Shouya Ishida, a boy always looking for ways to beat boredom, ends up looking for it in the wrong place. Weirded out by his new classmate, a deaf transfer student named Shouko Nishimiya, he deems her as the target of his ostracizing and bullying. Day after day, Shouya picks on Shouko, unaware of the effects of his thoughtless actions. He finally understands the pain he has inflicted on her when one day, his bullying culminates in her leaving the school, and his classmates begin to shun and harass him every chance they get instead. Determined to right his wrongs, five years later, Shouya, now a third year high school loner, meets Shouko again. Thus begins the story of a young man's path to redemption.
Before Koe no Katachi was serialized, Kodansha's Legal Department had an extensive consultation with the Japanese Federation of the Deaf. The series won first place in the Male Readers category of the 2015 Kono Manga ga Sugoi! and the New Creator Prize in the 19th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. It was also nominated for the 8th Manga Taishou Award, where it ranked third place, and the 38th Kodansha Manga Award for best shounen category.
The series was published in English by Kodansha Comics USA as A Silent Voice from May 26, 2015 to May 31, 2016, and again in a complete box set on December 19, 2017. Crunchyroll simultaneously published the series. It was also published in Spanish by Milky Way Ediciones from February 24, 2015 to February 23, 2016 and also published in Indonesia by M&C!.
If you were a bully, would you try to change who you were? If you were a victim of bullying, would you forgive your assailant? Koe no Katachi (literally translated “The Shape of Voice” in English) by Ooima Yoshitoki details the story of Ishida Shouya, and his growth from a savage terror in elementary school, concerned only with satisfying his own need for stimulation, to a young man with concern and empathy for those around him.
We’re first introduced to Shouya as a child, performing a “test of courage” with his friends. You see, dear reader, Shouya is afraid of boredom. School is boring, stagnating is
boring, living is boring, so he has to do something to cut through that cloud of drivel. What does he do? He jumps off of bridges. He pours salt on slugs. He eggs his two best friends on into getting into the same sort of trouble that he does. Shouya is a problem child, and this is made very clear from the very beginning of Koe no Katachi. When he meets Nishimiya Shouko, a deaf girl who transfers into his elementary school, he does not treat her like a person – he treats her like a tool to alleviate his boredom. He yells in her ear, pours dirt on her, and tosses out her hearing aids, not thinking for a moment that she is just another human being. No, she’s an alien from the planet Nishimiya, and she doesn’t understand human speech.
Still interested in this manga? Hopefully, you are. The first part of Koe no Katachi is written so realistically that we can only feel hatred for Shouya as he goes through the motions of his existence. His behaviour toward Shouko and his sudden realization that what he has been doing is wrong is portrayed so masterfully as to be simply exceptional. This primarily unlikable child, Shouya, is the main character of this story, and this story is about his redemption as he transforms from a bully into a good human being. We watch him as he ruins his life, and we watch him try to build it back up again. His development is handled marvellously. His desire to better himself and help his mother (as well as Shouko, when he encounters her again later on) is commendable, and his ability to face the facts and stand his ground despite the shame and hatred he feels toward himself is nothing short of amazing.
However, since Shouya is the narrator of our story, he is also an unreliable one. We don’t learn much about Shouko due to his influence. Now, some people may complain that it is because Shouko is poorly developed as a character. I disagree. I think it is more because we see Shouko through Shouya’s eyes, and Shouya himself doesn’t know very much about her. The only thing he can see is her expressions and what she says through her hands. That is all we can use to infer how she feels and what she thinks. And, for the most part, she is very expressive. It isn’t too difficult to guess what her emotions are based on the way her eyes blaze or which way her mouth curves – up or down. What about the more intricate thought patterns, you ask? Well, that’s all up to our own interpretation, and Shouya’s, too, which is where we begin making mistakes, and where the majority of the problems our hero faces stems from.
We have the same amount of information about the other characters in the manga (of which there are numerous), but these characters speak with their voices, which is why we find them to be more readily understandable (and Shouya as well, by extension). None of the characters fall into regular tropes such as tsundere or yandere – although it could be argued that Ueno has traits of both – and they all feel like very real people. They are likable and dislikable just like regular old individuals. Some of the most important characters we come across are Ueno Naoka, Kawai Miki, and Sahara Miyoko, all of whom were Shouya’s classmates when he was a child.
