“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Speaking as someone with a disability and who got picked on a bit, this is a manga that I could somewhat identify with. However, whereas I’m on the autistic spectrum, this manga covers the subject of deafness.
Shoya Ishida is a troublesome schoolboy who considers his constant mission in life is to fight a war against boredom. This normally takes the form of playing video games, socialising with friends, and doing stupid stunts like jumping off high bridges. Things start to become more boring as his friends want to try different things and generally grow up.
However, things suddenly change when a new transfer student joins the class. The pupil is a girl called Shoko Nishimiya, who is deaf and communicates with a notepad. Shoya decides to find out more about what he sees as an alien creature, doing all sorts of things such as shouting at her through a rolled-up book, throwing her notepad into a pond, stealing her hearing aids, and getting everyone in the class to abuse her due to her inability to do things such as sing in the class choir. To put it another way, Shoya and the rest of the class end up bullying Shoko.
When the class is confronted by their teacher and headmaster, it is Shoya who get the blame for everything, with the rest of the class also pinpointing him and overlooking their own involvement in the bullying. Following this humiliation, it is Shoya himself who ends up the victim of bullying and becoming isolated, with Shoko eventually transferring to a different school. His teacher also refuses to believe he is being bullied, what with Shoya having cried wolf so many times. Six years later, Shoya is still a victim of his crimes, now isolated at school, but he then discovers that at his school one of the fellow pupils is Shoko. Whether he can repair the damage he has committed in the past is another matter.
A Silent Voice is a very enjoyable read because of what the creator Yoshitoki Oima makes the reader feel. This is the story about a boy who bullies a girl because of her disability. He is a bad guy. But then you read about what happens to him because of what he has done; he ends up the victim, and you end up feeling sorry of the bully. Many great works are capable of doing this: it would be easy to portray Shoya as just an irritating guy for people to hate, but to turn it around so that you feel sorry for him is true class.
It strangely puts me in mind of another manga which seems poles apart from A Silent Voice: Death Note. This may shock some readers, but in Death Note the central character of Light Yagami is on the surface a horrible person: he is a mass-murdering, draconian monster with a god complex, and yet some people really like the character because at heart he does have a somewhat noble-but-misguided idea of trying to make the world better (by killing anyone he even suspects is bad).
Similarly Shoya Ishida looks like a horrid character: he is a bully, victimising a disabled person, and gets everyone in his class to join in this victimisation, but then the tables are turned and he ends up the victim. The character ends up serving a six-year-long penance for what he has done, and now he has the chance to redeem himself.
A Silent Voice is a manga that makes you want to find out what happens next. It is a really great title. An anime film version of the series is in the works.