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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
With the Light Vol. 1 by Tobe Keiko 
23rd-Dec-2007 11:59 pm
A generous gift from passivesoul.

Tobe, Keiko. With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child. Vol. 1. Trans. Satsuki Yamashita. New York: Yen Press, 2007.
          Summary: Originally titled Hikari to Tomo ni. The light of Sachiko's life, her firstborn son Hikaru, has been diagnosed with autism. Now she and her husband must raise him, in spite of a society that often misunderstands and mistreats them, so that he nevertheless grows up to be a "cheerful, working adult." This volume, with contains volumes one and two of the original Japanese edition, follows Hikaru from infancy to through his first few years of elementary school.
          Comments: Okay, the first and most important thing that needs to be understood about this manga: Despite the big eyes, wispy lines, and stereotypical shoujo manga styling, With the Light was created for the education of its readers, not their entertainment. Characters are one-dimensional, and the story marches its way through events--except maybe the late subplot involving the Filipina women--like Tobe Keiko is going in order down a checklist. The constant repetition of basic facts about autism and of illustrative anecdotes from chapter to chapter are transparently didactic. And they are also culturally specific. Japanese people, if you are to believe this manga, generally do not know much about autism and have a lamentable tendency to blame the symptoms on the victim--or the victim's parents. This manga strives to enlighten those benighted souls. (Note my pun on the title.)
          Now, perhaps I am just living in a naive bubble, but I think that most Americans are waaaay more familiar with and tolerant of autism than the Japanese in general. So, while there is surely plenty of discrimination to contend with for the autistic and their families and very little in the way of a social safety net, I suspect that Americans are likely to make more of an effort to at least be superficially accommodating and understanding. (Political correctness, though much maligned, is not to be undervalued.) As such, I'm a bit unsure about how to understand or read this manga divorced from its original socio-cultural context. Instructive not escapist, it doesn't really belong in the same category as Death Note, Naruto, or even Fruits Basket. Besides, the people who want or most need to hear this message about autism in this country probably don't read manga at all! Yen Press did an admirable deed bringing over this title, and they did a good job in general with its adaptation and production (though I lament the loss of the series' color illustrations)--I noticed only two typos in five-hundred pages. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much place for it in the American manga milieu. Yet, at least.
          Notes: paperback, 1st edition; first published in Japan by Akita Shoten in 2001 and 2002
          Rating: 5.5/10 - A most noble manga that, alas, I don't think the American market needs...or, perhaps, is quite ready to make appropriate room for.
31st-Dec-2007 01:58 pm (UTC) - :)
Hey--great pick! Growing up with a cousin who had autism, and my mom's best friend's son having a very different stream of autism I found the manga fascinating in its approach, but I basically agree with your criticisms. Still, it's hard to fault the publishers picking this title...

Glad to have found your blog again--I read it a while back (I think we had a discussion about Please Save My Earth, Banana Fish and Moto Hagio) but then lost track--only to find it thanks to a link of your MW review on the Comics should be good blog (I replied to it there--I thought you were a bit harsh though I know where you were coming from...) SPeaking of, whave you picked up/reviewd Vertcials' current run of Takemiya's Andromeda Stories? I just got volume 2 and am kinda surprised at how GREAT I think it is plot wise--the art doesn't blow me away the way Terra E did but story wise it's much more addicting (I liked Terra a lot but more cuz of the art and classic concepts--as a manga it reads a lot like an epic that shoulda run 20 or so volumes, reduced to 5 or 6 so you never get a firm grasp rerally, just mere impressions of characters)

31st-Dec-2007 04:25 pm (UTC) - Re: :)
Great to hear from you again! Brian Cronin of the Comics Should Be Good blog has permission to repost my reviews there...but, to be honest, I have neither the time nor the inclination to monitor whatever *ahem* delightful blowback happens over there. So, any comments or questions you, or anyone else, want me to see, it has to be here on my journal.

Alas, this year has been so hectic that I haven't gotten even a third of the reading that I had hoped to do done. (That's not changing any time soon, either.) Vertical's books (both manga and prose) often disappoint me, so I've been holding off, given the dearth of time and money.
2nd-Jan-2008 08:36 am (UTC) - Re: :)
haha You're not missing much, some Tezuka fans took you to task. I do think you should give all of Vertical's releases from Takmiya a chance--if only cuz I think their success is the only way we'll see any Moto Hagio here anytime soon... But I know what you mean about lack of time and money....
2nd-Jan-2008 01:31 pm (UTC) - Re: :)
Give me a break. The reason that Vertical hasn't done Hagio Moto yet isn't because they don't want to; it's because licensing negotiations have been rocky for a long time.

And if you look back at my reviews over the years, I have not been particularly impressed by ANY of their books over the years. They are a small publisher; you can bet that the best licenses aren't going to go to them--note how they're getting the Tezuka stuff that isn't good enough for Viz (anymore).

I was unimpressed with the To Terra fiasco as well. It's left me far less willing to support them.

Edited at 2008-01-02 01:36 pm (UTC)
11th-Oct-2008 08:29 am (UTC)
Hi. Japan is one of the forerunners in studying autism spectrum disorders, but the average Japanese may not be exposed to the illness or have a competent understanding. On the other hand, I think you're undervaluing this material a propos American consumers, notably here:

Besides, the people who want or most need to hear this message about autism in this country probably don't read manga at all!

I have some doubt regarding this particular sentence. While this is a very good analysis of the American market and response to such material, if we're focusing primarily on teenagers, the rise of autism in the United States combined with the popularity of manga and the confusion of our illiterate youth. (Not to sound too harsh, but the most popular medium for consumption of information is the internet, and, among teens, they are probably more inclined to either a) watch television or b) read a comic book, especially with the increasing popularity of comic books. As the siblings of children with autism come of age, they might not have enough sophistication yet to connect with material such as this save on a superficial level, which might make it ideal, especially if the illustrations are particularly appealing.)

In sum, there might actually be a market for something like this for young teens, who could connect with the presence of autism in the lives of the characters. It's nothing literary, perhaps, but sometimes children will seek out something to identify with. (Whether they're normal functioning autistic children or children facing a home life that includes autism.)

Unless of course this includes pornography, in which case my whole argument is moot.
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