Ueno, at first, seems like a fairly pleasant girl, until we learn how bratty and spoilt she is. She joins right in with bullying Shouko, and indeed doesn’t seem to grow up, as she carries her hatred with her all the way into high school. While she is definitely a dislikable character, she is a well-crafted one. She understands her flaws and she wants to change who she is, but she doesn’t know how to and isn’t sure how to move forward. Moreover, her own motivations trump any sort of misgivings she has for her own behaviour, and while she may do a lot of things wrong, she also does some things right. She is forefront, honest, and blunt. She speaks her mind, and in some ways is a true driving force for the plot later on.
Kawai may be kawaii in appearance, but personality-wise she is anything but. Giving off the façade of a well-to-do honour student, Kawai breezes through life by doing whatever best benefits her and her vision of the world. While not as influential a character as Ueno, she certainly has her part to play in Koe no Katachi, as you’ll see once you read it. Sahara is a shy bookworm sort of character who warms up to Shouko the best in elementary school, although her attempts at making contact are ruined by peer pressure and psychological abuse. She is one of the characters who truly tries to make Shouya portray how much he has changed as a person.
The rest of the haphazard group is composed of Nagatsuka Tomohiro, Mashiba Satoshi, and Nishimiya Yuzuru. Nagatsuka wants to become a movie director, and his attempts at making a movie are what draw the characters together in the first place. Mashiba is one of the people Nagatsuka drags in to his dream. Yuzuru, meanwhile, is Shouko’s younger sibling, and enjoys taking pictures.
No character roster of Koe no Katachi would be complete without naming Shouko and Shouya's mothers. Both are very well designed characters, Nishimiya especially, and they both showcase different forms of love to their children.
This manga is riddled with hints, foreshadowing, and seemingly insignificant or confusing phrases and expressions. Certain heart-tugging events that may leave you stunned and at a loss for words may seem very natural and even inevitable when you take into account the main character’s lack of understanding of the situation and the cryptic messages we were privy to earlier. The second part of the manga, detailing Shouya’s growth as a person while he tries to make amends to Shouko, mixes the genres of drama, psychology, and slice of life together in a wonderfully immersive tale. The third portion of the manga is just as well-written, if more drama-filled than the relatively tame second part. Nothing changes the fact that the author seems to have a very good understanding of the mind. While she certainly could have made this manga darker, it is very good for what it is, and realistic enough that it doesn’t need anything more depressing to be considered a masterpiece.
Ooima Yoshitoki is a very good artist. Koe no Katachi has stellar art for a manga published on a weekly basis, with very few inconsistencies and no deterioration in quality that I have been able to notice. Both characters and backgrounds are detailed, and each character has a distinctive design to make them stand out from the rest. Characters are actually fairly realistic looking apart from Nagatsuka. Screentones are used to their full potential and there are definitely no cuts and corners taken when it comes to the artwork.
What can I say about Koe no Katachi, in closing? It was certainly an amazing ride and I’m glad I came along for it. While it does have its issues here and there, one must take into account that this is the debut work of a very young author. It is truly an exceptional manga with the subject matter it tackles and the quality it is written, and I wholeheartedly label it a must-read for anyone interested in literature in general. Remember, kids, no matter what mistakes you’ve committed in the past, if you regret them and see them as they are, you’re a good person. Don’t be afraid of facing your fears, because that is only the first step of the journey you’re about to take. Growing up is a painful process – but we all have to do it. And at the end, you’ll reach a door. You know what you’ll find behind that door? Your future, yours to take into your own hands, as bright as you are able to make it. You can only help yourself as long as you are alive.
While reading this, I thought this would be the greatest thing since internet porn. You got a deaf girl who is getting bullied by some kids, you get a main character who is a bundle of development, and you get some good feels out of it. And then it ends. Abruptly like your mother slamming on the breaks suddenly without your seatbelt and you suddenly hit your head on the dashboard. Then you ask your mom "Why the hell did you do that?" And then she shrugs her shoulders.
Throughout the duration of this mango, it was a rollercoaster of kids trying to not get
eaten up by their past. Some force their way to overcome a self-induced obstacles haunting them. And that's about it really. The manga really just stagnated about half way through and never left that point. Nothing happened between the middle and the end before succumbing to a stop. Some characters don't get their limelight, some questions are left unanswered, and the feeling that it could have been so much more. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Koe no Katachi sensitized me. It kept thinking about it during all the time I read it, and also after. I'll try to explain why this manga is so powerfull.
We follow Ishida Shouya in his quest for redemption, because in his childhood he bullied a deaf girl, Nishimiya Shouko, then being he himself bullied. Many would say he does not deserve forgiveness, but yet, he is trying his best to make up for the time he ruined for Shouko. This journey is just so relatable and credible because ,just like live itself, it has its ups and downs, its happy moments and its sad moments.
