It’s time for one of the most mean spirited manga titles that I’ve ever read. Deadman Wonderland probably still takes the cake for being the meanest one around, but this one really tries to surpass it. Volumes 1-6 are all pretty dark/tragic and even half of 7 is still like that. We get a sort of happy ending, but the question you’ll be thinking the whole time is…was it all worth it? I’m afraid not so lets dive into this manga!
The manga follows the adventures of a bully named Shoya. He enjoyed his days as a delinquent and is upset when a deaf girl named Shoko is transferred to his class. Shoya decides to make her life as miserable as possible and the rest of the class including the teacher get in on the action. After enduring all of this bullying and even having Shoya rip her ear, Shoko is transferred out and fortunately her mother also threatened the school with legal action. This means that they need a scape goat so all of Shoya’s “friends” decide to turn on him. Likewise with the teacher of course so they beat him up a lot and even try to convince him to commit suicide.
Fast forward a few years. Shoya decides he’ll commit suicide after finally meeting up with Shoko again and apologizing. She has apparently forgiven him and he decides to keep on living so he’ll be her friend. The problem is that he still has a pretty bad image and Shoko hasn’t gotten over the incident as much as she claims. Her Mother naturally dislikes Shoya as well. Shoya’s old friends have mostly gotten over it but they know about his past and Shoya fears that they’ll tell his new friends about it. A lot of drama happens and by the end of it, you’ll be shaking your head.
Okay, the manga’s whole problem really just stems into the meanness of it all. You see the classic theme of someone doing something really mean or evil and then receiving a judgment just as brutal which is supposed to make you feel good. The problem is that two wrongs don’t equal a right so it just makes the whole thing feel dark. A good example of course is Sword Art Online Fairy Dance. (You can use SAO for just about any hypothetical if I’m being honest) After the main villain was messing around with Asuna and tormenting Kirito, you’re supposed to cheer when Kirito decides to very slowly and painfully execute him one piece at a time. The problem is that you’re not cheering because it is still super painful. You don’t feel bad for the villain, but you didn’t want the hero to stoop to the same level. (Attack on Titan has this same problem) You want a quick resolution. Unfortunately, this manga’s whole message is about how “You’ll get yours!” and the villains all get some intense payback at some point or other. That is, unless they’re being used for another message like how they’re misunderstood.
The series starts with Shoya thinking about ending himself and then moving on to Shoko. Finally once all of the characters are broken and have been publicly humiliated, then they can all move on. Honestly, Shoko’s depression is probably where the series really jumped the ship although the beginning was incredibly rough as well. It’s impossible to like Shoya after the start. He just went way too far in the bullying phase to the point where you absolutely cannot buy into his redemption arc. The ear rip felt especially painful and he does physically punch Shoko. That’s one of the big lines that you don’t cross and he went through with it almost immediately. Shoya also seems to make the wrong move in just about every scenario, every time. He’s just incredibly annoying and the fact that he is the main character certainly doesn’t help matters either. If he’s not blowing up at his friends or having a martyr complex then he’s typically having confidence issues or being in a coma.
Shoko is a decent heroine except for the fact that she is way too forgiving of everyone. She basically gets along with Shoya immediately and puts the whole thing behind her. Honestly she should have told him to get lost when he showed up again. Otherwise, it’s nice of her to forgive him, but then to move on to being best friends and then more than that almost immediately? No, no I can’t see that happening. It was an incredibly poor romance that I just couldn’t take from start to finish.
Naoka is the other heroine. She actually liked being a bully and is mean to everyone throughout the series. She decides to change her ways because of Shoya, but never actually changes. She still talks bad about everyone and while it is supposed to be endearing, you have to wonder how much she has actually changed. She is quick to hit everyone and definitely causes a lot of drama. The one quality she has that is quite good is how she gets over everything pretty quick. The rest of the characters are constantly making mountains of molehills while she just forgets about it all the next day and is back to normal. It may be a little iffy as she’ll just stir up more chaos, but it beats the alternative.
Miki is a character that I think the author didn’t know what to do with. She was one of the big bullies in the first volume, but always denies this and blames others. She purposely tells everyone that Shoya was the big bully and gets everyone to retreat from him again. (He helped quite a lot though) She lies to everyone and is generally very fake throughout the whole series. The issue is that nobody calls her out on this and she effectively gets away with everything by the end. I’m glad the series didn’t go overboard with the payback on her, but she didn’t even get a slap on the wrist. She got away completely scot free and since I didn’t like her at all, that was annoying. If the author never meant for her to be one of the main villains, then he/she should read the series again.
