Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Silent Voice

by Yoshitoki Ooima

Story summary: From the description of the first volume on Goodreads:
"Shoya is a bully. When Shoko, a girl who can’t hear, enters his elementary school class, she becomes their favorite target, and Shoya and his friends goad each other into devising new tortures for her. But the children’s cruelty goes too far. Shoko is forced to leave the school, and Shoya ends up shouldering all the blame. Six years later, the two meet again. Can Shoya make up for his past mistakes, or is it too late?"

Why You Will Like This Series:
  • Complex people and relationships--messy like real life.
  • Slow growth in friendship, self-respect, courage, and living.
  • The realistic emotions the art managed to portray staggered me sometimes.
  • The romance was pretty much the cutest thing ever, though not as important as even I wanted it to be.
  • With only seven volumes, it's a nice and short and manageable read, and didn't continue past it's expiry date (unlike many series).

And Why You Might Not:
  • This IS manga. A lot of people I know find it difficult enough to read normal graphic novels, let alone ones structured backwards to match the original language's format.
  • I could see this being triggering to people who've struggled with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and the like.
  • The ending is more open-ended than many people liked. (Not totally sure what I think of it myself.)

Thoughts: This is a beautiful, beautiful series and I love it. Perhaps I am overestimating its quality because I'm used to the standard shonen manga (which this decidedly isn't). But whatever the reason, it will remain a perfect little gem of a series in my mind.

I discussed recently in my review of Kingdom of Summer about how very few books make me cry. Yet this series did. But instead of being a story of lost possibilities, like Kingdom of Summer, this was a story about the growth of possibility and of slow healing and forgiveness. Nothing against the bittersweetness of KoS, which I loved, but sometimes hope and light is even better.

And as I said in the KoS review, if a book moves me enough to make me cry, it pretty much automatically goes on the favourites list. But there was more to this than just its moving themes. In manga, there are only really two things that matter to me: artwork and character development, and here both were excellent.

The artwork was not gorgeous or mind-blowing or anything, but it was original, and conveyed so much about how the characters were feeling. Being story about deafness, it fits that the art is more communicative in some ways than the dialogue. And this is also what I meant by "realism" in the bullet point section above. So much of what the art expresses I've felt myself, but not seen anywhere else. Take the example below (not necessarily the best example, but one I could find online):

I love the faces X'ed out. They don't signify people he hates, or that he's crossing off as not worth it--it's a little more subtle than that. Being not very good at figuring out my own emotions, I can't explain it verbally very well. But I have felt it, when I was depressed.

The characters seemed much more like real people than the other manga I've read and loved (and to me, even more than many stories in general). Their lives were messy. Sometimes they had to learn the same lessons over and over again. Sometimes they never changed, despite many chances. Sometimes they changed in an unexpectedly dramatic fashion.
Also one was Yuzuru Nishimiya and one was Shōya Ishida--two new favourite characters that will definitely show up in my RED Book Awards for this year.

Grade: 5 stars

If You Like This, You Might Also Like:
  • I wish I had some recommendation relating to young people and mental health and disabilities and emotional healing, but I don't. That sort of thing is unlikely to show up in scifi and fantasy much, which is what I primarily read. Maybe I'll think of something later and come back and edit this...
  • Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa: It's nothing at all alike in terms of tone or characters, but it's probably my favourite manga series ever. For other favourite series, try Death Note and A Bride's Story (the first is pretty dark and the latter has definitively adult content, just to warn you).

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