The Princess in Peril: Shoko Nishimiya

The A Silent Voice manga went on sale at A Certain Retailer so I picked up the whole set.

I meant to read them one at a time during my morning commute, but the story was so great that I just zoomed through the whole set. I thought the story had some holes – I’m going to tell you about a big one soon – but the writing and the art and the characterization were generally compelling, and the pace was excellent.

Later on I watched the movie, and you know what? It was pretty damned good, too.

One of the things I really liked about both is that although many of the characters were attractive – Shoko is a sweetheart, Shoya so determined to right the wrongs he’d done, Yuzuru so determined to protect her sister, Tomohiro such a loyal friend – they were largely treated fairly, with weaknesses to offset their strengths. A really good example is the mean girl, the one crushing on Shoya, Naoka. She changes some but she’s still pretty nasty at the end. Tomohiro has more confidence but he’s still a chubby nerd. Shoya is a better person, unquestionably, but he’s still neither very smart nor very wise.

But all of them change, all of them have some character development. All but one of them, I should say.

You know who doesn’t change, really? Shoko.

Yeah, the Silent Voice in A Silent Voice.

This really chaps my ass.

Now, as I may have mentioned, my field of study is communication. In one of my jobs I worked at a school (Lansing Community College) where the communication department included audiology and sign language; I worked with fellow faculty who were partially or completely deaf. And from my experiences with those colleagues I was really impressed at how much effort the anime put in to make Shoko’s skills and performance realistic.

I don’t know enough sign language to know what she’s signing when she signs, but her speech, when she speaks, is very accurate. You see, she knows – because she lip reads – how the lips form certain sounds, but not where the tongue, which she can’t see, goes. Deaf people like Shoko often sound as though they have a golf ball in their mouth, and it’s because they don’t know where their tongue is supposed to go as they make the sounds of speech.

Their volume, like Shoko’s, is also sometimes a problem. They don’t hear, so they don’t know how loudly or softly they are speaking. Nicely done.

Another nice touch is the effort she makes in class to watch the teacher’s lips as he talks. Also, she always has paper and a pencil; a necessary adaptation to her environment. She is an honest, accurate portrayal of a genuinely deaf person, and that is 100% to the creators/producers’ credit.

Shoko I Can't Hear

Shoko, from the manga, with her pad.

But as a character she doesn’t develop.

Seriously. Watch the movie. It’s pretty accurate to the manga.

Shoko was bullied in grade school, with Shoya one of the worst bullies. She gets to high school, she sees Shoya again, and runs from the sight of her tormentor, hysterical. He catches her and signs at her – Shoya’s learned some sign language because of the guilt he feels about Shoko, although she has no way of knowing that.

BOOM. All the torture he inflicted on her is forgotten. From then on she acts as though it never happened.

I eyerolled as I wrote that. It’s so damned unfair to her as a character.

Later, she falls for Shoya, largely because there’s no story if she doesn’t. She wants to tell him she loves him, so she tries to say the words, but he can’t understand her speech. Suicidal in her frustration, she tries to throw herself off her balcony, only to be saved by Shoya, who is himself injured terribly saving her life.

This is where we see what the character Shoko really is: She’s a plot device. She’s the Princess in Peril, the Female whose fate is to be rescued by the Male. She exists only to put Shoya, who is the actual protagonist of the show, in the hospital, so that the other characters can reveal their growth in response. The development of the others? It’s not a response to Shoko. It’s the revelation they see in themselves when Shoya is in a coma.

You know how you can tell? Because the key moment of the plot omits Shoko’s BRAIN.

Shoko has been largely deaf from birth. She’s grown up with hearing aids and sign language and notepads. When she wants to tell Shoya that she is in love with him she can

Sign it
Write it
Communicate non-verbally (as the fireworks go off, she can take his head in her hands and lay a big fat juicy kiss with lots of tongue on him)

Instead, she makes an attempt in the one form of communication at which she is least skilled, choosing that form for no reason anyone can see and knowing she’s not good at it, and when that one attempt fails she decides to kill herself.

Does that make sense to you?

I mean, I know almost no sign language (apart from some dirty words), but I can sign, “I love you.” Why can’t a girl who was raised on sign language sign it?

She can’t because she’s not a girl. She’s a McGuffin, a device that drives the plot forward.

To be fair, I can accept that her failure to communicate is so frustrating to her that she thinks suicide is the way out. She’s barely in high school, fifteen years old. At that age everyone is bulletproof; the idea of her own death is almost unreal to her. She’s found a boy who truly loves her – whatever else we think of Shoya, he unquestionably loves her – and who she truly loves. The level of frustration she has when she can’t tell him so is reasonably off the scale.

