The themes of this series are expanded upon in this chapter in a mature and thoughtful way, as Ishida experiences judging others by their appearances and being judged himself, while revisiting his former middle school and having an intense encounter with his former teacher.
Rather than being explicitly evil, like authority figures from many other high school manga, the teacher’s behavior and shallow attitude are all too believable. This serves to make him even more despicable through Ishida’s point of view, and ties into the various conflicting points of view these characters have towards the past. Rather than seeing these past events through rose-tinted glasses like some characters have, the teacher has instead completely absolved himself of any blame. The author goes dangerously far with this conversation, as the teacher continues to make more and more disparaging comments that are transparently intended to infuriate both Ishida and the readers. However, this is consistent with the tone and message this series has set since its beginning, in its portrayal of the plight of disabled and bullied students in bleak, harsh detail.
In a twist, Mashiba, rather than Ishida, is the one to lose his temper at the teacher and rise to Nishimiya’s defense. In a subtle way, both this scene and the rest of the chapter examine the way in which these characters judge others by their appearances. Just as the teacher judged Ishida to be a “responsible young man” because of his clothing, Ishida has expected the handsome and popular Mashiba to be just like the false friends who tormented him in the past. From this single chapter, the similarities between Ishida and Mashiba’s pasts have become apparent, and the seeds for a future conflict between the two are planted.
Nishimiya’s final comment, that the school and teacher seem smaller than they used to, nicely summarizes the theme of Ishida’s personal journey: whether or not he will ever be able to forgive both himself and others in order to move on from his past. To that end, this chapter continues Ishida’s slow journey towards redemption.
Once again, this series raises the often uncomfortable truths that bullies aren’t complete monsters, individuals are usually guilty of the same faults they assign to others, and the events of the past are never as large or important as they seemed at the time. Koe no Katachi offers up no escapist fantasy, nor any easy answers for the deceptively small, emotional conflicts of these characters. However, the grounded nature of this series is what distinguishes it from other shonen offerings. For this reason, the main characters are all the more sympathetic, the antagonists all the more despicable, and the protagonists all the more identifiable. In a medium saturated with over-the-top action and deus ex machina conflict resolutions, these realistic emotions are a welcome change of pace.
Final Flash: A solid chapter in which both the readers and Ishida are taught some important lessons concerning friendship and judging by appearances.