Miyoka was the only character who was nice to Shoko at the start. Unfortunately, since she is the nice character she is also the timid one and a single insult caused her to stop coming to classes. She now wants to be a model but is very self conscious of her looks. Naturally the others are ready with the insults. She can be a little annoying as well and while it’s great that she got along with Shoko as well, I’d be a little sore with how quickly she ran off. She’s not a dependable friend that you can count on.
Yuzuru is probably the only real good character. She made it her mission to beat up the bullies who messed with Shoko back in the day, but unfortunately she was too young to really track them all down. Still, she managed to grow up as a tom boy to protect her sister as best she could and even took up whole hobbies like taking pictures of dead things to try and get Shoko to distance herself away from thoughts of suicide. Her only iffy moment is probably not stepping in to help Shoko when she was getting beaten up by Naoka. I can see why she was upset since Shoko tried to jump off a roof, but you still can’t let one of the old bullies beat your sister up. Isn’t that the whole reason for why she got strong in the first place?
Tomohiro is Shoya’s first friend at the new school. He’s a nice guy and all. He may not have any friends and pretends that he does all the time, but he gives Shoya someone to talk too. He has his iffy moments for sure but the series would have been a lot darker without him. I’d say that he’s really here just to lighten the mood. I’m not so much a fan of him as he just beats most of the other cast by default. His movie gets tragically panned though which was another moment where the manga decided to just be really depressing again. I mean really..was it necessary to also have the critics mock each and every one of them for the movie? The heroes quickly acted as if they didn’t care, but couldn’t they have had at least one happy ending as a team? It’s like the author didn’t want any of them to have something nice happen for a change.
Satoshi is the final main character and he’s the anti bully guy who shows up to subtly threaten Shoya the whole series. It’s actually portrayed as a bad thing that he’s against bullies. The scene were he throws away everyone’s backpacks honestly didn’t seem like a big deal to me since those actually were bullies. Him throwing water at the teachers and going overboard after that was a bit much though. Again, it’s a little hard to have him come back into the fold so easily again. It’s great to be against bullies, but he came off as a rather violent guy himself and I didn’t get the whole subplot about how he loves kids. This character should honestly have just not shown up.
Shoko’s Mom is another character who should have been good, but they went overboard with how mean she is. Are you honestly telling me that she would have an objection with Shoko using sign language at the table? She wants Shoko to be tough so I understand the haircut. That was fine since Shoko was clearly not defending herself so the Mom had to do it for her, but breaking her confidence at home as well was just random. I give her some props for deciding to beat up the bully who was attacking Shoko though. That was easily her best scene.
The art was below average. It tries for a very gritty down to earth feel which sets the vibe in rather quickly. In a sense that’s a good thing as the art is atmospheric but since it’s a dark and gloomy atmosphere it doesn’t really help matters. I just couldn’t get into the art and while it’s clearly not the worst I’ve seen, it’s quite low in the charts. Since this is a “realistic” manga there is also an unfortunate amount of language. This will always depend on who is translating it of course, but unfortunately the original one decided to add quite a bit. It’s just another unnecessary addition.
At the end of the day, the manga’s issue is that it’s just very moody and depressing the whole time. It’s not fun to read. You’ll keep reading until the end and you’ll be reasonably invested, but then every volume has another tragic scene within it. The amount of times someone is beaten up or bullies is uncanny in this series. If the series wanted to be good, the first volume should have been shorter and the bullying should have been less intense. We shouldn’t have had Shoko suddenly break down by the end and we certainly shouldn’t have had to have Shoko get beaten up yet again.
Also, why did the blond kid just randomly show up a few times? Considering that he beat up Shoya, stole his shoes, and bullies him quite extensively for a while…why does Shoya have to patch things up? I don’t get how nobody acts like the other kid did anything wrong. He was just as bad as Shoya and also got away scot free. The most annoying thing is that he’s apparently still friends with some of Shoya’s old contacts so while I guess they are cool with Shoya now, they’re not sorry enough to actually regret it.
I’m trying to think of some positives for the series…but it’s hard. When a series leaves such a bad taste in your mouth, it sours the whole experience. The scenes were they’re all having fun can be good except that they instantly go sideways and you always know that something is going to happen. It’s just inevitable but I suppose you should savor those scenes while you can.
Overall, This series was pretty brutal. It started out on a really low note, got semi decent for a bit and then crashed again. I also didn’t like the ending, but what else is new right? It’s essentially inevitable after a while because if you don’t like the characters and aren’t engaged by them, then there’s not much that the ending can do to change that. You’re just way too annoyed by everyone by that point. Manga should always be fun and enjoyable to read throughout. They can go through rough patches and have serious themes of course as just about all of them do, but it should still be a pleasant experience. You can’t use that phrase to describe this manga. I’d highly advise checking something else out instead. If you want a good realistic manga title to read, how about Zodiac P.I.? It has some supernatural elements, but is mostly down to Earth and is up beat despite some rather serious cases.