Some stories are happy, some stories are sad, but a sad story does not always have to be a sad story. Yoshitoki Ōima’s A Silent Voice is one of those kinds of stories. A Silent Voice is a story about forgiveness, not just forgiving others, but forgiving yourself for the mistakes you have made in the past. Over the course of reading this series, you will cry, you will laugh, and you will hopefully gain a new perspective on some aspects of life. This manga began as a one-shot and then was made into a full series.
A one-shot is like a short story or film, one chapter in total and does not extend after that. The point of a one-shot is similar to a short film – to get an author’s or artist’s name out there – and also to pitch ideas, kind of like a TV pilot. Many current and former manga series have started from a one-shot. A Silent Voice’s one-shot was so acclaimed that it spawned the manga series from Kodansha.
The series protagonist is a young man by the name of Ishida Shōya. The series begins with Ishida in elementary school, he is an energetic child to say the least. He has no sense of control or limit to what he should do. He constantly tries to find new ways to entertain himself. In short, he’s a brat, a huge brat. Ishida is popular at his school, and tends to be the center or attention. A new girl transfers into his class one day, Shōko Nishimiya. Nishimya is different from the others in her class, as she is deaf and can only communicate through sign language. Ishida, and the rest of the class, begin to bully Nishimiya. Vandalizing her desk, stealing her shoes, and throwing her notebook into a pond outside the school. Ishida even repeatedly rips out and destroys the hearing aids that Nishimiya has in her ears. Ishida is horrid to Nishimiya – however it all comes to a head when Nishimiya’s mother complains to the school. Ishida is given all the blame by the class and the school as the only one to be bullying Nishimiya, and his mother is forced to pay back the Nishimiya’s for all of the hearing aids Ishida destroyed. From this point on, Ishida becomes the focus of torment for the class. His desk is vandalized, his “friends” now beat him up after school, and he is ostracized by the entire class. He is treated exactly the same way as he treated Nishimiya from that point onwards, culminating in a fist fight between Nishimiya and him. After that Nishimiya transfers, and Ishida realizes that not only was he horrid to her, but that even through all of that she was only being nice to him.
But this is just the prologue – the story begins with Ishida in high school. We find that he has steadily been working at part time jobs for the past few years to earn back the money his mother had to pay to Nishimiya’s family. His plan is simple, he will pay back his mother, he will seek forgiveness from Nishimiya, and then he will kill himself. Ishida cannot forgive himself for what he did to Nishimiya. Further than that, Ishida does not believe he has the right to be happy, or to have friends because of what he did. After leaving elementary school, Ishida was still bullied and ostracized – to the point where he no longer trusts or likes other people. From his point of view, everyone has a large X over their face. He lets no one in, as he does not believe that they would even want him there. Ishida speaks with Nishimiya – in the intervening years he learned sign language so he could apologize to her – and she forgives him.
However, the story does not end there as Ishida does not kill himself. He realizes that he wants to see Nishimiya more, he wants to be closer to others again – he wants to have friends. From this point on the story traces Ishida’s quest for forgiveness – not from Nishimiya, but from himself. He makes friends, he encounters old ones, he mends his past in a way, but not completely. That’s the message of A silent voice, you can’t change the past, you can only shape the future. Ishida’s quest is to learn that he does not need to punish himself for his past – he has punished himself, for years.
This is not a happy story, it’s not completely a sad story either. It is a tale about forgiveness and acceptance. Acceptance of others, acceptance of what you can’t change, and acceptance of who you really are, and who you can aspire to be. There’s a lot of heart in this story, you will laugh, and you will cry. Go read it.