Shouya's quest we face lots of diferents aspects of life. In the bullying theme, we get to see how lack of communication and comprehension, how jealousy and how the pressure of the society takes people to bully someone. Also its after-affects are greatly depicted. We see how bullying takes people to hate themselves and to devalue their own lives, to the point they wish to die. Nevertheless, many other themes are aboarded: we get to understand what real friends are and what gives one right to be friends with people; we get to see and understand family relations, like the love and protection between siblings and parents.
During the manga, Shouya tries to compensate for the time he ruined for Shouko. One of the ways he does that is by reintroduncing her to some of their childhood classmates, who she could have been friends with, if not for his actions, and by trying to get her to participate in the his activities, like the production of a movie . This aspects is good because, besides making Shouya face his past problems, it introduces lots of great characters. The side characters are great because they are all very credible and realistic, because none of them is perfect, all of them have or had their problems and suffering. It just makes us want to read more because, in my case, it made me curious and made me want to understand that character and what happened to him/her. Ueno is a troubled girl who suffers because by some reasons she despises herself; Kawai is an egocentric and manipulative girl but who hard-worked to get in her position, and for that hates not being recognized; Matsuba is someone who suffered bullying in the past and now expresses his anger mostly through violence when facing some bully; Nagatsuka is someone who does not have friends and who compensates his loneliness by being extremely energetic; Sahara suffers because she abandoned Souko in the past and because she tries to become someone better, but feels she can’t do it; Shouko’s mother is someone who struggled to raise her daughters, who suffers with the fact Shouko is bullied and who just wishes her daughter were strong enough to take it, although being too ; Yuzuru loves her sister and for that she also suffers when she is bullied and comes to hate the ones who made her suffer. Also, it is interesting because, with the experiences these characters pass in the story, little by little, they become able to understand and to accept themselves, which is a very interesting event follow.
About the lead, Ishida Shouya,. He is also far from being a perfect person, and that’s what makes him a great character. He is in many times insecure, in many occasions he gives up on what he wants/should do because he is afraid, and besides being his intention, in many times he does not truly tries to understand Shouko, he just “ intended to hear her voice”, which is a a great metaphor. Nevertheless, he is great developed. As the side characters, he learns how to deal with his defects and weaknesses, then seeing there is no reason to wish to die and being able to enjoy life .
Now to the most interesting character of the manga: Nishimiya Shouko. First of all she is a very interesting character because, for being deaf, her ways of expression are her communication notebook, sign language and her expressions. And OH MY GOD!!! What expressions she has and how well they transmit her emotions, because they are perfectly chosen and drawn. I couldn’t help feeling happy when she was happy, sad and sorry when she was sad and, most of all, feeling her pain when we come to understand the suffering she bears. All of that resulting in results in lots of crying. Also, she is the element which brings to discussion the heaviest and the most serious themes. Through her we see the suffering that accompanies those who are bullied, and how it takes people see themselves as burdens, to hate themselves and to wish to die. That is very well done because it happens in progression. We understand her like Shouya does, little by little. First, besides being bullied, we see her as a very strong character. Then, by the time of the climax (and what climax, my heart stopped for a moment; it just has so many feelings in it) we see her as someone who suffered A LOT. But then again, with her experiences and her interactions with the other characters(mostly Shouya), she learns to value her life, to see herself as more than a burden, to find happiness and to enjoy life. That journey of hers, through pain, suffering and happiness, is just so emotional I couldn’t help feeling empathy for her and, through all of it, loving her.
Then, I am going to finish this review reinforcing the greatest aspects of the manga, because I am pretty sure I said it by some point. This manga gathers amazing characters with dense, significant and touching themes and messages resulting in a very emotional piece of art, the most emotional I have ever read, I dare say, because if there is one thing ever present in this work is feelings, they being happy or sad feelings, reading Koe no Katachi will make you feel. That is why I love it.
I discovered Koe no Katachi by chance, and within a day had the entire story finished. It’s an absorbing coming-of-age romance, heavy on the drama with hints of comedy to lighten the tone. It jointly focuses on bullying, the issues of friendship and chasing after one’s dreams. Koe no Katachi has a unique twist though: the main romance is between a deaf girl, Nishimiya Shouko, and the guy who bullied her in elementary school, Ishida Shouyo. An odd pairing it is indeed, but the relationship is driven by the insecurities and weaknesses of both characters, questioning the limits and potential of catharsis to heal what
was an utterly broken relationship.
