A Silent Voice

A Silent VoiceA Silent Voice speaks loudly about its themes and the struggles of its characters.

Manga Title: A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi)
Mangaka: Yoshitoki Oima
Genres: Drama, romance, slice-of-life
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard (some spoilers):
Shouya Ishida leaps from a bridge into the polluted water below, slams into concrete walls and jumps from high places to the ground with his other elementary school friends, all in an attempt the defeat the enemy he hates the most – boredom. Ishida’s friends stick with him despite the fact that they know they’ll eventually have to give it up – going along with their boredom-fearing buddy.

A Silent Voice

Ishida and friends

An unexpected event occurs one day that’ll change Ishida’s life forever; a transfer student comes to their school. The girl who transfers in, Shouko Nishimiya, has a hearing impediment. All his classmates, including Ishida himself, find it hard to comprehend the reality of this situation. Shouko can’t hear them properly and also speaks unclearly, surprising all the students as well as giving Ishida a sudden realization – the cure for his boredom has arrived.

A Silent Voice

Shouko Nishimiya

Starting one day, Ishida begins making fun of Shouko. First, shouting loudly behind her for all the class to see, he goes on to perform numerous actions that amount to outright bullying. All the while, their homeroom teacher takes an unwilling-to-get-involved stance, half-heartedly reprimanding Ishida for his actions. Other classmates join in too, finding fun in imitating Ishida’s actions at the expense of Shouko.

A Silent VoiceAll throughout the bullying, Shouko, while going through turmoil internally, never gets outright angry with Ishida – quite the opposite, she attempts to reach out to him on a few occasions and is continuously apologetic towards her classmates.

A Silent Voice

Reaching out

Everything eventually comes to a head after Ishida has broken many of Shouko‘s hearing aids. Her mother finally complains to the school and Ishida is singled out by the class for bullying. Despite the rest of the class’s involvement and his teacher’s negligence in dealing with the issue, Ishida is given the whole blame. On top of that, he becomes the target for abuse next, with Shouko eventually transferring out once again.

Ishida goes through a grueling time being on the other end of the stick – being the one bullied by his best friends for all his past actions. The bullying continues throughout the rest of his elementary school life and follows him to junior high, where the rumors persist and people ignore or gossip about him.

He decides to keep a low profile and not interact with others too much, literally marking everyone off as hopeless and himself as well.
Finally he comes to the conclusion that he’s going to end his life, after finding Shouko once more and apologizing to her. Little does he know that his meeting with Shouko will once again push his life in a different direction – one that he could never have imagined years before.

A Silent Voice

Meeting…

Pencil Sketch:
Ishida seems like a typical elementary student at first, constantly looking for fun and playing pranks with his friends. In part, his reasons for targeting Shouko for bullying were this very playful nature, and his attempts to escape boredom. At first he seems like the villain, the bully and someone you’d like to see get punished. For anyone who’s been the victim of bullying, Ishida would be an object of hate.

Essentially his character is purely that of a curious young boy who wasn’t specifically malicious, only trying to cure his boredom in a very incorrect manner. It’s arguable that the best thing that could have happened to him was being found out and Shouko’s transferring that made him become the object of everyone else’s scorn.

The tables are turned on him, and he can clearly see how Shouko must have felt in the same situation, and even comes to realize that when the bullying against him started, Shouko constantly attempted to reach out to him.

Ishida’s change of heart and understanding of his own errors is a rare one, something that perhaps people who’ve committed similar actions in their lives may never become aware of. This lends a deep respect for me towards his character, being able to accomplish something unique like that is no small feat, though admittedly it was only after a significant amount of hardship.

Shouko on the other hand, possibly having come from similar situations in the past, puts a brave face on as she faces the ridicule, impatience and eventual cruelty of her classmates. She always smiles, whatever comes her way, and has a gentle, compassionate personality. Though this may seem unrealistic, and arguably the situation she finds herself in would drive most people to rage or possibly depression, Shouko reveals how she deals with it in another way.

