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Week 13 Review

intothelightThese reviews are getting shorter (and later) as the end draws near.  But if you missed class on Monday evening, you missed a good discussion of With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe, the first volume of an eight-volume work.  We spent the first part of class examining different kinds of manga–shonen (for adolescent boys), shojo (for girls), josei (for women) and historical (e.g. Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon History of Hiroshima by Keijo Nakazawa).  We noted quite a few features of each genre, which included:

  • Strong, contrasting ink in many shonen manga, a contrast to the soft mid-tones of the josei With the Light.
  • Thick lines and sharp angles in shonen manga, a contrast to the thin, curving lines of WTL
  • A more regular, symmetrical pattern of panels in shonen, a contrast to the open (and hence timeless) panels of WTL.  
  • The predominance of action and action-to-action transitions in shonen, a contrast to the focus on relationships (and occasional aspect-to-aspect transitions) in WTL.
  • A “breaking of the fourth wall” of fiction in josei, as it appeals directly to mothers of autistic children through informational pages and resources.
  • See the Manga overview handout for more.

As we noticed these differences, one argument that emerged had to do with genre and audience: each of the manga genres speaks directly to a particular demographic.  It also reinforces sometimes traditional expectations about each demographic–that boys are supposed to like violence and conflict; that women are supposed to stay at home to raise children.  In this regard, WTL might be considered ahead of its time: not only does it portray a career woman (Sachiko) and her progressive husband (Masato), it also takes on the socially taboo topic of mental disorder/illness, a highly stigmatized issue in Japanese culture.

After the break, we talked more specifically about WTL, examining individual pages from the tome (these were hard to find without page numbers!).  A few consensus points emerged in our discussion:

  • WTL was one of the most emotionally powerful work of the semester.  Why was this the case?  Does a visual medium speak more immediately to us than a verbal one?
  • WTL seemed more direct and honest in its portrayal of autism than any other work this semester.
  • On occasion, WTL gives us insights into Hiraku’s world, and it is especially effective in showing the sensory overload he experienced.  Comics as a whole have the ability to show the sense of sight, smell, sound, and touch in a visual way, and this is an advantage over a strictly verbal form.
  • WTL also exemplifies how manga can appeal to autistic readers in a range of ways–by showing strong emotions, by giving readers face after face after face, by including highly detailed backgrounds and patterns, and more (see my article on this issue in particular).

Onward to Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither.  We’ll also spend time prepping for the final take-home essay.


Gone by Michael Grant

Since I missed our literature circle for our YA book, here are my thoughts on Gone by Michael Grant (as well as the rest of the Gone series).

Warning: LOTS of spoilers ahead!

The quick description of Gone: Everyone over the age of 15 suddenly disappears and a barrier appears around the town, trapping in all of the children. Soon many of the children discover that they have super powers, and not only that, but that the animals in the dome are also mutating. The book has been described as Lord of the Flies if it had been written by Stephen King.

So, right away, I’ll admit to cheating. The second I finished reading Gone I immediately looked up the full summaries of the other five books in the series. I didn’t have the patience to read through five more books in order to get the full story, I wanted to know right away.

Here is a brief summary of the Gone series: The town the series is set in is home to a nuclear power plant. Years ago, what was originally thought to be a meteorite, slammed into one of the reactors. The damage was contained and repaired and all is well… or so they think. We find out later that it wasn’t a meteorite but an alien lifeform. The alien lifeform is mutated by the uranium and becomes an evil being called The Gaiaphage (also known as The Darkness). The Darkness’ mutation is also the cause of the children’s super powers (think X-Men mutants and their random powers). But what caused the adults to disappear and the barrier around the town? Little Pete. Pete is a four-year-old autistic boy with powers stronger than all of the other children. Because he is severely autistic, he isn’t able to control the powers. The day the barrier went up and the adults disappeared was the day that Little Pete’s father brought him to work at the nuclear power plant. The Darkness triggered the alarms to go off, which caused Pete to have a breakdown. The adults in the room tried to help, but everything got louder and suddenly… the alarms turn off, the adults disappear, and Little Pete goes back to calmly playing his Gameboy. In his autistic panic, Little Pete got rid of the loud adults and kept them out. Throughout the series he uses his powers here and there, but always when he is afraid/upset. The book calls his power the power of wish. He can essentially do anything he wants. But like I said, he doesn’t have control of it, so he only uses his powers to get what he wants when he is upset.

Things go from bad to worse when the kids start to run out of food for themselves, and diapers and formula for the babies (it is pointed out that only the babies in the abandoned daycare are taken care of, the ones left alone in homes are dead/dying). Then the mutated animals begin to kill the children. On top of that they have the evil Darkness to deal with. Astrid, Pete’s sister, originally tries to protect him, but she knows he’s the cause of the barrier. She knows that if everyone is to survive, the barrier needs to come down, but the only one who can do that is Pete. So she kills him. But the barrier doesn’t come down. That’s because while Pete is dead, his spirit didn’t move on. Instead his spirit stays. This is when Pete stops being autistic. It turns out it was his body that made him autistic, but once he left his body, he is no longer autistic. He knows that he needs to destroy The Darkness (he is the only one with the power) and that he needs to take down the barrier. He can’t do that without a body, so he possesses one of the Darkness’ evil minions. Him and The Darkness battle it out and they both end up getting destroyed. The barrier comes down, all of the children lose their powers, and everything goes back to normal (or as normal as it can get).

