With the Light… 7

Keiko Tobe – Yen Press – 2010 – 15 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols 13-14

Mmmm… again, this isn’t the type of series that the average manga reader is going to be interested in. At all. The continued trials and tribulations of Sachiko and her autistic son Hikaru, now in junior high, are fairly mundane for anybody that’s looking… well, for anything that comics usually deliver. This even falls short in the more obscure slice-of-life category, since the activities are fairly mundane. Especially in this volume. The major complication here is that Masato is transferred at work, and Sachiko must move both her children in with her mother-in-law, who is ashamed of Hikaru. There are plenty of pressing concerns when that happens, mostly in the second half of the book, but the first half is truly episodic. Sachiko has to find ways to prevent Hikaru from saying and doing rude things, such as telling people not using a basket in a store that not paying for something is stealing. One chapter is about Kanon, Hikaru’s younger sister, and how her schoolmates react to Hikaru. Another chapter features Kanon acting out against a boy who was making fun of her brother. The first chapter of the book has Sachiko searching for ways to keep Hikaru from touching himself in public.

Most of these stories are fairly repetitive. Something happens, Sachiko finds a solution to the problem, apologizes, and the issue is dropped. None of these problems persist, and it almost seems like Sachiko is phoning it in. It’s unfortunate that the fact her problems don’t persist make me think her quick and easy solutions aren’t effective, but nothing is ever as easy for her as it is in these early chapters.

But the thing that continues to impress me the most about this series is how thoroughly researched everything is. The first chapter, about developmentally disabled children reaching puberty, features several stories about several different types of children and ways to counteract typical adolescent behavior. These stories were likely all gathered from other people and included in the manga. All the problems that Sachiko has are also obviously the result of a lot of research into common behavior issues that autistic children have, and possible solutions or ways to help the children adapt. There are few manga that have this much work put into accuracy, and I do admire it for that. While it’s not at all what manga readers want or desire, I do hope that it can serve to help those connected with autism.

I also have to appreciate the way she’s made her characters age throughout the run of the series. While Sachiko and Masato don’t really look any different, I like the way she’s slowly aged Hikaru and Kanon. It’s something you don’t often see.


With the Light 6

Keiko Tobe – Yen Press – 2010 – 14 volumes
volume 6 is an omnibus that contains Japanese volumes 11 and 12

I do like this series. If nothing else, it’s a good window into a world of mothers acting like mothers and doing motherly things without the usual things that upset manga characters from their tasks. In that, it is unique, and I like reading it for its completely average, everyday cast of characters.

This volume is less preachy, and deals more with issues that spring up from Hikaru getting older and interacting with others more as an adult than a child. The solution to the problem is not making others aware, but to find alternative behavior patterns to steer Hikaru towards instead of something inappropriate. For instance, instead of stroking and smelling the hair of a stranger on the train, his mother knits him a soft cuff for his bag, so that he can feel the soft texture of that instead.

We also get to see a lot of Kanon and the angry grandmother. The grandmother obviously dotes on her granddaughter, and while she is moving more towards accepting Hikaru, she is still embarrassed to be seen with him in public and constantly criticizes Hikaru’s mother for not “making him well.” Kanon moves on from kindergarten to elementary school, and also begins after-school activities. She’s a hilarious and doting nag when it comes to Hikaru, it’s clear that she loves him and watches over him in a very adult way. She also doesn’t seem to mind that Hikaru gets more attention than she does, and understands, which is an interesting role for a small girl.

There’s a subplot where Hikaru’s mom suspects his dad is cheating on her, and some interaction with other parents at the Sunshine Center and giving advice to parents whose children have just been diagnosed with autism or other disorders, a small plot about being president of their housing situation…

As you might be able to tell, while it does offer a unique look at the everyday, some of the events can be quite mundane. And because I have to read a volume of manga in one sitting, I get 500 pages of relatively mundane events. Plot-wise, I do like the shift to the everyday concerns, less of Sachiko brow-beating the teachers into understanding and more of Hikaru being himself and becoming an adult.

It’s definitely a unique series, and completely unrivaled as far as its niche in the English manga market goes, but… I don’t think it’s something that really appeals to manga fans. I do hope it finds its way to people who would appreciate it and perhaps learn a lot from the lessons throughout the series, though. It is a valuable learning tool and resource.


