A Silent Voice vol. 1 – Yoshitoki Oima

3 out of 5

Maybe I’m reading some other manga than the one the cover blurbs are calling ‘powerful’ and ‘heartwarming,’ or maybe those qualities come into play after this volume, but for right now, A Silent Voice’s first tankobon is a meet cute that seems to glorify extreme negging – i.e. bullying – as a way to meet and find your shallow and abusive partner of choice.

The deaf (or hard of hearing) Shoko is the new girl in class; and class bad boy Shoya – functioning with a general eff-off attitude in which he kicks the world into a shape he understands – takes it upon himself to right the “wrong” of having this problematic girl in class (she needs all the lessons written down for her; she sings off-tune in choir; etc.) by teasing her, relentlessly. And the rest of the class picks up on that trend.

Now, yes, there’s room for this to develop, and I’ll agree that the surface and beneath-the-surface ignorances Oima codes into the art and text regarding how people interact with Shoko (both her teasing classmates, and the teachers that seem too willing to turn a blind eye to that) are, indeed, powerful. Showing this from Shoya’s perspective is also wise, as it gives us the steps to how these things can occur, where Shoya’s logic twists his youthful desire to have a good time into crueler and crueler acts. The bulk of the story takes us through the two meeting, and the escalations that lead to Shoka being pulled out of class, and this is all incredibly well done – Oima’s expressive, emotive characterizations and detailed world really bring the differing POVs to life, and make Shoya’s actions feel damningly “innocent.”

The way Shoya’s friends and classmates subsequently turn on him after Shoko leaves (everyone now essentially bullying him) is a little too shallowly effected to hit as hard, but it’s still an interesting turn of events, and is montaged well to advance the timeline through the school years.

But some of the details do feel off – like Oima doesn’t dig deep enough into some interactions to clarify if the lack of commentary on them is commentary – and that informs the framing elements where it seems like this is all a meet-cute, and bullying is okay as long as it’s between a cute boy and cute girl who are destined to be together. To be transparent, I’m trying to read this on its own terms, but I have come into this via To Your Eternity, and unfortunately, the creator commits some similar sins there, where some bad takes are tossed in and “justified” because of lovey-dovey stuff. A Silent Voice is only suggestive of that at this point, and has a very strong central section to sweep us up in in the meantime, so I am encouraged to see how things evolve from here, hoping that they do.