One of Koe no Katachi’s most noticeable features is how human the characters seem. The manga, although having started publishing in 2013, relies very little on the tropes that seem to dominate manga and anime today. Although certain characters do appear to fulfil popular archetypes (for example, Ueno Naoka, the classic childhood friend), it is not what defines their personality. It is instead a catalyst for the events that take place in the manga, and the actual plot and the development of the manga are by far more significant contributors to the personalities of the characters. Koe no Katachi displays its characters proudly, and rightly so, as they are a truly exemplary of what happens when a romance story can do things right.
Our main character, Ishida Shouyo, starts the manga as the cast’s most unsympathetic character, a shock for sure. His vile treatment of the eponymous ‘silent voice’ of the manga, Nishimiya Shouko, prompts her to leave the school, spawning hatred from the reader and even his group of friends, who have spent the years since Shouko left the school bullying him. The story of Koe no Katachi is therefore actually split into two: One the one hand, it is a story of Shouyo attempting to repair his ruined relationship with Shouyo, and on the other hand it is about Shouyo finding a place again in society. Through hanging out with Shouyo, Shouko too is helped to overcome her own disability. As many a romance story has done before it, Koe no Katachi portrays the lives of two high-school students who are able to create much a much happier place for themselves by working together and with their friends.
Shouko is the real heart and soul of the manga, her stubborn kindness extending even to the boy who made her elementary school life a living hell. Whether or not her character relies too heavily on this trait is tricky to say. The conclusion I came to was that, had I lived as harsh a life as hers, friendship is something I would crave more than anything else. Her pursuit of catharsis is not so surprising really taken in this light. I would add that it is Shouko’s openness and innocent friendliness that brings out the best in the other characters too.
While not featuring as heavily as Shouyo and Shouko, the support characters are certainly not underdeveloped. The focus is initially placed on the relationships of these characters with Shouya, and how he helps them to get to know Shouka better. By the midpoint of the story though, these characters act independently, contributing heavily to the direction of the manga, in particular the ‘Let’s make a movie!’ storyline that occupies a significant portion of the overall manga. At certain points even, the story focuses entirely on these side characters and their relationships with each other, such that, when Shouya’s and Shouka’s relationship returns to the forefront, the reader notices a much warmer ‘group’ feeling, and more developed relationships between all the characters.
Although the story is not a long one, spanning only 65 volumes, there is a remarkable breadth in the topics Koe no Katachi manages to cover. Early in the story, Shouya nearly resorts to suicide before meeting Shouka, and death is a persistent theme in the manga – Shouka’s younger sister Yuzuru has an uncomfortable obsession with the topic even, going so far as to nearly only take pictures of the dead animals she finds. Being set in a high-school, also addressed are common issues such as the future plans and careers of the cast, and what it means to be ‘normal’. However, Shouko’s deafness really helps set this apart from the way these topics are typically dealt with in the high-school genre. With her disability, the topic of her future is a very important, as is how she is considered an outsider by society. The author deals with the topics in a very capable manner that fully demonstrates his respect for Shouko, her disability, and having to lead her life at a constant disadvantage. Shouko’s deafness is obviously the major theme of the manga. Although I cannot speak for the accuracy of the sign language which is prominently featured in the manga, the author takes great pains not to make Shouko’s deafness a gimmick, but a fully realised and critical aspect of her interaction with the other characters, which anyone who has experience with a hearing impairment will definitely appreciate.
The manga’s art is both detailed and very lifelike, with not a disproportionate head or oversized pair of eyes to be found. This massively helps in reinforcing the drama of the story. One thing I would point is the mangaka’s ingenious visual representation for Shouya’s seclusion from his classmates. The faces of the people Shouya hates are all crossed out, and Shoya’s gradual development as a character is accompanied by the faces slowly being revealed providing a very effective visual means to portray the development of his relationships.
One other technique that popped out was the heavy use of honorifics to signal how the perception of relationships changes. Many of the characters distanced themselves by changing how they would refer to Shouya or Shouka, adding a –san for example. This blatant relationship development suits the manga style well, making situations with several characters and the numerous relationships involved that much easier to follow.
Koe no Katachi takes a very positive and optimistic outlook on handling a hardship which can never be truly overcome, only minimised. It’s a story that is wrought with drama but critically no melodrama. All the conflict is fundamentally human, and is dealt with as though it were a conflict taking place in real-life. I highly recommend Koe no Katachi to people looking for a good romance manga, and also to people looking for a very down to earth and personal story.