With the Light… 5

Keiko Tobe – Yen Press – 2009 – 14 volumes
“With the Light” is published in omnibus form. Volume 5 covers volumes 9-10.

I am extremely emotionally involved with the characters in this series.  There’s nothing that seems fictitious about the lives of Hikaru and his family, and the extremely realistic (and optimistic) way the series portrays the problems facing Hikaru and how he, his mother, and those around him is great.  I especially enjoyed the look at children with other forms of learning disabilities this volume, and the problems facing educators who are given a general “Special Education” classroom full of children with different needs.  Basically, this manga is far, far different than any other that I read, and I’ve been with it since the beginning, so I feel like I have an obligation to keep following along.  Especially since I will inevitably learn much by the time I finish every fat volume.

I also like that the series runs in “real” time.  Hikaru, his sister, and all his friends age, and the story progresses through each year of his schooling (in this volume’s case, his final year of elementary school).  It does a good job of having characters come and go as they would in real life, and I love all the connections his mother and others make throughout the series.

Now, I always complain about repetition in this series.  I realize the irony in this, since I’m sure it comes up in every review and anyone reading through these is going to be reading that over and over again.  I feel that accurately recreates the experience of reading this series.  It’s probably better in small chunks, but I always finish one of the omnibuses in one sitting, so I’m left with a bad taste of repetition in my mouth.  There’s also the fact that, in this volume, Hikaru gets yet another new teacher, something that just happened a year ago in the story.  We have to go through all the same adjustments yet again, and that was hard to sit through since, literally, Gunji-sensei had just been educated.  Happily, after a chapter or two, all these problems inexplicably disappear and most of the school year is glossed over, with happy results at the end.  Hm.

Instead of Hikaru’s life, we look at other children.  Aside from Miyu (the younger autistic girl who has been Hikaru’s classmate for years), there are two new students in the special education class this year.  One boy has ADHD, and another has dyslexia.  The new teacher insists on teaching all these children at the same pace, so the boy with dyslexia is at a disadvantage in a class with Hikaru and Miyu, who are further behind in studies, and the boy with ADHD, who the teacher insists on disciplining rather than working to find a solution to his problems.  The discipline winds up being a problem, since it upsets the ADHD boy, which in turn upsets Hikaru, who is sensitive to noise, which then upsets the other two students as well.  How this is solved isn’t really examined in-depth aside from giving Hikaru his own space to calm down in, but the boy with dyslexia does get a chapter or two to himself as his mother tries to figure out why her son has a hard time reading and find a solution that will help him best.  We also find out a little about the boy with ADHD, but more that his family situation is such that his mother has a hard time earning enough money to keep them with food and shelter and isn’t able to extensively look for help.

We also see a chapter about a girl we’ve met before who is having problems with her abusive, alcoholic father and her strict mother, who is upset she can’t get into a good junior high.

And there’s also lots and lots of time spent with Hikaru’s mother, who does extensive research to find the best junior high for Hikaru and has to appeal to the school board extensively in order to not have him placed at the poorly-run and overpopulated special education facility.

While it is incredibly interesting and informative, and I do have an emotional investment in the characters at this point, it can be tedious to read because of the repetition and just… well, having to go through all the possible solutions with the characters whenever there’s a problem.  I actually thought the junior high problem was an interesting one, and the story glossed over all the appeals to the school board that were needed, but a bad taste has lingered from other volumes.  There probably aren’t a whole lot of manga readers that are going to pick this up and read it regularly, but I think it’s an incredible resource on autism, especially as a learning aid for adults, teens, and maybe even a younger audience, too.  I’m extremely happy this is being published, and I do hope it’s finding the right niche for itself, because it deserves to be used as a learning aid.

Sadly, Keiko Tobe passed away in late January.  The series remains unfinished, which means we won’t ever get to see Hikaru become a happy member of society.  That’s the other hard thing about reading it, that I know there isn’t a resolution at the end.  But I suppose that’s appropriate, since there’s never really any resolution to real life, either.


With the Light 4

Keiko Tobe – Yen Press – 2009 – 14+ volumes
this omnibus contains volumes 7-8 of the series.

Continuing with the omnibus theme for this week, here’s With the Light, which I am sadly behind on.  This only comes out every six months, so there’s really no reason why I can’t stay caught up.  Oh well.