She blames herself for putting others out and troubling them. This guilt complex might have arisen from her condition, and partly because of her mother’s attitude and methods of dealing with Shouko’s problems.

Not much has been revealed about her mother’s background at the point I’m up to in the manga, except that she’s single and considers her daughter’s disability a burden that has brought her misery and anger. When Shouko eventually transfers her mother thinks it only natural, rather than dealing with the problem hands on.

Additionally, she’s harsh in her treatment of Shouko, also showing her own negligence in that she doesn’t even know how to sign in order to communicate properly with her daughter. Of course, raising a child with a disability would have inherent obstacles, however its plain to see that Shouko’s mother isn’t dealing with it in a way that’s helpful for her own emotional stability or Shouko’s.

Inking:
The art in A Silent Voice stands out in clarity with captivating character designs and detailed backgrounds. At first glance it may seem that the title is being preachy, trying to earn sympathy from its readers, but I’ve never found that.

A Silent Voice is a heart tugging, gentle and often humorous tale that goes into the sincere heart of remorse and how it can change not only one person, but their entire life. Ishida’s cruelty and vile behavior gets turned upon him, nearly crushing him. Yet through his remorse, he finds some light in his life – in the silent voice of the heart that Shouko speaks to him with.

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Within You and Without You – Inside Mari

mariThe most recent work by Shuzo Oshimi, the mangaka behind The Flowers of Evil, is another psychologically delving title that takes us deep into the thoughts of its main character – Mari.

Manga Title: Inside Mari (Boku wa Mari no Naka)
Mangaka: Shuzo Oshimi
Genres: Psychological, drama, gender bender, mystery
Demographic: Seinen

The Storyboard:
Isao Komori, a college student who’s become a reclusive hikikomori, spends day after day playing away his time with games, erotic manga and visiting a local convenience store every night to get a glimpse of his ‘angel’.

Inside Mari

Isao Komori

His angel is none other than Mari Yoshizaki, a teenage high school girl – someone who looks for all intents and purposes like a model, moral student.

Usually Isao follows her every night for a short while before returning home, however one night she inexplicably turns around, staring him right in the eyes. The next morning Isao wakes up to find that he’s inside Mari – he’s taken over her body.

Inside Mari

Mari Yoshizaki

Spending an embarrassing day at school as Mari, he finds it difficult to keep up the pretense that he is a girl, whilst also trying not to do anything perverse to his angel despite being in her body. After searching for and finding his male self, he discovers that he is completely unaware of any change, going about life as usual.

Left with no other option, Isao temporarily has to be Mari, beginning a life whose social, physical and mental situations are completely unknown to him.

Inside Mari

A day in the life

Pencil Sketch:
Two main characters take up most of the stage, Mari (with Isao inside her) and Mari’s close but undisclosed friend Yori Kakiguchi. Isao is straightforwardly perverted, thus he’s immediately challenged to keep his hands to himself being inside Mari. Aside from that, not being a particularly social person in the first place, he’s constantly embarrassed and at a loss for what to do being surrounded by Mari’s peer group.

After being at school it becomes apparent that Mari truly is a hardworking student who is regarded highly by her peers. Trying to maintain the façade of being her increases in difficultly when going to the restroom, getting close to and even holding hands with other girls – Isao literally has a permanent blush on his face.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse, Mari’s clandestine friend Yori enters. It appears they’d maintained a secret friendship as Yori isn’t in with Mari’s current group and she doesn’t want to spoil her social life.

Inside Mari

Yori Kakiguchi

Yori usually observes Mari quite closely, so she notices something is amiss, and confronts her about it. Backed into a corner, Isao reveals that he’s inside Mari – a situation that Yori is both creeped out by and concerned about. She’s desperate to make sure that until they recover the original Mari, Isao not even look at Mari’s (his) body while changing, let alone do anything to disrupt the flow of her daily life.

It’s revealed that Yori’s relationship with Mari, though secret, is extremely close and she is quite fixated with her.

