Random Manga Theatre 60: The Shape of Voice

Hit the “Random” button and see what comes up! In this feature, we take a look at whatever manga the Random Number God decides to throw at us and find out if it’s worth your time.

This time: Koe no Katachi, by Yoshitoki Ooima

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Anybody who’s been a kid knows how cruel children can be. Most people from just about every walk of life has endured some kind of bullying. Though what might make it the most cruel is the motivation. It could be different colored skin, a funny way of talking,  a weird hobby, or something as permanent as a disability. We all like to believe that in a fair society, we treat each other as equals regardless of our limitations, but when those limitations become an annoyance or a hindrance, it’s hard for many to understand that those limitations that annoy us are even more of a curse to those afflicted with them.

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The Shape of Voice (Koe no Katachi) is a one-shot manga that explores such themes. Nishimiya Shouko is a deaf girl who has been recently admitted into school, also attended by one Ishida Shouya. While the class warmly receives Nishimiya initially, her disability begins to become an impediment to the class, ranging from asking the teacher to repeat questions to her inability to sing, the class quickly turns on her, with Ishida being at the forefront of the bullying. Even worse, the school has no program or foundation to deal with the disabled and Nishimiya ends up alone without any assistance. This situation is a prime example of how the bullying of the disabled happens in real life. Things are quite fine as long as the disabled person “doesn’t get in the way,” but often people, especially children, are far too impatient to assist those who may need the occasional helping hand.

However, as the bullying reaches a climax, the school intervenes, and the class turns on Ishida, whom’s antics make him a perfect scapegoat. Once again, the author has done an excellent job of portraying bullying. Bullying happens to those who stand out or are no long “acceptable,” and as a result, those who bully can often end up becoming the bullied. Consequently, Isihida begins to learn exactly what it feels like to be an outcast.

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Verdict: Heartbreaking, heartwarming
Those familiar with Japanese culture know that it is an inherently homogeneous one. “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” is probably the phrase most Westerners are familiar with when it comes to Japan’s approach to those who “stick out.” As a result, The Shape of Voice is a wonderful piece of work that examines exactly how society reacts to those who don’t, or aren’t even capable of fitting the bill. It’s absolutely tragic to see Nishimiya being torn apart by her classmates, and yet at the same time, it’s inspiring to see Nishida begin to understand and empathize with his former victim. It gives us hope that through hardship, we can become better human beings.

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In addition, while this was revealed to me before I decided to cover The Shape of Voice, it has recently been serialized and is currently an ongoing manga. While I can’t speak on the quality of the ongoing itself, I do believe that the one-shot easily stands on its own as an engaging story, but it can’t hurt to keep an eye on the running manga as well.

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