And that’s the Gone series. It’s surprisingly dark for a MG/YA series. Dead babies, sisters murdering brothers, and all kinds of chaos.

But this class is about autism. Little Pete is an accurate portrayal of an autistic four-year-old. He has all of the classic symptoms. And I imagine that if any real-life autistic child suddenly had super powers, something like this could happen. It’s an interesting concept. What happens if someone who is neurodivergent or someone with a disability gains super powers? It’s not totally original (X-Men has done it), but it’s still a thought-provoking story.

Trisch, Analysis

Wow, this book has really been an interesting and enlightening experience! Before reading this book, I do not think I had ever even thought to pick up a Manga before, nor do I even remember seeing them prominently displayed in bookstores or libraries before. So I went into this book unsure of what to expect, and was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

What I found most interesting with this book was the contrasting details not only in the way the Japanese are portrayed in the way they respond to an autistic child compared to what I have come to expect from the way American’s are portrayed, but also in the differences and similarities in overall culture.

The first thing that really jumped out at me was on the very first page. The parents in this Manga have just witnessed the birth of their child and now have a newborn baby. Because I am accustomed to seeing this portrayed as a very personal and emotional familial moment, I was shocked to see the first response the father had to the name of his child. They name their son Hikaru after the morning sunrise, and the father responds by saying, “Maybe he’ll move up the corporate ladder like the rising sun” (Tobe 1). This may have been intended to be a bit of a joke, but I was still shocked nonetheless that the idea was even in Hikaru’s father’s mind at that moment. As the first few pages of the book progressed, there were even more mentions of the father’s profession that further emphasized just how important this topic is in Japanese society.

I knew a little bit about the “workaholic” culture in Japan before reading this Manga, but I felt compelled to do a little more research on it after reading the first few pages of “With the Light”. I found an interesting article that I felt really demonstrates this key cultural difference between American and Japanese cultures. In this article entitled, “’Death by Overwork’, Workaholic Japanese forced to take vacation time”, the author discusses how many Japanese companies are now being forced to make their employees use their paid vacation time due to an increase in mental and physical health problems that have been breaking out due to being overworked. What I found interesting was one passage in the article that states, “Part of the reason for the Japanese reluctance to take that leave is the stigma attached. Many workers feel resentment from colleagues if they are absent from the workplace, as this increases the amount of labor the coworkers have to carry out” (RT News 1).

I felt that this attitude toward disdain for not working and the emphasis on the importance of “product” was demonstrated in the Manga throughout the way everything seemed to somehow relate back to a job or how a job held much more emphasis than emotional or mental needs. I also noticed that despite the fact that this Manga takes place in Japan, the “refrigerator mother” phenomenon is still present, as shown in the scene where Hikaru’s father snaps at his mother. He places all the blame on her, stating that “children grow up as they were raised”, and that his autism was caused by her own lack of discipline and allowing him to be babysat by a TV. Similar to the way I felt watching the refrigerator mother documentary, I felt very bad for Hikaru’s mother at this scene, as you know how hard she tries to be a good parent and how much she loves him. However, I felt that because Hikaru’s mother is portrayed in a sympathetic light in this situation despite the blame she gets from her husband, that it shows that perhaps the Japanese have been working on combating this stereotype as a culture, which was encouraging.


“‘Death by overwork’: Workaholic Japanese to be forced to take vacation time .” RT News6 Feb. 2015, https://www.rt.com/news/229943-japan-work-holiday-compulsory/. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.


Schiller, Analysis 5

First of all, I would like to say what a beautiful, thoughtful, well-written manga this is.  A lot of care and love went into this work, and it is very much reflected in the end result, which is truly a work of art.  This is one of the best, most thought-provoking manga I’ve ever read–and I’ve read a lot of manga.

I once read a quote regarding world travel that said something like, “If you’re American, and want to experience culture shock from a completely modernized society, you should visit Japan.”  I recalled this piece of advice when I was thinking about this manga and the cultural differences it shows in its treatment of autism.  To be honest, I’ve been reading manga about day-to-day Japanese life for so long, I’ve become completely accustomed to many of the little peculiarities other Americans seem to find disarming.  This manga, however, shone a light (if you’ll pardon my pun) on an unglamourous, complicated part of reality that gains very little recognition in Japan: mental illness and disability.

As we discussed in class, and as any foreigner reading this manga can immediately tell, the basic Japanese way of life is very largely rigid, conformationalist, and traditional.  There are some among the Japanese youth who make it a priority to challenge conventional standards and practices, but by and large the consensus seems to be that this is a “phase,” so to speak–once you’ve left your twenties, you’re expected to “grow out of it” and “settle down” into an “acceptable” way of life.  In Japan, difference is mostly frowned upon, or at least regarded as an unnecessary complication for those around you.  Even dying your hair–no matter how unnoticeable, flattering, or well-done the color may be–carries a stigma of immaturity and irresponsibility.

