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In the February 20th, 2013 issue of Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine, a certain one-shot manga story became quite the buzz among Japanese manga readers. It was a one-shot that truly reflected the cruel nature of humanity as a whole. Yoshitaka Ooima’s “Koe no Katachi” (The Shape of Voice) is a very emotional tale that simply says this: everyone and anyone can be capable of bullying.
The story covers a young girl in Japanese middle school named Nishimiya Shouko, who happens to be deaf. She introduces herself to her class, but is met with jeers as she is blamed for bringing the class down because of her disability. Nishimiya is repeatedly bullied to the point where her classmates started to mess with her hearing aids. However, she tries to be polite towards a male classmate named Shouya Ishida, who finds her creepy regardless. It’s all fun and games until the principal tells the class about a complaint from Nishimiya’s parents regarding the broken hearing aids. Ishida becomes the scapegoat, despite everyone being guilty of bullying her in the first place. He then gets bullied and feels depressed. Both Ishida and Nishimiya get into a fight over the latter’s “weak nature”. Nishimiya transfers to another school afterwards. Ishida learns that she has been sticking up for him after he was kicked out by his clique by wiping his desk free of derogatory graffiti written by his former friends. The two would meet 5 years later, where Ishida learned sign language to redeem himself and officially build a friendship with Nishimiya.
What Koe no Katachi reflects is the notion that bullying is cool, according to middle schoolers. It helps to raise one’s social status and that’s the most important thing for a child to survive in school. After all, everyone yearns for a sense of power and belonging. Most children fall for this because of their inability to emotionally comprehend complex situations.
The worst part about all this with relation to the story is how the homeroom teacher implicitly encourages bullying. He calls Nishimiya “baggage” and ignores what his students do, unless it gets really violent. Is he from a school of thought that bullying is a process of life? Sadly, adults are often criticized for looking out only for themselves. The homeroom teacher probably wanted to preserve his image out of a fear of being disliked/disrespected by his students. Everyone knows how intimidating a group can be to a single outsider.
What’s interesting is whether the most possible solution for a bully to stop being a bully is for them to get what is coming to them. Even people will realize when their time is up. Ishida begins to have second thoughts about his actions after being bullied and starts to wonder if this was how Nishimiya felt. As they say, people should try living in other people’s shoes to see what the other side can look like.
Koe no Katachi was deemed too controversial as it is a reflection of the Japanese school system. Thankfully, Kodansha had the guts to say “You know what, this story HAS to be told and we need this talent to shine.” The best part in the end of the story suggests that people’s voices need to be heard and understood. We have to look past any stereotypes we may have and listen. It makes you realize that a lot of people in this world focus on nothing but talk, talk, talk. Yet by hearing and listening to other perspectives from peers, we grow and become more understanding.
Kodansha, thanks for listening to whoever or whatever gave you the green light to publish Koe no Katachi and making the shape of your voice sharp enough to take a stand.
EDIT: The story has become so popular that IT’S GETTING SERIALIZED! Great geniuses really shouldn’t be held under wraps. Way to go, Kodansha!