Reviewby Nick Creamer,
A Silent Voice
Six years ago, Shoya's bullying of his deaf classmate Shoko eventually led to her leaving their class altogether. Today, Shoya sits isolated by the consequences of his actions, hating his classmates but hating himself most of all. The only thing that sustains him is the desire to apologize and hopefully make things right, but when Shoko responds to his apology with a kind smile and “see you next time,” he's given one more reason to live. But how can Shoko smile after all he's done to her, and could rebuilding a life after giving up altogether really be that easy? Join Shoya and Shoko as they each take halting steps forward in A Silent Voice's second volume.
A Silent Voice's first volume told a heavy and largely self-contained story of childhood bullying, establishing the sad circumstances of Shoya and Shoko before eventually ending on the slightest note of hope. Fortunately, volume two doesn't try to repeat this trick - instead, it opens up the story's world, weaving in variables that point to a more complex and narratively sustainable future while holding back from the tone of constant sadness that made the first volume such a difficult read. But there is still great sadness and intimacy here, and the manga is still consistently demonstrating a nuance of writing that easily sets it apart amongst high school dramas.
When we left the story, Shoya had finally come face-to-face with Shoko, six years after the horrible things he'd done to her. As this volume progresses, we learn that Shoko doesn't really seem to hold a grudge for his actions, and has actually moved on in a far more healthy way than Shoya himself. While Shoya hangs on to life by a thread, only sustained by the thought that Shoko might either forgive him or even value his existence, Shoko has made friends, found activities she loves, and even values the tokens of her old, terrible days. “I gave up once,” she tells Shoya - but apparently she hasn't given up since then.
It's satisfying seeing how much these characters have grown since the first volume, and doubly satisfying to see the steps they continue to take forward. A Silent Voice excels at creating depth of characterization in as few strokes as possible, which helps in both grounding the central conflicts and fleshing out the story's world. When it comes to the main characters, the fact that we've already come to know Shoya so well means this isn't just “a redemption story” - this is his story, the story of a character whose failings and self-hatred are well-known and whose efforts to move beyond those feelings carry the weight of all the scenes that have come before. And when it comes to the side material, A Silent Voice is able to imply things like Shoya's home life, the personality and circumstances of his mother, and Shoko's own relationship with her family through scattered offhand comments and background details. Shoya's mother likely got pregnant with his sister very young, and though she works hard for her kids, she often seems to lack a sense of parental authority. Shoko's mother is fiercely protective of her daughter, but seems too bitter to try and understand her - in fact, she relies on Shoko's sister to offer sign-language translations.
As this volume progresses, the story introduces new characters like a friend for Shoya and Shoko's sister, who each add their own quirks to the narrative. Shoko's sister in particular both offers a strong counterpoint to Shoko herself (she directly expresses all the anger we presume Shoko would normally feel, while helping us discover what kind of person Shoko actually is), and the dramatic exchanges between her, Shoko, and Shoya offer a tidy structure to the volume's second half. The manga's peak dramatic moments can occasionally overreach, with the big shouting matches between the characters lacking the easy emotional heft of the story's quieter moments, but overall A Silent Voice retains its distinctive character-focused voice and emotional core while seemingly moving towards a more conventional boy-meets-girl narrative.
A Silent Voice's art remains generally strong in this second volume. The character designs have a unique lightness to them, and though the faces aren't as widely expressive as they could be, they're still distinctive and often beautiful. It can occasionally feel like the faces aren't quite expressing the right emotion, though - like Yoshitoki Ōima's style of eyes is almost too detailed, and thus loses some of the looseness that might better convey a character's desired emotions. More impressive are the characters' broad physical gestures, which both convey character well and are fortunately up to the task of articulating sign language with both clarity and personality. Overall, A Silent Voice remains an easy recommendation, with its second volume settling into an easier tonal space while surrendering none of its poignant appeal.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Character writing remains excellent as the story undergoes some genre shifts; character body language is expressive and precise.
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