In Japan, bullying is called ijime. It is not like Western bullying in the fact that it’s more collectively perpetrated. In the Japanese culture, schools are run under a high standard of conformity and collective thinking. Kids are encouraged to not stand out. That cultural expectation bleeds into how kids bully and are bullied.
Bullying in Japanese classrooms is more often entire classrooms against one victim. It is rooted in psychological cruelty that may or may not turn into violence–it is a group phenomenon. It is rare that a teacher will help stop the bullying. Even worse, it is estimated that 12% of teachers actually take part in it.
Fellow students will join in under the assumption that bullying is simply a tool to force non-compliant students to adapt to social norms. It’s called, kuuki wo yomu (“read the vibes”). Even newly formed bullying laws passed in 2013 do little to aid victims, as the law feels the same way–conformity is how you solve bullying.
So, hey, Manga Monday took a serious turn–but trust me, it’s worth it.
Bullying in Japan
A Silent Voice
Koe no Katachi
6 volumes (completed)
The story behind Koe no Katachi actually being published is interesting. Initially a one-shot story about a middle school class that accepts a girl with impaired hearing, it ended up winning the 80th Weekly Shounen Magazine Newbie Best Mangaka Award. However, the way in which the story portrayed the Japanese school system made it too controversial for publishing.
It took months of legal dispute before it was finally published in the February edition of Bessatsu Shounen Magazine.
The story is about Shoya Ishida, a elementary schooler who begins a bullying campaign against a deaf transfer student named Shoko Nishimiya.
Shoko is eventually forced to move away as a result of the bullying. The class responds to their guilt about the situation by turning the target on Shoya.
As time goes on, Shoya accepts the bullying as penance for what he did. He feels that he will most likely spend the entirety of his life alone, and thus makes plans to commit suicide. Shoya decides that he needs to fully atone for what he did to Shoko first, and he sets out to find her.
The proceeding story follows Shoya finding Shoko, and how he navigates his suicidal feelings of remorse as he attempts to make amends for what he did.
As Shoya and Shoko are reunited, we are shown that people just need someone to not only to listen but to really understand what they’re trying to say. As a deaf student, Shoko was often treated as a nuisance as she struggled to write her replies or requests in a notebook in order to communicate. As an ex-bully, Shoya was deemed a dirtied member of the school, unworthy of an form of companionship because of his past mistakes.
Both parties experience isolation in different ways, and the manga addresses how that isolation always seems to begin with the fact that you’re different, and others intolerance to that. It’s how the author addresses the idea of isolation, and what that can do to a person, which makes this read so freaking good. It’s the fact that, when we are forcibly blocked away to ourselves, we all yearn for the same things.
The cast of characters in Koe no Katachi is fantastic and expands far past the titular characters. As Shoya works through his penance, he finds himself reconnecting with old elementary school faces and him and Shoko’s friend network begins to expand.
All of these characters are flawed and beautfiul, and how they further form the story to its finish is wonderful to read. Seriously, SO GOOD. I don’t want to say anything more detailed than that because as characters are introduced you learn more details to the initial story beyond Shoya’s mistake–and it’s worth it to discover as you read.
If you’ve experience bullying, read this. If you haven’t experienced bullying, even more reason to read this. The story is tragic and touching, it’s fully capable of making you cry your eyes out. It’s that good.