Being the shut-in that he is, Isao blunderingly tries to maintain face, navigating his way through the complex storm that is a high school girl in Japan’s community life. He winds up discovering that the life of a girl is not quite the dream-life he may once have imagined.

Inking:
What I expected from Inside Mari was perhaps another gender bender drawing on the amusing and awkward idea of someone being put into a person of the opposite sex’s body. Inside Mari is that, but so much more. Without singing Shuzo Oshimi’s praises too much, I have to say that he’s done it again; I haven’t read through a manga as fast as this in a while. Shuzo’s skill at portraying the clumsy awkwardness of youth and relationships between the sexes, the mental turmoil of puberty, the purity as well as the darkness of the mind as it grows into maturity – is amazingly done.

Like in The Flowers of Evil, he’s captured a tension and a need-to-know that hooked me right from the start. He’s also very honest in his portrayal, Inside Mari doesn’t gloss over the brooding, angst and pain that goes with coming of age and in peer groups, but displays it honestly. Once again he also shows the inner battle, confusion and occasional elation of his main character with ease.

Inside Mari is a journey into the psyche of sexuality, growing, and coming to terms with oneself and others. Family issues, interrelationship politics, and periods are just some of the difficulties that Isao has to face on his chaffing journey – inside Mari.

 

Battle Angel Alita

Battle Angel AlitaGunnm, or as its better known, Battle Angel Alita, is a gritty cyberpunk classic, exploring themes well-known to the genre while taking some to new heights.

Manga Title: Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita)
Mangaka: Yukito Kishiro
Genres: Cyberpunk, science-fiction, action
Demographic: Seinen
Status: Completed (9 volumes in the first series and 19 in the second)

The Storyboard:
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. Ido Daisuke is an inhabitant on the surface of Earth, living in a city called the Scrapyard – an area used to dump waste products by the dwellers of the mysterious Tiphares, a floating city that towers above.

battle angel alita

Tiphares

People living on the surface have to scrape a living together somehow, and most of them have cybernetically altered bodies to cope with the harsh life. Ido is a cyberphysician, but also hunts cyborg criminals for their bounties to make a living. One day he comes across the dismembered head and midriff of a young cyborg girl who’s been discarded in the scrapyard for unknown reasons.

battle angel alita

Alita’s head

Ido takes her home and begins the process of rebuilding her, using parts that he purchases with money from his bounties. Naming her Alita, Ido gradually assembles her robotic body – her brain still being intact – and she has regains full consciousness, except that she has no recollection of her former life. She decides she wants to aid Ido in his bounty hunting work.

battle angel alita

Alita’s 2nd body

The work is extremely dangerous, with Ido encountering powerful cyborgs such as Makaku, a deadly being with the bizarre habit of eating brains that acts as a kind of painkiller for him.

battle angel alita

Makaku

Despite Ido’s admonishments, Alita joins him, encountering other bizarre denizens of the city along the way. During her interactions with them we find that while her body is almost completely robot, her heart and feelings are still very much those of a young girl.

The city of Tiphares looms overhead constantly, a source of great desire and dreams, as well as persistent mystery. Especially in Alita’s case, she was found in junkyard of materials from Tiphares, hinting at an unknown history she may have and a link to the enigmatic place.

Pencil Sketch:
Ido acts as Alita’s guardian, essentially a father figure for her, and considers her to be his main source of happiness. He dotes on her a lot and initially tries to keep her from the bounty hunting business, wanting her to stay the ‘angel’ that he envisions her to be.

Ido Daisuke

Ido Daisuke

Alita however has her own opinions about what she wants to do. Although grateful and protective of Ido, she also is very opinionated and forges her own path, meeting other individuals and forming friendships along the way.

