Reviewby Nick Creamer,
A Silent Voice
Seeing Shoko about to leap off her balcony, Shoya rushes to her aid, grabbing her arm before she can fall. But in the process of trying to pull her back up, he himself tumbles over, and is sent into a long and potentially life-threatening sleep. As Shoya's friends and acquaintances wait for him to return, each of them reflect on their relationship with him, as well as the conflicts with Shoko that led them to this point. Everyone in this world has their own scars to live with. Everyone has their own story to tell.
It's always an interesting experience when a new volume of A Silent Voice comes out. On the one hand, I immediately want to rush through it - the story is a masterpiece, after all. It has an intimacy of characterization that's nearly unmatched in manga, and its characters all push at each other in poignant and utterly believable ways. Its wobbly line art contains a great physical nuance, and its story builds naturally out of human failings and their long-term consequences.
On the other hand, all of those strengths add up to make reading it a legitimately painful experience. When you're just watching a sad movie, you can take solace in the fact that all these characters will find their endings before the film is done. A Silent Voice's release schedule has made it a months-long march off a long, lonely pier.
That march continues in this sixth volume, which opens as Shoko seems ready to end her own life. Shoya saves her, but his efforts to pull her up end up throwing him over the balcony instead. And so he slips into a temporary coma, and the rest of his acquaintances are forced to reckon with their feelings in his absence.
The rest of the volume proceeds as a series of chapter-long character studies, as we visit each member of the cast in turn in the days following Shoya's fall. These chapters almost feel like a conscious acknowledgement of the manga's greatest strengths; having demonstrated a clear gift for character writing through the course of a traditional narrative, the manga now dives into wholly internal vignettes, painful glimpses of the psychology guiding each member of the cast.
Some of these chapters, like Tomohiro's, offer a new dignity to their stars. Tomohiro has always been a bit of a comic relief character, but as we see more fragments of his past contrasted against his current drive, we learn that he is perhaps the most giving and emotionally strong member of the cast. His frank discussion about what went wrong ends up inspiring Shoko to suggest continuing the film, a centering conceit that guides the rest of the volume. Both Tomohiro and Nao are tested by these viewpoint chapters, but each of them emerge all the more sympathetic for it.
Other chapters offer new wrinkles in our current understanding, like Satoshi's. There's a violence in Satoshi, born of his own experiences with bullying, and we see through taking on his perspective that his understanding of Shoya was far more limited than we understood. He and Miki both come across as flawed but understandable people; Miki may hide her feelings, but her insecurities and sense of rightness are real. Both of these characters are a balance of fears and resultant values; like Nao, they each demonstrate the power emotional violence can have on another, and the way it can color our long-term worldviews.
Naoka's chapter, coming right near the end of the volume, does not seek to redeem her. Naoka's abrasive, petty, and often selfish actions have driven much of the conflict of this series, even if her forthright behavior sometimes acted as a catalyst to push others forward. And in her viewpoint chapter, we see that these actions weren't the result of some secretly noble goal - Naoka simply likes Shoya, distrusts Shoko's charity, and makes sense of the world by casting Shoko as a villain. People don't want to believe others might act out of a fundamental spirit of kindness that they themselves do not possess, and so they sculpt versions of other people that validate their own feelings. Naoka is a deeply angry person, one whose toxicity has resulted in lasting harm to all of her friends. It'd be a lie to say every hateful action can be charitably explained and forgiven - Naoka has done some terrible things, and is not yet at an emotional point where she has learned to regret.
The volume ends in harrowing catharsis, as the ultimate focus on Shoko gives us two chapters trapped in her head. Lengthy sequences of perspective shots evoke Shoko's childhood claustrophobia, and new visual tricks emphasize how she not only has difficulty communicating, but always feels like she's just short of true communication. A jumble of tortured dreams leads to a panicked run to the bridge, the loneliness becoming overwhelming just as Shoya awakes.
I felt like I was holding my breath all through this volume. There were dramatic choices I could nitpick here and there - the actions of both mothers didn't feel quite convincing, for example, and I got the feeling the author was going for a complexity in the Shoko-Naoka dynamic that there wasn't quite enough evidence to support. But overall, A Silent Voice's sixth volume is a bravura performance, a structurally creative embracing of exactly what this manga does best. Now I just have to survive the wait for the conclusion.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A-
+ Doubles down on the manga's terrific character work by giving each character their own focus chapter; the ending is a gripping journey into Shoko's feelings.
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