I don’t really have that much to say that I haven’t said already.  There weren’t a whole lot of changes to Hikaru or his routine in this volume, though careers were discussed, as well as factories that employed handicapped individuals, and Hikaru had a kind of assessment to determine his strengths and weaknesses.  There were some comings and goings.  There were two parts that were quite touching, though neither dealt with Hikaru directly.  One was where his father was finally able to deal with his situation at work and come to terms with it (complete with a long chapter about appreciating what you can in a bad situation), and the other dealt with an old friend who was having some abuse problems in an orphanage.  Actually, that storyline was never quite resolved.  I wonder what happened to Oki?

Reading the series is a little more tedious than I like, mostly because of the repetition I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.  The story was written with the magazine format in mind, and exists to inform more than to entertain (which is fine, that’s what it does), so a lot of the story points and information are repeated over and over again.  This probably isn’t a problem if you make the long volume stretch out over several days worth of reading, but you’ll notice if you read it all in one sitting.

Again.  This series is wonderful at what it does, which is to teach the reader about autism and show how an autistic individual develops and adapts to the world and people around him.  It really is an interesting read, and I learn so much from every volume.  It’s not light, entertaining reading, though.  Don’t look for the usual story and plot.

Hmm.  I wonder if this series is still running in Japan?  It doesn’t sound like it ends at volume 14, but I can’t find it in any of Akita Shoten’s current women’s magazines, and they stopped featuring the newest volume on their site, something they’d been doing for at least a year or two.


With the Light 3

I’m still amazed by how thoroughly enjoyable this series is. It definitely shows its format (it repeats itself quite liberally as a result of being run in… a monthly (?) magazine), and it really does read more like a textbook on autism than anything else, but you can’t help but be sucked in when Hikaru looks as constantly happy as he does, and when people finally overcome whatever obstacle they were working on.

There were two big events in this volume. One was that Hikaru’s mom almost loses her part-time job as a result of her kids getting chicken pox, and the other was that Hikaru took a 4-day trip with his grade, which took up most of the second half of the volume.

The chicken pox story was of the type where Hikaru’s mom starts getting frustrated and losing patience with people. Everyone she can contact about helping Hikaru home from school while she stays with her ill daughter is unavailable, and her (very young) daughter cries and is confused when she is left alone for around 8 minutes while Hikaru is walked to school. Hikaru’s teacher doesn’t understand, and the mother’s employer doesn’t understand why she can’t drop off her completed work and leave her daughter. Then Hikaru catches chicken pox and her daughter need to be helped to and from school. You see where this goes.

The school trip was actually really, really enjoyable. Not too much goes wrong, and Hikaru’s absolute joy at doing so many new things comes across well. It’s also really nice to see all the other children interact with him and consider him so well. There’s also a child who is some sort of celebrity that seems to be in the same circle as Hikaru and his friends, and some of the considerations that need to be taken around him are discussed in depth. There’s a few other little things about the other students that are taken into consideration, too. They all enjoy themselves, plus there’s cute things like pony rides and dolphins. How can you resist?

I’m sort of glad this only comes out periodically, because I don’t think it would be nearly as enjoyable if it came any more frequently. But my bi-annual dose of cute kids really hits the spot, and it also does an admirable job of teaching me about autism. I hope it’s getting to the right audience… it really is written with people who are around the condition in mind, not me as a fan of comics. That I like it too is probably just a bonus.


With the Light 2

I really do like this series.  While learning a lot about autism, the story does a really good job of being cheery and hopeful while also showing the difficulties.  Every time you think that Hikaru and his mom have things going smoothly, especially in relation to other children with similar disabilities, there’s always some contrast to show just how difficult it is to deal with the condition.  Plus, the volumes are huge.  You get a lot of bang for your buck, and I couldn’t put this volume down.  I think I read it almost all in one sitting.

The volume covers Hikaru’s later Elementary School years, and the first chunk of story deals with a little girl entering the special needs classroom.  Her mother has had a lot harder time with her than Hikaru’s mom, to the point where her child wasn’t even diagnosed with a disability until she tried to enroll her in elementary school.  A lot of time is spent getting the mother used to the idea of autism (the little girl’s condition is very similar to Hikaru’s), and getting the little girl to learn how to communicate with others.  Like the entire series, really, this entire section is pretty bittersweet.  You feel bad for the mother, who didn’t know how to deal with the disability or who to turn to, and it’s really quite charming to see the little girl grow up and be… well, genuinely happy.