For Alita, she has no memory of her former life, and is essentially bodiless, making her constantly question who she is. Ironically she’s able to get flashes of memory when she’s engaged in combat, making her want to train herself even harder to discover her identity. Her growth is well developed, starting from her initial naivety about the world, to a much greater understanding of its harshness and grim truths. Despite this she remains cheerful, showing us her youthful, feminine side whilst being a badass cyborg killer. The name ‘Battle Angel’ couldn’t be more apt to describe her.

She reveals herself to be compassionate, considerate and even falls in love with another boy character, Hugo, who appears in the second volume. One thing she seems unable to shake though, is the cruel life thrust upon her and all the dwellers on the surface, who continually live in the shadow of the city Tiphares.

In the first two volumes, minor side characters appear, notably Hugo. He grew up on the surface and had painful family experiences. He eventually resorts to a life of crime in order to obtain money and earn his way into Tiphares. He becomes a romantic interest for Alita, who loves his dreamy visions of escaping the junk-filled life they have and starting a new one on the city above.

battle angel alita

Alita and Hugo

Inking:
Among the more prominent titles of cyberpunk I’ve comes across in manga (like Ghost in the Shell and Blame!) Gunnm’s characters stand out as having more color and emotion. Even the cyborgs encountered by Alita in her battles are mean characters, with foul attitudes to boot.

The style of Gunnm is pretty much hard sci-fi in many ways; most of the gadgets presented in the manga get specific footnotes explaining their operation. Despite not being as dark as the above mentioned titles Gunnm is brutal and has its share of gore. Even though it was first published in 1990, there is such attention to detail that Gunnm looks cool even by today’s standards.

battle angel alita

Alita in action

I’d easily call Gunnm a cyberpunk epic, with mind-blowing art, innovative ideas for the time it was created, a varied cast of cyborg and human characters and not to mention the intriguing question of Alita’s origins and how she’ll trace her way to finding her true self.

Doodles:
Battle Angel Alita is one of the first real anime titles I saw. Back when the distributor Manga Entertainment was still producing titles a friend bought copies of Alita, Akira and Vampire Hunter D, which I loved on first watch. It’s great to return to this series that was one of the first that started me down the road into anime/manga land!

There Can Be Only One – Future Diary

Mirai Nikki

Future Diary is a gem among survival game titles I’ve encountered, keeping up a thick tension all the way and with a host of atypical characters.

Manga Title: Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
Mangaka: Sakae Esuno
Genres: Action, psychological thriller, supernatural
Demographic: Shounen

The Storyboard:
14 year old Yukiteru (Yuki) Amano has a hobby that at first seems rather ordinary – keeping a diary on his cellphone – but turns out to be something extraordinary. Introverted and anti-social, Yuki spends his free time at school keeping his diary and comes home to enter an imaginary world he thinks is of his own making, ruled by a god named Deus Ex Machina.

deus

Deus Ex Machina

One day Deus announces that Yuki will be taking part in a game to select the next god – a survival game – but the catch is that the game involves cell phones. Yuki’s cell phone (referred to as a diary) is now equipped with a certain special function – being able to predict with accuracy what will occur around him in the future, which appears as text on his phone’s screen. His diary doesn’t give any hints as to his own future though, thus it’s called the Random Diary.

Mirai Nikki

Yuki and the Random Diary

Initially shocked by the cell’s accuracy in prediction, Yuki attempts to continue with his daily school life, meeting another diary holder in the process – Yuno Gasai. Yuno is Yuki’s classmate, however Yuki knows little about her other than she’s beautiful and got great grades.

Mirai Nikki

Yuno Gasai

Shortly after announcing that she knows about Yuki’s diary, she shows him her own, which she refers to as the Yukiteru Diary. Her diary displays all of Yuki’s actions over a ten-minute course of time. Yuno is at first forceful, then very affectionate towards Yuki, saying she has a strong desire to protect him in this deadly survival game. Terrified, Yuki barely has time to think before discovering that they too are being pursued by a tall, masked man who’s out to kill them.

Mirai Nikki

The Third

The man is also a diary holder, the first of many Yuno and Yuki will encounter throughout the series. Yuki discovers there are nine in total, and that each of them is trying to kill off the other diary holders. Quite simply, if the other holder’s diary is destroyed they die at the same time, and Deus will proclaim the last survivor to be the new god.

