Callum Fox: How Japanese Manga comic A Silent Voice explores being a deaf teenager

Posted on October 15, 2014



“I wish we had never met. I wish we could meet once again. A boy who can hear, Shoya Ishida, and a transfer student who can’t, Shoko Nishimiya.”

A particular passion of mine is reading Japanese comic novels, known as manga, having come across Mitsuru Adachi’s classic series Touch in my teens which opened up a whole new range of literature for me to devour.

Combining comic book art with the kind of storytelling normally confined to novels, manga has created its own niche in modern literature spanning every possible genre and subject matter from your typical teenage coming of age stories to psychological thrillers and political dramas.

However, despite the thousands of different manga released, the topic of deafness was only covered recently by author Oima Yoshitoki.

unnamedThe title of her first work, Koe no Katachi (聲の形), translates into English as ‘A Silent Voice’ and was only published in 2008 after a lengthy legal dispute over the sensitive nature of the issues dealt within.

Despite initially being published as a one-shot, the story impressed so much that it won awards, leading to Koe no Katachi being serialised in one of Japan’s leading weekly magazines in 2013 after winning the backing of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf.

The manga itself explores the rocky relationship between 12-year-old protagonists Shoya Ishida and Shoko Nishimiya from a young age through to their high school years.

The duo meet in elementary school but Shoko’s struggles to integrate sees her bullied by fellow classmates, led by ringleader Shoya, which eventually causes the young girl to transfer out of school.

The story picks up pace in high school, five years after the introductory chapter, where the now 17-year-old Shoya has a chance meeting with Shoko.

Narrated by Shoya, the plot revolves around his efforts to make amends for bullying Shoko as a child and consequently, the relationship that slowly develops between the two.

Unabashedly a romance story, A Silent Voice sees the duo develop feelings for each other as they attempt to overcome their respective pasts, which turns out to be far more complex than first thought.

The author also brings in a supporting cast, all of them implicated in some way in Shoko’s appalling treatment in elementary school and many dealing with their own idiosyncrasies stemming from then.

Yoshitoki picks up on common teenage issues and explores how they develop over five years following their interactions with a deaf peer.

While the focus is on the two protagonists and their developing relationship, many deaf-related issues crop up in the story including a particularly jarring scene between Shoko’s mother and father.

As an avid reader, I don’t come across many examples of fiction exploring deafness which makes Koe no Katachi an incredibly compelling read.

Unfortunately, the series is only published on paperback in Japan but Crunchyroll (http://www.crunchyroll.com/comics/manga/a-silent-voice-koe-no-katachi/volumes) holds exclusive rights in the UK although it’s available to members only.

However you may be able to find snippets of it online by searching for it, to get an idea of what it’s like. I hope you get to read some of it soon.

Callum Fox is walking the divide between the hearing and deaf worlds. Profoundly deaf since birth and CI user. In his spare time he balances being 22 years old, being a football fanatic and trying to make it as a writer, journalist and human being. Follow him on Twitter as@WalkTheDivide

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