A bunch of noise about A Silent Voice – Featuring SWRUManga

Our thoughts from the (last) monthly Mangaforum 

A bunch of noise about A Silent Voice

For our end of July review, we were honored to welcome the esteemed manga aficionados of SWRU-Chan and SWRU-kun from SWRUManga Podcast. (click here for their wordpress blog, which we follow too!)

The SWRU’s had suggested the amazing and highly thought-provoking, A Silent Voice, written and illustrated by Yoshitoki Ōima. And, we pretty much smashed through it like master Roshi in a girls dressing room, completing all 7 volumes in under a (or just over) month – a personal best for me, Lara the slow.

We can’t pretend we didn’t have some SIGNIFICANT technical issues but, after a month of praying to The Upload Gods, and Lex working her producer arse off, we finally managed to revive and the post the recording – Which is great news because we had some great chat!

To summarize the story – Its a slice of live revolving around a young guy – Shoya Ishida, who starts as a junior school, first class arsehole kid, bullying the deaf girl in his class, Nishimiya, to the point at which she needs to transfer out. He’s subsequently isolated for being such an arsehole, contemplates on committing suicide, but then is unexpectedly reunited with Nishimiya. Realizing that they are both suffering due to his actions in the past, Shoya sets out on a path of redemption by trying to reconnect Nishimiya with their old classmates.

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Before we get in to it, here’s what we all thought in a nutshell;

  • Fucking hell; For a slice of life this is unexpectedly heavy going
    • SWRU-Chan; Manga is the better than the movie but She has “many, Many, MANY issues with the manga.
    • SWRU-kun; Some STRONG objections to the character portrayal, and maybe a few objectionable plot aspects but over all good intent (…? we’re note sure)
      • Not everyone thought it was so heavy though….These guys also saw the movie, and were SHOCKED by the reaction of the audience…Bullying kids is comedy..?
    • Lexa; Enjoyed it a lot, but calling it both “very addictive” although hard to read, especially regarding the violent fight scenes (yup) and tortured nature of the characters
    • Lara; Actions speak louder than works – I thought it was worth finishing!
  • This is going to be a bit of a long review; there is a lot to say.

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What we liked

I think it’s safe to say, that although it isn’t an “easy read”, it’s complex and engaging in all the right ways, making, what is essentially a story about kids, into a very mature story over all.

I personally enjoy a book that plays with the reader’s expectations. Why SHOULD everything be a happy, moral, story arc to ending? Maybe the satisfying ending is not always in line with the story in the most accurate way.

The characters are very strong and multi-faceted – although not all easy to like (see What We Sisliked below). Shoya’s initial bullying is irrational, brash and unrelenting, but then his remorse, shame and anxiety about re-living it, is so well conveyed and dramatic; it’s hard to read because it’s so raw.

And, for me, the other characters represent different aspects of being that young tween-to-teen age, all confusing elements of irrational thoughts and feelings, constructed to make you feel uneasy.

Nishimiya, the deaf girl, is portrayed as an infuriatingly passive, submissive character, which comes from a crippling self-depreciation, where she thinks she is to blame for the anger around her, consistently apologizing even when it’s her having her head kicked in… But actually, when you think about it, for a kid who can’t hear and can’t understand rage even when stood within it, perhaps this is a close representation to a kids feelings in reality…?

I was originally concerned about whether this could be conceived of as offensive at all, in anyway,  having such a submissive ‘weak’ deaf character; Or whether the hearing impaired would think that this was a pity-parade and just not true to their experience. However I later learned that, the series was reviewed and supported by the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, which I feel is impressive and legitimizes some of the aspects.

 

The Artwork also deserves a nod; There are a lot of artistic techniques that really help conveythe character’s feelings of rejection and tortured social-anxiety, namely Shoya’s crosses over faces – making his rejection of the world super visual; But also Nishimaya’s deafness too – Not to mention the sign language! 
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Lastly, its hard not to give credit to a manga author that is highlighting such a taboo theme of bullying and disability. I like that there is manga out there like this.

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What we disliked.

Although we all agreed its an interesting series, The SWRU’s accurately pointed out some stark oversights in the manga – The biggest being (SPOILER), If a child tries to commit suicide, they don’t typically just return to their families like nothing happened.

Lexa even raised the point that the suicide could be perceived as simply a plot device; An empty event to hyperbolic-ly develop the story, without actually impacting the character development at all. If fact, things return to normal.

Also, there are genuinely dis-likable characters which makes it unpleasant to read at points. I felt the 2 other prominent female characters were especially difficult.

  • Ueno, a former bully like Shoya but who doesn’t find her moral compass, still holds an irrational a grudge against Nishimiya, using bullying to mask her feelings of jealously towards Nishimiya being a threat for Shoya’s attention, and attention in general;
  • And then there’s Kawai, their oblivious, narcissistic former class president, enjoying the chance to be one of a crowd of elites/bullies;

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The more likable characters are trod upon by the dominate cool/bitch kids; For example Sahara, a kind girl who was the only one attempting to befriend Nishimiya years before, but is actually also passive and tormented by Ueno. And Nagatsuka, a similarly friendless fat boy, who clings to Shoya for validation and swollen loyalty. The dynamics between the characters are heartrendingly painful to witness the kind of cruel power play’s…at least perhaps from the adult, empathetic perspective.

So, while from one perspective, A Silent Voice could be seen as hyper-aware and ground breaking for highlighting abuse in disability, teaching kids the moral high-ground; it’s still quite superficial. Plus there is no justice for Nishimiya; she is shat on and talked about rather than included which is pretty unsatisfying… but then I go back to my very first point,  Why SHOULD everything be a happy, neat, “lesson learning journey” story arc? That ain’t real life bro.

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Ok, that’s enough mind dribble.

We’re doing another panel Talk!!!

Yup this time at the very welcoming ALCON fes (http://www.alcon.org.uk/) in Leicester on the 2nd Sept, where we’ll be chatting, recording and uploading our thoughts on Our August read, Death Note by by Tsugumi Ohba and by Takeshi Obata, PLUS perhaps the anime AND the new Netflix feature film – fuck that’s going to be some good chat.

Don’t forget to follow us on twitter and Youtube too, where we’ll posting our thoughts and faces- https://twitter.com/themangaforum.

As always, We look forward to hearing what you think so comment below!

Lara and Lexa

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