The three assailants Yuki comes across in the first volume all have their own unique diaries too. They all just refer to each other by their numerical orders – Yuki being the first, Yuno the second. The third diary holder has a Murder Diary which can see the methods he uses to catch and kill his targets. Later on Yuki also encounters the ninth and the fourth as well.

While Yuki fights with his paranoia about Yuno, his fear of the other dairy holders and of dying in the fatal game, Yuno puts her life on the line to protect him again and again. She shows a disregard for her own safety and an addictive, protective love for Yuki verging on being psychotic.

The stakes are high and the clock is ticking; with enemies all around and unsure of who to trust, Yuki enters the survival game of the diary holders where the only person he can actually call an ally seems to be crazy herself.

Mirai Nikki

The diary users

Pencil Sketch:
Mirai Nikki is unusual for turning around common hero/ heroine tropes. The ‘hero’ Yuki is anything but – he gives up quickly, whimpers a lot and lets Yuno fight most of his battles for him. Even though he’s aware of his own pitifulness, he still feels like he’s in a corner. In a sense he’s relatable, it’s far easier to assume that you’ll act bravely and protect everyone under difficult circumstances, but a more likely truth is most people would be scared and start panicking.

Mirai Nikki

Common expressions for Yuki

To his credit, Yuki does try to break through his fears again and again, though mostly when he’s pushed into near death situations.

I noticed a slight difference between the manga and the anime in that the manga has some inner monologue from Yuno’s perspective.  This has the effect of making Yuno seem less sinister than she did in the anime. She’s really proactive, taking the reins to fight back against the other diary holders when Yuki goes weak at the knees. Aware of all his actions; Yuno stalks him, keeping a close watch over him and displaying an inexplicable love for him that remains one of the mysteries of the series to be explained later.

Yuno’s personality has been classified as ‘yandere’ in anime/manga jargon, the best suitable words I can find to describe her myself is ‘sadistically clingy’. The enigma of Yuno is a special one as her endearing qualities are almost on a par with her insane ones – thus creating a sort of ‘dark heroine’ quality about her that has endeared her to a lot of fans. Check out most image posts on Mirai Nikki and for sure you won’t be seeing Yuki.

Mirai Nikki

A yandere in love

Other diary holders are introduced in the first volume and of course more later on, but one thing is for sure – not one is ordinary and almost all have the intention of being god themselves.

The mascot of Mirai Nikki, Muru Muru, doesn’t appear a lot in the first volume but I wanted to mention her as well. She Deus’s servant, initially playing the role of an indifferent observer, however she takes a far more active role later on in the story. She provides a bit of comic relief in an otherwise pretty serious title.

Mirai Nikki

Muru Muru brings a bit of humor

Inking:
Quite a few titles involving cell phones used in survival games came out before and after Mirai Nikki, but among them I’d have to say it’s one of the best. The pacing is excellently done, setting up a tense, fast feeling that doesn’t stop each chapter.

Mirai Nikki’s characters all display manic emotions, from extreme anger and fear to literally psychotic meltdowns – all drawn amazingly by Sakae Esuno. Though not being particularly endearing, the characters are extremely interesting and convention challenging. Topped off with a creative spin on the powers of cell phones and the mysterious game set up by Deus ex Machina – Mirai Nikki is undeniably a gripping, inventive page turner.

If I have any beef at all about the manga it would be a few holes in the logic of cell phones’ usage, but as usual with such titles, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. The important thing is that I didn’t feel the amount required was significant enough to detract from the enjoyment of the series.

Doodles:
I decided to pick up the manga after reading Albert Nakano’s post on the anime (check out his article on it here (https://plus.google.com/117819984822914128077/posts/J7PKBDhqheb). I saw the anime when it aired between 2011- 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed it; revisiting the manga now is no less enjoyable than when I watched it.