East Asian schools are somewhat infamous for the teasing, ostracizing and sometimes inhuman oppression students can inflict on their fellow classmates. This is not to say that educational institutions across the world, from preschool to graduate, are exempt from bullying in some form or another. It’s a universal phenomenon that crops up wherever social order exists.
Those who are doing the bullying may not realize the extent of the damage they cause (“We’re just having fun”) or otherwise justify it through the abasement of their victims (“he’s so weird; she deserves it”).
Those at the receiving end often “demonize” their oppressors and curse the world and themselves.
Very rarely is a victim able to smile and take it quietly.
“Koe no Katachi” is a story that is unusually mature and respectful of reality. It acknowledges Guilt, not from simple misunderstandings and circumstances but from foolish, painful, irreversible mistakes that can’t be undone by a thousand apologies.
It explores painful knots that aren’t easy to untie, life as unpolished and horribly complicated. It acknowledges the reality of ugly faces, bloodshot eyes, and even pimples.
But it doesn’t stop there. Ishida Shouya, after deciding to commit suicide, reaches out to the one he made miserable and took so much away from... and finds that Nishimiya Shouko doesn’t forgive him. She denies there was anything to forgive in the first place. That deafness wasn’t the reason she was staying silent. It wasn’t because she was weak, but because she was strong.
An “I’m sorry,” doesn't go very far, but as for how far it goes, the guilty must cherish every millimeter, every little step toward making that huge mistake right again. New friends are met along the way, and old “friends” and former accomplices have to be faced once more.
Sometimes the worst thing that happens in stories like these is that the harshness of reality makes happiness look foolish. Sometimes the mangaka views tenderness as a fault to be overcome and the art and story reflect it, turning everyday faces into grotesque caricatures.
This story doesn’t make that mistake. More cynically-minded readers such as myself may be tempted to see such a hopeful new start as “unrealistic” and “soft.” Because my life didn’t give me that kind of second chance. I wasn’t even able to think to be kind to the those (********) that made my life miserable. And the ones I looked the other way from? That I bullied in return? There’s no way they’d be to me.
But stories are a wonderful place to find hope. One must remember that there if there is a shadow, there is a light behind it. Nishimiya Shouko makes Ishida Shouya start his life over again, and, unknowlingly, invites the reader to do the same... or, you know, just cry their eyes out. But maybe that's enough for now.