by Nick Creamer,

A Silent Voice

GN 4

A Silent Voice GN 4
Things continue to change little by little for Shoko and Shoya. In the wake of Shoko's failed confession, Shoya finds his world suddenly cluttered by even more new “friends,” as his old classmate Miki and new one Satoshi start talking to him at school. Shoya isn't sure how to feel about all this attention, but a group trip to the amusement park sparks new feelings and old grudges all across the group. Shoya just wants to help Shoko, but is his hesitant attention really helping anyone? And when problems at home shake Yuzuru's foundations, will Shoya be able to take steps forward and become a true, reliable friend?

It feels like A Silent Voice's density of heartwarming and agonizing moments must exceed the legal limits. The story is littered with so many deeply endearing or painfully true little details that even when it's going through a somewhat weaker dramatic arc, the reactions of the characters feel poignant enough to make it something worth celebrating. The manga reaches further in this fourth volume, and doesn't always perfectly execute its ideas, but there's so much to smile and wince at here that I still found myself marveling at what a special story this is.

The great little moments start early in this volume, as Shoko's failed confession to Shoya leads to a chapter where she basically only communicates by kicking her bed while texting - first in frustration, and then in happiness at getting invited to the amusement park. Meanwhile, Shoya finds himself getting more involved at school, as his classmates Miki and Satoshi get their X's removed by virtue of not leaving him alone. The show is able to have fun with its leads now - they're insecure, but they're also adorable, and expanding the cast beyond them allows for the reader to get some funny counterpoints to their terminally awkward headspaces.

Of course, A Silent Voice's bread and butter remains the perfectly captured anxieties in Shoya's head, and those feelings are smartly on display through this volume's middle chapters. As he watches interactions between characters like Miyoko and Naoka, his natural protective instinct fears confrontation… but then he sees they're actually friends, and that to people other than himself, the past has truly become the past. Shoya is always obsessing over the feelings of others, but his position as a social outsider doesn't actually lend him much insight, and his insecurity talking to Shoko or the others in the context of a larger group is palpable.

In spite of his insecurities, Shoya actually ends up having fun, until a brief run-in with one of his old “friends” brings all his fears back to bear. Shoya's panicked response to this exchange, as well as how it makes him then feel isolated within the group context he was previously enjoying, is basically a perfect evocation of how those who have wronged us in the past can trigger all those feelings, stealing our current, ostensibly stable selves from us. Ultimately, Shoya's time at the amusement park ends at a familiar place; he wants to connect with Shoko, but feels too afraid of hurting her to actually engage with her, and instead tiptoes around her feelings. This obviously isn't what Shoko wants, and in fact only makes her more insecure, but Shoya can't move past his own doubts.

The volume's second half takes a different approach in tackling those anxieties, as tragedy at home (an unseeded conflict that comes off as a bit too drama-convenient) leaves Yuzuru with no one to rely on. Though the dramatic event that hurts Yuzuru feels a bit artificial, the execution of her later scenes with Shoya is anything but. The two of them share a wonderful series of scenes where Yuzuru dances around her grief and Shoya attempts to connect, ending in the small but critical breakthrough of Shoya responding to Yuzuru's “how's it got anything to do with you?” with “because I'd like to think it does.” Shoya wants to help his friends, but has previously been too frightened of causing harm to actually help. True friendship requires being willing to engage and impose on the people you care about, a lesson A Silent Voice illustrates in perfect little steps all throughout this volume.

A Silent Voice's art remains compelling but somewhat inconsistent throughout this volume. The designs are unique, and seem to possess a kind of fragility that's very suited to the material, but they can also be fairly rough. There's an awkwardness to the body composition, and the faces can feel both overly labored and a little too similar to each other. It's fine art, but never quite as precise in its emotional conveyance as the profoundly sensitive text.

Overall, while this volume of A Silent Voice has a couple awkward quirks (the too-convenient dramatic turns, the somewhat iffy art), it still firmly and consistently demonstrates an acuity of character writing that puts it in the top tier of character dramas. Its characters are deeply endearing people with full internal lives, and it's a pleasure to see them try and overcome their problems. A Silent Voice feels real.

Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B

+ Continues to demonstrate wondrously poignant character writing; its evocation of both the triumphs and tragedies of insecurity are almost painfully good.
Some dramatic developments here could have used a bit more seeding; the art remains somewhat rough.

Story & Art: Yoshitoki Ōima

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Silent Voice (manga)

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A Silent Voice (GN 4)

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