But why does she have to SPEAK it? Because the script says she has to speak it.

Sorry, Shoko. You’re a plot device. You are The Princess in Peril, and exist only for Shoya to save.

We see this in a couple other places. Melfina in Outlaw Star has to find the Galactic Leylines; Gene has to save her. Fuu needs to find the samurai who smells of sunflowers, and Mugen and Jin have to pull her chestnuts out of the fire at the end, although Shinichiro Watanabe is too good a writer to let her be only a plot device.

But in A Silent Voice it bugs the heck out of me. It’s obvious that Shoya is the main character; most of the story is told from his point of view, and X’s are put over people’s faces based on his perceptions. Shoko is not the main character.

But Shoko is the titular character and she is a central character, and her portrayal so honest that as a character she deserves a better role in the plot.

But there it is. She’s really not a character. She’s just a trope, the Princess in Peril.

I love the film, and I love the manga, but I hate the way they cheated Shoko out of playing a serious role.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.


PS As Shoko shows her pad to the class, the first page says Hajimemashite. NishimiyaShyoukotoiimasu. Nice to meet you. My name is Shoko Nishimiya. I had to freeze frame it, but I read it.

2 thoughts on “The Princess in Peril: Shoko Nishimiya

  1. I guess I came away with a different interpretation of Shoko, though I can certainly understand where you’re coming from on this. To me, there are a few things to take into account about her motivations that aren’t necessarily explicitly shown.

    I’d say the fact that she wishes to speak the words “I love you” rather than using her normal forms of communication is related to her recent diagnosis about her hearing. Even if she’s been mostly deaf all of her life, seeing the looks on her families faces as the doctor tells them that the condition is worsening can’t be easy to stomach. She’s still a young, developing teenager still, after all. In an effort to salvage some self-worth (and even deny that she will never be “normal”), she chooses to change her appearance and appeal to Shoya on his level (verbally). Obviously, it’s a vain attempt and nobody judges her for something she can’t help, but as someone who dealt with a lot of childhood bullying, I’m sure it’s always in the back of her mind. Obviously, she was frustrated by the fact that it didn’t work.

    I do disagree that this directly results in her suicide attempt. After her failed attempt, there is a scene at home where her sister and mother are breaking down, and it is mentioned that the pictures were hung on the wall as her sisters attempt to keep those kinds of thoughts out of Shoko’s mind. To me, this indicates that it’s a larger problem (that may have been dealt with before). Again, long-term childhood bullying probably left her feeling alone, like a freak in a world where she can never truly belong. For a developing mind this can cause some extreme thought patterns to form. It’s not unrealistic to think that suicide was always a looming possibility.

    I do agree that it was strange how quickly she accepted Shoya back into her life after he had been so harsh to her before. She did seem oddly drawn to him as a child, even trying to help him out when the bullying turned towards him. It could be that she was so desperate for a friend that she was willing to look past it. Could be that her self confidence was so poor that she almost felt like it was natural for him to bully her, giving her a faster path to forgive him. We do know that her sister tried to act as a buffer, and this could be why. But that’s all my brain was able to interpret.

    For me, her growth moment is self-acceptance. It’s simple and definitely could have been developed better, but it’s there. Like you said, it’s centered around the injury of Shoya. Could it have been anyone? Maybe. I honestly can’t say for sure since her entire development revolves around him. Separating her as her own character and giving her independent growth would have made for a better story.

    I haven’t read the manga yet (it’s on the list), so you may be aware of more than I am. This is simply how I translated her character based on the movie. Great write-up.


    1. Wow, that’s a lot to think about.

      I suspect it’s got a lot to do with how much a user is willing to read into or extrapolate deep details that aren’t in the story itself. That’s a part of good art, after all, that it engages people to see what they can in it, and I’m pretty sure we agree that A Silent Voice is pretty damned good art. I’ll tell you the manga is about as good as the movie, and you know how good the movie is. The manga can go deeper, of course, since it’s a lengthier text.

      It’s certainly possible I overlooked and element of growth in her in that, apart from Shoyo, who is changing throughout, the others have their Come to Jesus moments while he’s in his coma and she’s specifically excluded from that. But on the whole that felt to me less like anything happening to her than the others (metaphorically) opening their arms to accept her, them acting toward her, the old “Subject-Object” distinction. I suspect that’s part of the point: that they have to learn to tolerate her as she is. But them needing to learning to accept her does not put much pressure on her to develop. I think it would be an inappropriate message to ask that she meet them half-way, so to speak, when she’s done nothing wrong except be different through no fault of her own, and so there’s not a strong motivation on the writers to change her.

      Thanks a bunch! These kinds of discussions are why I started this thing!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s