This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
It’s not often that comics elicit the whiplash of emotions that A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi in Japanese) does, but it makes it look so easy. Never before has a manga angered and enticed me all at once. It’s fair to say that A Silent Voice is the most hate I’ve ever felt for a manga that I hold so much love for.
A Silent Voice centers around two kids: the bully, Shoya Ishida, and the target for Shoya, Shoko Nishimiya, who is also deaf. Shoko transfers into Shoya’s elementary school class and is the subject of bullying until she is ultimately forced to transfer. No one tells these kids they were wrong. No one tells the teachers they should stop the kids. No one tells Shoko’s mom to stand up for her daughter more than she does. Everyone participating, sans Shoko, gets to have their “fun” and every onlooker gets to gawk at the “kids being kids” because they don’t understand, or don’t care to understand, disabilities.
The greatest and the saddest thing about this is that it is a perfect representation of what is actually happening within some school systems. I was fortunately in a school system that cared about special ed and I never had to know the disregard teachers displayed in this comic. But I have more than experienced the ignorance and disrespect that my peers, and yeah even me, have displayed toward the special ed. But it’s a learning process—it is always a learning process—and A Silent Voice even gives us that.
When you see a teacher in A Silent Voice—a teacher that is here to teach “NORMAL” kids, not ones with disabilities—you wonder why they even became a teacher in the first place. There’s a moment when the teacher just tells Shoko to sit down and just listen because she’s making his job harder. Because she wants to try and answer a question, but she can’t verbalize it perfectly or has to write it down first. And that’s not fast enough. When a teacher steps up to defend Shoko—to have the gall to suggest they take time out of their school day to learn sign language—she’s shot down because she doesn’t know how to do it herself. Anything that inconveniences the few for the sake of the many isn’t worth it.
The moment someone above Shoko’s teacher comes forward, he changes his tune. He stops laughing at Shoya’s jokes, which are at the expense of Shoko, and calls him out directly in front of the principal. Because all he cares about is his reputation. Because he’s here to teach the normal kids.
A Silent Voice doesn’t pull any punches. It doesn’t let us think for a moment—at least during her elementary school days—that Shoko Nishimiya is worth anything. She doesn’t deserve to learn, she doesn’t deserve to be loved, and she doesn’t deserve to LIVE. Through her school life is one thing, but giving her hardship at home hurts that much more. Under the guise of what is seemingly parental obligation, Shoko’s mom takes care of her. From my reading, I’m not sure if she even knows sign language. And she’s had enough of trying to deal with a disabled kid. She even shows apathy toward her other daughter, with whom nothing is wrong.
A Silent Voice is good because it gets everything wrong about society’s perception of people who are different from us so right. A Silent Voice is great because it understands that even the most ignorant people can be swayed to change. Because everyone regrets something they did as a kid or even yesterday. You treated their siblings wrong or acted out a little too much or bullied a deaf girl who, for a portion of it I’m sure, had no idea what was happening to her. And beyond the realism of bullying, there is the realism of regret that the man who bullied faces every day of his life. Shoya cares now, and that’s not something that happens to all bullies as they age.