Reviewby Nick Creamer,
A Silent Voice
At last, Shoya has woken up. Racing to the bridge where he and the rest of the movie crew once met, he finds Shoko alone, and learns how things have continued in his absence. Shoya is surprised to hear the movie is continuing, but will something like that truly be able to bring him and his new friends back together? With graduation approaching and an uncertain future ahead, all of A Silent Voice's stars have little time left to mend broken bridges and come to terms with the regrets of the past.
A Silent Voice reached its climax at the end of the fifth volume, as Shoya's efforts to “pay back” his bullying of Shoko were dramatically articulated through his almost trading her life for his own. The sixth volume nearly put the story's active drama on pause - taking the form of something like Neon Genesis Evangelion's final episodes, it broke from traditional narrative into heavy episodic interiority, examining each of the story's central characters in turn. But that volume did give the characters time to get over their immediate resentment towards each other, and so in this volume, all that's left is for everyone to make up and take their first steps towards the future.
That structure unfortunately makes this volume something of a letdown in a dramatic sense. Outside of Shoko and Shoya's initial reunion, there's little catharsis here; the characters made mistakes, they regret many of their actions, and now they're just shuffling through the last few mini-hurdles that separate them from graduation. Separated by an entire volume of introspection from the key dramatic turning point, a whole volume of denouement feels excessive and a little unfocused.
Perhaps the biggest misstep here is the continued focus on the group's student film after it's been screened at the festival. The actual festival screening is an excellent moment; having resolved to actually engage with the people around him, as opposed to simply assigning them his own conceptions of their identities, Shoya is able to see something worth celebrating about every one of his friend's contributions. The film is maudlin and full of ambition in exactly the way you'd think a film by this group would be, reflecting the cast's many endearing qualities while simultaneously acting as a reference point for how much Shoya specifically has grown.
But in the wake of that screening, Tomohiro decides to press on to a public film competition, where his student film gets savaged by a professional (yet somewhat unbelievably petty) critic. And then the group fight about whose fault it was, and then they make up over resolving to do better next time, and then they head off to get dinner together.
Much of this volume's narrative proceeds like that - instead of being driven by narrative inevitability, it's full of “and then this happened” non-sequiturs, like Yoshitoki Oima had a lot of ideas for how these kids would end up but no clear plan for unifying them into a narrative. In a way, this actually increases the manga's sense of realism; lives don't actually proceed like compelling narratives, and both personal growth and moving through new life stages can proceed in fits and starts that don't amount to a coherent plan. But fiction doesn't mirror reality for a reason; by sacrificing the dramatic focus of the earlier volumes, this volume also loses much of their dramatic impact.
That said, this is still a fundamentally excellent manga. The character writing here is as sharp as ever, and the cast's various resolutions all feel true to their identities. There are great offhand jokes scattered throughout, and characters like Naoka finally get the material they need to truly come together as fully developed people. The art is consistently detailed and expressive, though the visual conclusion to Shoya's “X” motif suffers from the general rambling quality of the narrative. And the cast is so easy to root for that it feels almost mean-spirited to wish this volume was a bit consistently harder on them.
In the end, this definitely feels like the manga's weakest volume, but not such a letdown that it greatly diminishes all that came before. A Silent Voice is still a phenomenal work all told, a story rich in texture and pain and personal insight. It extends great empathy towards a very diverse set of characters, celebrating their humanity even when its narrative focus stumbles. It's a terrific manga, one I'm sure I'll return to again.
Overall : B+
Story : B-
Art : A-
+ Maintains A Silent Voice's usual acuity of art and character writing, offers satisfying endings for all of the manga's stars.
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