5 out of 5
I see. While I’m not yet sure if I’ll agree with the path we’ve taken to get here, volume 5 of A Silent Voice is where Oima finally ratchets up the complexities in the dynamic between grade-school bully Shoya and his object-of-torment at the time, the deaf Shoko – how that experience (and those related to it) have shaped their perceptions of themselves and others in the intervening years, now that they’ve met up once again. Somewhat hesitantly gathering a new group of friends around him, spurred on by closest associate Tomohiro’s desire to make a movie altogether, Oima’s approach on this stuff has mostly felt a little shallow, narrowing characters down to single personality traits – fine in a shonen manga, but less fine when dealing with emotionally weighty subject matter – or covering for questionable behaviors with “as long as your intentions are good, it’s okay!” simplicity. Shoya’s / Shoka’s odd relationship has been being played off as something of a meet cute; Shoya’s occasional internal struggles the only signs of what we get back around to here: whether or not we really change; whether or not damage is reversible.
The vehicle of the movie-making is rather genius: Tomohiro’s frustrations at losing control over his production to others seems like another aside, until it’s used as a catalyst for Shoya to pause and question his motivations in this enterprise, reflecting some of the selfishness that defined his youth. His growingly cavalier relationship with Tomohiro follows into the way he allows his discomfort to drive how he respond to Satoshi, who starts mentioning that he, himself was bullied as a youth, and hates bullies.
In other words, instead of allowing Shoya to come across as something of a likable narrator, recovering from past offenses, Oima pushes him toward a much more realistic moral grey, and then over that line – self-protective; reactive. Much more human traits. Following on that, he begins to isolate and almost forcibly ignore others besides Shoko, again mirroring his past behaviors to an extent, just with a more “positive” veneer – something many of us are guilty of. What really pushes this volume into upper tier territory, though, is the way it finally justifies not letting us inside Shoko’s world as of yet, relegating her to a seemingly simplistic, happy-go-lucky type – the final sequences have an ultimate effect for just that reason: the story’s “ignorance” of Shoko’s inner thoughts matches Shoya’s own perceptions of her.
Now, yes, the next volumes will confirm how purposeful this all is, and whether or not some of the preceding story beats were the best way for teeing this up, but this single volume is perfection: a mature, daring, sobering study of interrelationships based on a lack of communication, and the way we’re all too capable of fooling ourselves.