There’s also a section about the buddy system at the school, where children from another class come to spend time with the kids in the special education class.  Hikaru and his buddy get along pretty well, and Hikaru chooses the job they do together as taking care of the class garden.  The two children go out and water the plants at the same time every day, and the buddy neglects to go down to the class when it’s raining, since he figures they won’t be watering the plants that day.  There’s an incident where Hikaru wanders out into the rainstorm by himself and sits out in the garden.  It’s a relatively minor incident, but it affects the buddy pretty profoundly.  I felt bad for the little kid, and he gets to be pretty close with Hikaru afterwards.

A more serious incident, illustrating some of the more serious problems of autism instead of the fairly positive outlook the series takes most of the time, deals with Hikaru’s fondness for wandering off.  His parents wind up having to apologize and pay a lot when Hikaru walks into places and practices some of his normal activities, like peeling paper or just showing up and walking off with something from a store or home.  Later, Hikaru wanders off and gets on a bus, totally leaving the area his parents normally find him in.  A lot of people are called in and there’s a huge panic, as you can imagine.  Hikaru is pretty calm (he likes to ride busses and trains), which is an odd contrast to the parents and adults in the situation, and… like I said, it does a good job showing a more negative event.

Later still, the wonderful special education who has been helping Hikaru and the new little girl is transferred to another school and the parents and students have to deal with a new teacher.  The teacher doesn’t see the difference between the children in her class and younger kids, and both she and the parents get pretty fed up with each other via a series of serious miscommunications.  Also, the new teacher took the position because she is close to retirement and thought it would be easier to deal with a class with only two students.  Right.

There’s lots of happy moments in this volume too.  Like I said, most of the series is pretty happy and optimistic, which is probably part of its appeal.  Both the buddy system at the school and the teacher’s transfer (it’s because he gets married) prove to be really special moments in Hikaru’s life.  The buddy system yields a lot of vegetables, which the children cook and prepare into dishes to share with other people at the school at an end-of-the-year event.  The wedding is special because the teacher goes to great lengths to accommodate the children so they can attend, and the children also go above and beyond to make the teacher’s wedding special.

It’s genuinely touching in a way no other series I read is.  It’s also a very compelling read, and each volume is huge, so there’s not a lot to dislike about what you’re getting in each volume.  You run the gamut of emotions as you read it, and… it’s just incredibly enjoyable to follow Hikaru’s life.


With the Light 1

Sigh. My roommate found this, and he’s never going to let me live this one down. He STILL laughs about it, and it’s been a week.

Despite the fact that this is not a topic that the general manga target demographic… person like myself is going to pick up, I’m so glad this made it over here. One thing I read over and over again about autism is that many people are at a loss as to how to go about coping and treating autism in children. This seems like a very comprehensive guide, and while I understand that there are many forms of autism and that there are different strokes for different folks so to speak, the approaches presented here that began in infancy and continued up through second grade did a good job of explaining all about autism and how it affects basically every aspect of one’s life. It’s not for people who read manga, I guess, but I think it’s great as an introduction to autism for anyone who may be overwhelmed by the huge quantities of dry, technical information available on the subject, whether or not their dealing directly with an autistic person or not.

The one thing I didn’t like was the amount of repetition, especially of the elements earlier on in the story where the mother was blamed for her son’s bad behavior, but for the most part there was no way around it since it was meant as a refresher for people reading it in a magazine (I assume) month to month. Just part of the form, I guess.

Also, after the initial diagnosis and setup for Hikaru, there seems to be a lot of smooth sailing for the couple. I appreciate the optimistic outlook, but I feel that a much more realistic outcome would be like the friend of the mother, who could not find facilities willing to take her child, the child being outcast instead of embraced by the younger students, etc. But the happier story is much more pleasant to read, and if I had an autistic child, I would certainly prefer the pleasant scenario.

There is even another child introduced by the end of the volume! I was very surprised such a thing happened so early on. I’m kind of excited to see how the younger sibling grows up with Hikaru.

It definitely reads like a huge manual about autism, but I didn’t know much about it prior to this, and I’m very glad I read it. I’m looking forward to future volumes just so I can learn about how one continues to treat and adapt to autism throughout life. But… yes, it’s definitely meant for adults and moms… and really, not for anyone who would be reading Naruto right now, I suppose.


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