The nifty manga blogger, Kethylia, allows me to post her weely reviews every Monday here on the blog, to share with you good folks. Here is a link to her site, which she describes as “an informal brain-dumping ground for off-the-cuff book and manga reviews, news commentary, leftist political rants, half-baked pretensions of intellectualism, and lots, lots more!”
Here is a description of her rating scale.
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.
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