Genre: Manga/Young Adult/Coming-of-Age
This is a fantastic series that shows how rough bullying can be, what it can do to other people, oneself, and what it means to be a good human being. The back of each volume contains the following summation of the series:
“A very powerful story about being different and the consequences of childhood bullying…Read it.” –Anime News Network
“The word heartwarming was made for manga like this.” –Manga Bookshelf
Basically, this is an excellent read that highlights what being different means, the struggle that some families have when they have a member with some kind of disability, and what it means to be a true friend.
The first volume begins with Shoya, a bully who is reunited after six years with Shoko, a girl he bullied so horribly in grade school that she had to switch schools (again). While the main girth of the series follows the events of their senior year in high school, the first volume follows Shoya and Shoko. When Shoko enters Shoya’s class for the first time, she introduces herself with her notebook, explaining that she is deaf and that she would like to get to know her classmates through writing in her notebook.
Things seem okay at first, but Shoya makes a statement by yelling at Shoko, who sits in front of him, just a general yell to test if she really cannot hear. Some of his classmates find this rude and appalling, but as time passes, Shoko’s classmates, and even her teacher, begin to bully her. One girl is tired of Shoko asking what the teacher said (through writing), and begins to brush Shoko off as an annoyance. In choir, Shoko is off key, considering she can’t hear her own voice. This causes even more bullying, as students begin to write terrible things about her on the board in her homeroom. When a teacher offers to teach sign language for Shoko’s sake, nobody cares, except one girl, who becomes bullied because of her interest in sign language.
Shoya, following the lead of bullying that his groups of friends have evoked, eventually rips out Shoko’s hearing aid and destroys it. When school officials question the class, everyone points their fingers at Shoya, his friends and even the teacher who told him to stop the bullying but snickered at his own students remarks, all pointed their fingers at Shoya, not taking their own blame.
Shoya is neglected by who he thought were his friends, becoming the bullied in the same way as Shoko. After Shoko transfers schools again, Shoya enters high school with no friends, and blocking out everyone’s faces with a conscious X, as they are not important and do not matter to him.
Now, reunited with Shoko, who runs at first sight of Shoya, he aims to apologize and repair the wrongs he had done many years ago. He has Shoko’s special communication notebook, which was thrown in the water six years prior, and returns it to her. When she moves on with her life, Shoya aims to find out more about Shoko and wants to learn what it means to be true friends.
When Shoya somewhat grudgingly comes to the aid of a likewise ostracized classmate, they become friends, and discuss what it means to be able to call someone a friend. He also meets Shoko’s sister, Yuzuru, a girl who has chosen to look an act like a boy to defend Shoko from being bullied. Yuzuru does not approve of Shoya’s friendship or aim to make amends for what he did in the past. When she learns that Shoya learned sign language over the years so that he could better communicate when he met Shoko again, Yuzuru eases off, but only after she posts an article that puts Shoya in a bad situation at school.
Eventually, Shoya and Shoko reunite with some of the people from grade school, including those who were likewise bullies, as well as defenders, and together, they learn what friendship truly means.
This series has a great deal of drama, which demonstrates the human feelings we all have when we are harmed or choose to harm others, as well as the effects of bullying and how it can affect our mental state over time. This series was excellently written, powerful, and the beautiful art adds to the height of the reading experience. As an educator, I would recommend this to anyone and everyone in that it demonstrates how differences make us unique and shows how wrong and serious bullying can be.
On a side note, the movie was recently released in Japan and will be showing for a select time in select theaters in the U.S. October 2017. The art of the movie and the vibrancy of the setting and colors makes it look amazing, and I am hoping the movie will convey the same message that the manga does, even though it will have to take out a number of chapters/scenes for the sake of time. I will also be looking for this as an English Blu-ray release…eventually!