Saturday, April 2, 2011

Manga Review: With the Light (volume 1)

I’ve never read or seen a lot of works dealing with autism, probably because it’s only become better understood/more accepted only in the past few decades. In fact, before this the only time I can remember coming across it was A Wizard’s Dilemma by Diane Duane and there was something odd about it there, it might not have been actual autism in the end. So all that lack of autism in literature made me curious about this series and, since it has been so widely praised on both sides of the Pacific, I grabbed a copy of the first book at my local Borders going out of business sale and was quite pleased with it.

With the Light by Keiko Tobe

Summary: Sachiko is thrilled to have her first child with her husband but she soon starts noticing that he’s a little different from other babies. An observant doctor notices that Hikaru (“light”) is autistic and, once Sachiko comes to accept this, she must now adjust her life and try to create a world that Hikaru can live in.

The Good: The people in this story really felt like people, the good, the bad, and the just plain uninformed (it doesn’t help that in Japanese the word autism is written as “self-closing syndrome” so it seems like there is even more prejudice there than there is in the US). While Hikaru might be slow to change the people around him change and it’s a delight to see adults and children question their own actions and become more accepting and understanding of the world around them. It's realist fiction with drama but it's never over-dramatic, the story consistently manages to feel real and that's tricky. That realism is what keeps the story interesting even when it's moving slowly and the amount of realism in it is simply amazing.

The Bad: I’m a little worried for the pacing of this series since it is a bit slow now (and, by the end of eight double-sized volumes, Hikaru is only in junior high school I believe).  So far it’s not dragging and, for reasons below, I guess it doesn’t matter now but series that move this sedately always worry me. Also, the characters in here are very Japanese in their attitudes and, well, I don’t agree with that line of thinking a lot of the time so I found myself getting annoyed at many of the characters. Perhaps it’s because I am more used to this kind of stuff (my brother had undiagnosed Aspergers for years and many of my friends in high school had ADD/ADHD), and I will admit that this mimics real life so I guess I’m more annoyed at real life than this story when I say, can’t people not be asses and just understand that everyone acts different?

The Art: There’s nothing especially special about the art or design in this series (in fact, if I was to describe what “manga” looked like it would probably be something like this series, very shojo-esque) but the art certainly works. The characters all look different from each other (and considering the good sized cast this is a great thing) although so far the characters don’t seem to have aged much which could get to be a problem later on.

So, getting the rest of this series for sure (not all at once but I’ll keep an eye out for it now) but sadly this series will never be finished. The manga-ka passed away before the series was finished (the fans thought the story would be over when Hikaru had finally grown up and he was only in junior high/high school when she passed away) but despite that I want to see the series through as far as it will go, it seems like a disservice to it otherwise.

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