the plus side, he'd gotten to the point where this didn't drag him down or particularly bother him – it was just life, and he'd do the best with it that he could.

Shoko decision to become a hairdresser, on the other hand, had actual history. It turned out that that haircut that Shoya's mom gave her really made an impression on her and made her want to do that too. Which, now that I think about it, makes it even more painful that Shoya's mom couldn't bring herself to speak to Shoko while Shoya was in the hospital. Dang. Anyway, it felt like Shoko was moving forward with her life. If I remember correctly, there was also something about her finding a deaf hairdresser mentor in Tokyo.

The volume ended on a high note and felt pretty satisfying, even though, surprisingly, Shoko never did try to tell Shoya “I love you" again. Seriously, why oh why did that confession happen in volume 3?

I haven't been able to decide whether I'd recommend this series to others. On the one hand, I liked that the characters were complex and that there were very few black-and-white situations and relationships. It'd probably make for excellent discussions. On the other hand, so much of it was just horrible, painful, and exhausting, and the focus on Shoya over Shoko and almost complete lack of Shoko's POV makes me wonder about how good the deafness representation was.

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