This is a review of the original one-shot manga, not the anime adaptation nor the full manga adaptation made later. Please keep expectations and COMMENTS specifically focused on that, I have no interest in replying to or reading anything from anyone about the other versions of this story.
THE 27 YEAR OLD GENIUS SHOWS US THE HARSH REALITY OF THIS MANGA IN UNDER 2,000 WORDS!
THIS IS AMAZING! BUT IS IT OKAY TO PUBLISH THIS?! THE LIVELY REVIEW THAT HAD OUR EDITORS IN A HEATED DEBATE OF WHETHER TO POST IT OR NOT.
Koe no Katachi is a 61 page story about a deaf grade-schooler and those around her after she transfers to a new school. The basic premise is that she always gets bullied and ends up transferring to get away from it when it escalates more and more, and that this is just her most recent stop. Aside that is the other main character, a boy in her class who is in a typical attention-loving phase of childhood and so, being weirded out by her anyway, uses her as his main target of getting attention by being a dick to her. Getting not only his classmates in on it and laughing at it, but even his teacher! Terrible, right?
Well, not really, because this is written like shit. It’s the most immature and purely basic thing I’ve ever read with absolutely no depth or real meaning to it. For all the big ranting and raving about LEGAL DISPUTES BECAUSE THIS IS SUCH QUESTIONABLE CONTENT and how the editors kept refusing to publish it because they were afraid of the consequences (all of which is smeared all over the cover page in the most up-their-own-ass way possible)…there’s absolutely nothing in this manga but the most simple “bullying is bad” story. I don’t just mean the theme is simple and basic, but everything about how it’s shown to you. This is very much a manga that should be seen as reading material for literal children around 5~10 as something to explain to them why bullying is something they shouldn’t do and, if they see it, should help stop. It feels like a literal hand-out a teacher would give out to tell you exactly that. “Take this one-shot home, read it, and write an apology letter to someone you have bullied”. It feels like a grade school publication for an assignment, and honestly in that context I think this WOULD be actually a pretty good story, but nowhere else.
There is nothing here that does anything you haven’t seen a million times before and done in much better ways, the absolute ONLY new thing here is that the REASON she’s bullied is for being deaf rather than for being ugly, quiet, poor, mentally disabled, or for having breasts that are so big the other girls get jealous. Yet it’s still the most by-the-book you can possibly get.
Let me explain the entire story to you;
A girl is bullied a lot so she transfers schools frequently, in this newest school she is bullied yet again by a boy and his classmates. The girl’s parents end up involving the police when multiple hearing aids are damaged or missing due to the bullying, and the boy’s classmates and teacher who were all involved in the bullying directly or always encouraging it single him out. The girl meets the boy by the shoe lockers by chance wherein he starts BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF HER, this of course results in her transferring out to another school again. After these incidents, the boy becomes the bullied one and feels bad being bullied. Some years later they meet again and we find out he learned sign language and apologizes to her with it and asks to be friends because he now knows being bullied doesn’t feel good.
This is not a story of redemption, this is not a story of a character learning something important. It’s a story about a boy who realized “being bullied feels like shit” rather than “I shouldn’t have beaten and tormented this girl just for being deaf all that time”. What’s the difference? Well, in his case he was bullied because of actions he took – in her case she had done nothing but exist with a defect. The lesson should be that people with impairments and other disabilities shouldn’t be looked down on and mistreated as they are wholly people too. It’s a very important message not only in general, but ESPECIALLY FOR JAPAN where the disabled are treated horribly. It’s not just some internet rumor or big myth that the Japanese heavily mistreat impaired people, it’s a fact that’s been proven time and time again. They even try forcing the elderly and the disabled out of larger cities, as they want to keep the cities looking as perfect as possible and at the same time put in things for the disabled so that people will see how ‘nice’ they are. It’s awful and this manga could have – especially if it still got as popular – helped to, on some level, alleviate that for future generations.
Instead, the fact she’s deaf has absolutely no relevance in the entire story. Yes, it’s the excuse for certain events to happen, but events that don’t actually carry any extra meaning due to being deaf. Absolutely nothing about this story couldn’t be done if you replace her with, say, a fat girl who has her diet pills stolen or a poor girl who has her one uniform she can afford ripped and dirtied by students and her notebooks her parents had to go begging for sullied and torn apart. This story completely treats her being deaf as irrelevant, which actually kind of defeats the purpose of the entire story to begin with because it’s saying she’s no different from anyone else…when in fact she is and people need to learn to accept that rather than shun it. Yet this still chooses in the end to just be a story about “if you bully people you might get bullied later because of karma so it’s probably a bad idea” rather than a story about treating humans like humans regardless of their impairments and arguably it’s not even about bullying being bad – only bullying being a bad idea because you might end up on the other end of it one day. It’s like saying rape isn’t bad but it’s discouraged because you might end up in prison being raped by Big-T if you get caught, while also ignoring that the victim was comatose at the time. It not only completely manages to invalidate the purpose of the story, but it even has the rest of the class and teacher completely devoid of consequence – showing that bullying is indeed perfectly fine the vast majority of the time.
Compare it to Onani Master Kurosawa – a story that is essentially dealing with the same theme yet there it’s handled not only incredibly well, but exceedingly maturely and in a way that’s so natural and real that it MATTERS. It’s easily the perfect example of what a coming-of-age story should be and handles realistic events and even big twists yet believable ones very well, especially in the final chapters. Talking too much about it (and one of the best aspects of it which is only in the epilogue) would spoil too much for those who haven’t read it, so I won’t get into it though. The point is this type of story CAN BE TOLD INCREDIBLY WELL AND ACTUALLY BE POWERFUL and truly change the lives of the characters and the readers in very real ways – yet Koe no Katachi opted for the most immature childish and babied down option which results in a waste of time and really bad misconceptions about how acceptable it is to literally beat a girl (he didn’t even get suspended), let alone a disabled one.
It’s so unnatural, impossible to relate to or sympathize with, and just feels like something you’d show first graders. There is absolutely nothing here pushing any boundaries, let alone legal ones, and there is nothing here worthy of praise either. This is one of the worst things I’ve ever read, it sadly has some great potential to tell a unique story of this style with this deaf mute and a chance at a much more meaningful lesson for children. Instead it’s just a typical kid’s book or Disney movie. It’s a story of a boy who did bad things, had those same bad things done to him, then felt bad because having bad things done to him didn’t feel good. It wasn’t a story of this boy realizing how terrible he was and why it was so bad of him, he just learned “oh, being bullying hurts me too” rather than having any deeper understanding of himself, anything that happened, or any acknowledgement of her disability in the conclusion. There isn’t that big sense of the character maturing and fully understanding what he’s done, why he did it, and overcoming who he was at the time. This is just a boy who regrets his actions because they ended up with him being treated like shit, and absolutely nobody else having any consequences for their actions or changes to themselves on top of it.
I’m someone who hates bully ‘victims’ for a lot of reasons I won’t get into here, and I felt that might make me too jaded to enjoy this. Yet in the end I was surprised to find myself extra offended by this shitheap because it ignored the victim entirely. It’s a story that sets out to show you how bad bullying is and how disabled people should be treated equally – yet instead literally all it shows you is that on exceedingly rare occasions people will face consequences for their actions. The mangaka even went out of the way to make the victim a cute girl to make you sympathize with her because he must have realized the story completely ignored the fact she was deaf and treated like shit for it so he had to throw SOMETHING in to make you care. This thing is shit.
By the way, he actually never apologizes for physically beating the shit out of her.