I have to say, in the world of disability manga, I really do think I Hear the Sunspot is one of the best — if not the best — manga about a disability that I have found. I previously reviewed this series back when the first book came out of the original 2-book series. When it was first released, the first book was surrounded by hype and conversation from the manga community, and I knew I had to check it out. I saw the first volume at my local comic book store and immediately picked it up. I’ve been following the series ever since. Just recently, the last volume of the Limit series was released, completing this 3-volume continuation of the original books. When this one came out, I made the point of sitting down and reading through the series again. I was glad to see that my opinion of the series hasn’t changed. I still think Yuki Fumino’s discussion and exploration of what it’s like to be on the hearing loss/deaf spectrum is very insightful and moving. Combined with a sweet boys love story between two college students, the manga comes across as deep, full of emotion, and full of respect for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
I Hear the Sunspot: Limit is the continuation to the 2-book series I Hear the Sunspot. The story picks up after Taichi quits college to pursue a new career helping people with hearing disabilities. With Kohei still at college, their new-found relationship becomes strained as Taichi has less and less time to spend with him. In an effort to make more connections among the hearing impaired community, Kohei finds himself coming in contact with a strange boy named Ryu who is completely deaf. His strong opinions about being deaf begin to make Kohei question upcoming decisions about his future and his relationship with Taichi.
I love Fumino’s art. It has a great sense of style, strong lines, clear and fun expressions, and is able to capture movement very well. I really enjoyed seeing how she crafted and told her story through her art and the panel designs, and really enjoyed how she designed her characters and made them so expressive throughout the volumes. Taichi especially is drawn as a very expressive character, full of movement and energy as he interacts with those around him. He is the type of character who wears his heart on his sleeve, and Fumino does a great job capturing his feelings not only through his expressions but also through the way she designs the panel layout of each page to capture certain emotions or increase the impact of scenes to their fullest.
I feel like I emphasize this every time I review a manga, but panel and page design is one of the most important aspects of creating a moving and impactful comic story. Our brains can associate certain panel shapes with emotions or mood. If done well, creators can force the reader’s eyes to move through the panels in a certain way or focus on specific aspects of the story. Fumino has accomplished this so well through these volumes, and I think that is one of the reasons why her story is so impactful and imparts so much emotion to the reader.
I think one of the best examples might be in volume 3, chapter 12 where Ryu is looking back on his life with his brother and their relationship. Fumino makes the background straight black to distinguish it from the present and the rest of the story. Throughout the pages, we see so many panels without speech, but we can still feel the emotions behind those scenes and Ryu’s thought process within the spaces between panels. I love the page where he is walking with his brother and his girlfriend and we see her slowly come to the realization that she feels left out of their relationship and can’t keep up with them. In the panels we get the sense fairly clearly as we see the emphasis switch from her watching them chat in JSL, then the panel switches to her feet which seem to be slowing down, and then to her walking further behind them. This is all done without speech bubbles or any other text, just pure images getting this disconnect across. Fumino really accomplishes a lot with this flashback and the rest of Ryu’s pages, giving us insight into his relationship with his brother and the parts of his past that made him who he is today and most likely influenced his attitude about being deaf.
Disability literature can be very tough to pull off. It’s a tough balance between educating your readers without sounding preachy and being compassionate without looking down on the character with the disability. The purpose of disability literature is to highlight people and characters who are strong and capable because of or in spite of their disability. Showing characters who succeed, lead normal lives, and have fulfilling relationships is key to success in this genre. Here, Fumino shows her strength as a writer as she crafts a strong narrative surrounding living with hearing loss and deafness but succeeding in leading fulfilling lives. What Fumino also does really well, is emphasizing the spectrum. Disabilities aren’t black and white. Most of the time people don’t fall into the deaf or not deaf boxes that a lot of people like to make. There is a spectrum, and the characters in I Hear the Sunspot fall across this spectrum from not hearing-impaired, to deaf in one ear, to hard of hearing, to completely deaf. This becomes integral to the story as it goes on.
One of the hardest parts I’ve always found with these types of stories is the ease at which they can become preachy in their efforts to educate their readers. Fumino winds up walking the line very well, providing context and information on her character’s disabilities and struggles within society while finding ways to integrate it into the story. I think the biggest asset for this has been Taichi. In general, adding a person who has no knowledge of something but is absolutely willing to learn is a great way for the reader to learn along with them. Taichi allows the reader to gain information as he learns and grows. His relationship with Kohei also allows him to see some of the societal struggles Kohei has to go through to find a place for himself in a hearing world.
I love the relationship between Kohei and Taichi. I think all of their struggles are fairly realistic and they really care about each other and try to support one another to the best of their ability. With the addition of Kohei’s disability comes another level of depth and self-consciousness that begins to affect their relationship. In Limit as opposed to the original books, I think we see more of the conflict between the hearing and deaf communities, and the way they tend to clash with one another. This idea that if you’re deaf or hard of hearing, you shouldn’t need to change yourself or adapt to the hearing world, or–in extreme circumstances–even associate with hearing people. Kohei struggles with this balance of being accepted by the deaf community while also wanting to be with Taichi and interact with the wider hearing world. Taichi and Ryu tug at him from different sides, yet also give him a sense of a foundation to work off of in each of these different worlds.
I love this series so much, and I love this new movement to bring to light and publish more disability literature that looks at all spectrums. I Hear the Sunspot is one of the best series I have found in this genre, and I highly encourage you to pick up not just Limit but the original 2-book series as well. I’d love to hear what you think about the series in the comments below as well or any other recommendations for comics, manga, or other literature about disabilities!
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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