Trigger Warning: self-harm and suicide. Also, spoiler alert.
Tis the season of romance. Whether you’re feeling the love or not, it’s a great time of year to brush up on love stories. Romances are about connection and acceptance, usually resulting in mutual attraction. But the manga and movie A Silent Voice puts a twist on the love story as we know it.
In A Silent Voice, written by Yoshitoki Oima, the protagonist Shoya Ishida grapples with guilt and shame from bullying a deaf girl Shouko in middle school. Isolating himself in high school, Shoya contemplates suicide, but instead decides to try and make amends with Shouko. He sets out to redeem himself by befriending Shouko.
Throughout the story, “x’s” appear over people’s faces to signify Shoya’s isolation. When he makes a new friend and opens up to them, the “x” falls away. As Shoya opens up and connects with more of his peers, he also helps Shouko make friends, deepening their connection to one another as well.
As their relationship blossoms, hints of romantic interest abound. But as the two characters help each other open up, Shoya’s guilt begins to eat away at him. Believing that his former self hasn’t been punished enough, Shoya begins isolating himself, insulting the friend group and breaking the crew apart. Since she believes she caused the friend group to split, Shouko attempts suicide. Shoya stops her from jumping off an apartment balcony, but ends up falling and winds up in a coma.
To Shoya’s surprise, his friends still invest in his life after his recovery. His friendships strengthen, and Shouko returns to Shoya’s side as well. At this point, Shoya finally accepts that he doesn’t need more punishment. The “x’s” fall, leaving him open to the world.
In classic romcom fashion, Shoya and Shouko kindle a relationship with romantic potential. They start out as enemies, become strangers, then turn into friends. They help each other grow, pulling each other out of their respective shells. Shouko even confesses her love to Shoya, but he fails to understand her due to her speech impediment. In time, they accept each other for their strengths, their flaws, and their rocky pasts.
But I would argue that this story is not about Shoya and Shouko’s love for each other. This story is about Shoya learning to love himself. Looking at Shoya’s character arc, he begins in a place of self-loathing and destruction, falls into despair right before the climax, then learns that he’s worthy of love despite all his flaws.
Through his connection with Shouko, Shoya develops a love for himself. It’s a love story teaching the importance of self-forgiveness. It doesn’t matter if Shoya gets the girl in the end, so long as he learns to love himself. A Silent Voice shows us that love stories come in different forms, and emphasizes the importance of growth in relationships.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.
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