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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Warm Things – Natsume’s Book of Friends

Natsume Yuujinchou

“We all like hearts that seek something dear – and burn with life.”

Manga Title: Natsume Yuujinchou
Mangaka: Yuki Midorikawa
Genres: Drama, Supernatural
Demographic: Shojo

Storyboard:
Natsume Takashi is a teenager who can see ghosts. His grandmother could also see ghosts and was notorious for beating them in competitions and making them subject to her will. After defeating any ghost, she’d write its name in her ‘Book of Friends’ so that she could call on them to do her bidding. If a ghost from the book was called, it would immediately have to do what Natsume’s grandma, Reiko, wished.

After Reiko passed away, Natsume inherited the book. Not knowing what it was for, the book remained unopened for many years.

Natsume goes through a semblance of a normal life with his caregivers, trying to avoid giving his unique abilities away. One day he’s chased by a ghost and runs across another spirit who’s trapped inside a shrine. Accidentally freeing the spirit, which is shaped like a maneki neko (lucky cat), it informs him that the ghosts are chasing him as they hate Reiko and want to get their hands on the Book of Friends.

It turns out that the cat, called Madara at first (later to be named Nyanko-sensei by Natsume), also wants the book, but to use it for his own ends. Natsume strikes a deal with him, agreeing that he’ll give Madara custody of the book should anything happen to him – on condition that Nyanko-sensei helps him with his dilemma.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Natsume and Nyanko-sensei

Nyanko-sensei explains that many of the spirits wish to be released from their binding in the book and shows Natsume how to return the names to the ghosts. First visualizing them, the Book of Friends will then turn to the appropriate page with the spirit’s name. After that, Natsume needs to place the paper with the name in his mouth and blow out. The spirits are then freed from their binding.

natsume releasing (2)

Natsume releasing a spirit

What follows is the tale of Natsume and Nyanko-sensei as they encounter the numerous spirits that Reiko wrote in her Book, gradually freeing them one by one, whilst drawing other entities to them. Many of the ghosts often aren’t friendly, bearing grudges against Natsume’s grandmother whom he resembles strongly.

In the process of clearing the Book of Friends Natsume comes across a variety of spirits. From small temple gods to the spirit of a passed bird, each is different, bearing their own unique tales.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Natsume’s friends

Pencil Sketch:
The characters in Natsume’s Book of Friends are a varied bunch. Natsume himself is initially a naive student who doesn’t know anything about the spiritual world he’s capable of seeing. After meeting the conniving Madara he starts to have more of an insight into them, and here’s where the magic of Natsume’s Book of Friends lies.

The spirits he meets are very human. Though their appearances have mostly gone beyond normal, they all still have hearts and needs that Natsume sympathizes with, and as we come to discover, his late grandma did too. When freeing some spirits, Natsume gets a peek into their existences when they were alive and sees that each soul had a poignant story to tell. He begins to like the spirits and to see their similarities to living people, in the same way Reiko did.

Nyanko-sensei acts as Natsume’s character foil. Constantly reminding Natsume that he wants his book only, he appears to be happily waiting for Natsume to meet his demise. Nyanko-sensei inadvertently helps Natsume a lot to deal with the spirits he meets, suggesting that a friendship between the two is blooming unbeknownst to them.

Natsume Yuujinchou

Nyanko-sensei’s true form

Towards the end of volume one Natsume encounters a boy, Kaname, who is also able to sense the presence of ghosts and will perhaps find a companion in him.

Inking:
Natsume’s Book of Friends is a heartwarming tale that deals with a concept we’re all too familiar with – however ends up quite different. His journey of discovery about the realm just beyond our vision is touching and thought-provoking. Who would have thought that the ‘friends’ Natsume always sought, would be those who are not of this world?

Doodles:
In the tradition of GeGeGe no Kitaro, the manga pictures spirits in forms that are a mix between comical and spine-chilling. Whether you’re used to eastern ghost stories or not, Natsume Yuujinchou is a refreshing take on this familiar genre.

She Lives on Cat Street

Cat.Street2

Manga Title: Cat Street
Mangaka: Yoko Kamio
Genres: Drama, Romance, Slice of Life
Demographic: Shoujo

In a similar way that our protagonist Keito Aoyama finds herself in a world quite different from what she expected – so did I after beginning to read Cat Street. Despite the title, this manga doesn’t involve cats like Nineteen, Twenty-One, but is rather about a haven where human strays akin to cats go.

The story follows Keito, a 16 year old girl who has become withdrawn from her family and social circles because of an emotional incident that occurred when she was young. From when she was small, Keito was pushed by her mother to be a child actress, and her mom was so focused on Keito’s success that she neglected the ordinary, basic social needs her daughter had. Shunting her from one audition to the next, Keito’s childhood was scarred by loneliness and longing for the simple things that most other kids have.

Missing out...

Missing out…

Eventually securing a part in a well-known musical, she worked hard to help a new friend of hers, who was also aspiring to be a famous child actress. Something occurred between them that froze Keito emotionally and physically, and on the day of her performance she stood motionless on the stage, unable to carry on.

speechless (2)

Frozen…

From there, her subsequent life as a teenager went downhill; she isolated herself from people at school, having a reputation as ‘the child actress that froze up on stage’. She also became estranged from her mother and sister, who took her silence and anti-social behavior for arrogance. In this traumatizing situation, Keito meets a man out of the blue one day.

He introduces her to El Liston, a free-school where the students come and go as they please and aren’t bound by ordinary school regulations (wish there had been one in my neighborhood). Initially reluctant, she’s befriended by the amiable Rei Saeki, a boy who’s quite upfront with her about what he thinks of her situation and invites her to go to El Liston once again. Persuaded, she gives it another try and meets up with people that are very similar to her there. All these teenagers have become ‘strays’ from society due to various emotional circumstances.

Keito, Kouichi, Momiji, Rei

Keito, Kouichi, Momiji, Rei

For the first time, Keito begins to have experiences she yearned for as a child – walking home with friends, chatting, hanging out, watching the sunset and barbecuing. She also notices the internal turmoil her peers have gone through, and comes to a deeper understanding of them and herself in the process. She starts changing, coming out of her shell in a slow transformation that’s touching to read.

laughed

The art is truly shoujo in style – the girls are drawn with large eyes and pupils, whereas the boys are portrayed slightly more realistically and are all handsome. Yoko Kamio (also the mangaka behind the popular Boys over Flowers) adds her own individual touch to each volume with cute personal anecdotes drawn in the side panel that are really amusing.

Yoko's thoughts

Yoko’s thoughts

One aspect that stuck out strongly is that the focus in Cat Street is mainly on the characters and their development. I found this kind of character driven story to be a refreshing change too. You start to get into Keito’s inner world and thinking right away; her struggles, emotions and the personal backgrounds of all the characters play a major part in the story.

Yoko also has a wonderful ‘less is more’ style in her narrative; she doesn’t reveal too much at once and there are plenty of short sentences inserted perfectly that come across powerfully.

In all, Cat Street is like a journey to a different realm. It goes deeper into the heart and innermost thoughts of a girl coming out of hiding, exposing her faults as well as her good points with the friends alongside her. They’re all growing, changing, becoming closer and less and less like strays – on Cat Street.

– Thanks so much to Blue Variance for this suggestion! Check out her awesome anime and cooking blog Itadakimasu Anime here!

What is your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?