I claim that this blog covers anime and manga, but in reality, we do little of the latter – mostly because I don’t read much manga. But yesterday, my attention was drawn to a captivating gif on Tumblr for a manga that I just had to check out. Entitled Koe no Katachi, the one shot focuses on a middle school transfer student with a hearing disability through the eyes of the class bully.
On the opening pages, the side editorial claims that there was a lot of discussion about whether or not the manga would be published because of its controversial subject matter. We east Asians are prone to exaggeration, and I assumed this to be the case in this instance, but…no. The 61 pages were full of painful moments – the kind of cringe-worthy pain only middle schoolers can cause to each other.
But in the midst of suffering, Nishimiya, the transfer student, stands as a beacon. Throughout all the bullying she faces, she remains almost impossibly kind, even to her greatest tormenter, Ishida. He breaks her heart (and her hearing aid) by his utter ruthlessness. But he’s simply the leader; all of Nishimiya’s classmates join in the tormenting.
Without giving too much away, the climax of the tale occurs when we realize just how patient and loving Nishimiya has been all this time, even after she has been removed from the story. The climactic gesture she makes is not over-the-top (surprise!), but it’s powerful in as a sign of sacrifice and selflessness.
What we come to realize this whole time is that Shouka is the embodiment of love. She’s exactly how Paul describes this action:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
– I Corinthians 13:4-7
Cleverly, we as the readers are hit in the face by this revelation as well. Although we dislike Ishida, our narrator, we also don’t completely buy into Nishimiya until this moment. She is too patient, too kind, and too loving. We want her to fight back (though when she does, we don’t feel satisfaction). We realize that we, too, are tormenters – possibly in our youth, but maybe more likely in how we judge people, how we ignore those that are challenging to interact with (like the homeless), or how little time we spend comforting the hurting. We all value love, but radical love, the kind that forgives in the face of the unforgivable, is too much for us – in practice as well as in theory.
But it’s precisely that radical love that can change hearts. It wrecks havoc on a really vile character in the story, transforming and completely reshaping that individual. But it can equally do the same in our lives. And ultimately that’s what makes this short story so powerful – yes, it features a lesson about how we should treat individuals with disabilities, but more broadly, the manga provides a glimpse into a world of impossible love – and how that love can do the improbable, and change hearts, even likes ours.