Is it any surprise, then, that in a culture that prioritizes convention, politesse, and self-sacrifice, mental illness generally goes undiscussed?  Japan’s national suicide rate ranks it at 17th in the world.  The US is 50th.  You can see the pressure that Sachiko places on herself to be a model wife at the beginning of the book, as well as the pressure that her husband, Masato, places on himself to be a good employee and provider.  The expectations that Sachiko faces are totally normal: a common compliment in Japan, in regards to things like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, is, “You’ll make a good wife.”  Similarly, the reaction many people have to Hikaru–of bemusement and bafflement–is the same reaction they might have to any “disobedient” or “ill-behaved” child.  Hikaru has difficulty getting along in Japanese society largely because all societal difficulties and differences are regarded poorly in Japan–even more than in American society, the expectation of conformity and adherence to the “unspoken” is extensive.

Works Cited: 

Hirose, Yumiko, and Hiroki Sasamori. “Current Status and Issues of Autism Education in Japan.” NISE, http://www.nise.go.jp/kenshuka/josa/kankobutsu/pub_d/d-292/d-292_14.pdf. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.

Suicide statistics from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rateCalvin College openURL resolver

Sundelius, Analysis 5

“With the Light” makes me think very much of arguably the most popular shonen manga around; Naruto. This series has been around for now 14 years in anime, and the manga since 1997 where the main protagonist, Naruto Uzumaki first appeared in 1997. 20 years since his first manga appearance, the manga and anime will be ending in a few comparatively short months. The way that the mangaka, Masashi Kishimoto refused to westernize the series the way that other anime shows such as the Dragon Ball series, the Pokemon series, among others really challenges the status quo of the United States’ programming standards. Naruto has been infamous for it’s suspenseful, violent, bloody but honorable battles, not afraid to push the western countries’ moral lines in the sand. “With the Light” touches on a topic, that as we’ve noticed in class, isn’t so directly referred to in fictional literature.

“With the Light” is centered around raising a child with Autism. That is the main theme in the manga, and it is done wonderfully, in my opinion. The fact that Japanese culture is accepting enough of this, considering it has been translated to English, is extremely fascinating. Thus, through this main idea, it serves a similar purpose to the Naruto franchise. It brings up a topic that is held more-or-less hush-hush in the US, and shows the various dynamics involved in raising a child with autism through the viewing lense of a Japanese family. Culturally, this coincides with Japan’s apparent idealistic approach of no topic really being too “mainstream,” boring or provocative enough to make into manga.

Is it a big gimmick? I don’t believe so, because perhaps the emotions, styling and events in the book may not be perfect representations of otherwise neurodivergent children in any one society, it does help bring awareness to it. And it shed some positive lights on the experience too, right down to the cover. Smiling faces, light blue and white colors suggest a more holy or divine outlook on the contents inside. After all, Naruto was a bullied, outcast orphan and could be argued as being neurodivergent based on his behavior throughout the entire series. Yet, he became a pop-culture icon in Japan, the US and many other countries around the world. He isn’t directly labeled as autistic or even being any other kind of neurodivergent, thus we assume he is neurotypical and just “quirky.” Yet it is implied by various villagers, comrades and enemies alike that he is thinks different, fights different and is more fixated on his “ninja way,” or creed more so than any other person they have ever been around.

Regardless, the point remains that the kind of refreshingly blunt, approachable manga we were assigned is definitely not a “westernized” version. For example, these kinds of foreign programming or other media is often watered down heavily, removing a lot of things like blood, cursing, any kinds of sexual innuendos and even sometimes cultural signifiers such as flags, symbols or body features in order to make the media in question more “appropriate for the general population.” Naruto and “With the Light” are two examples of the cultural difference between the US and Japan, and why perhaps the US could use a little more influence from Japan from a manga and overall media censorship standpoint, so that topics like autism and neurodivergent individuals as a collective is a more approachable and understood part of our society.

Sources: http://www.latinpost.com/articles/23529/20141012/naruto-manga-comic-book-series-end-15-years-will-anime.htm


VanOrd, Analysis 6 — “With the Light”

Last week in class we had a pretty long introduction on this week’s reading of With the Light. Because this book is a “manga”, which many of us in the class were unfamiliar with, we required some background information to get going. I will admit by the end of the video and class discussion last week I was feeling very overwhelmed by the idea of reading this book. As I began to read it over Thanksgiving I was initially frustrated by reading from the right side of the page to the left and reading inside little circles, rectangles and squares. But, as I read on and became more used to reading in the midst of drawings I actually liked it.

This surprised me due to my lack of knowledge on manga and Japanese culture, but I really did. I definitely agree with what the professor said, and what other students have attested to in their blog posts, that this book was the most accurate portrayal of autism we’ve come across thus far. I found this manga to be very moving as it told the less-pleasant side of what autism may be like for families, especially in even less aware or accepting cultures.

Up until this book I believe we’ve only looked at autistic characters that live in either the United States or that live in England. I really enjoyed seeing how Japanese culture was shown to respond to an autistic child and the family.

For my research this week I was curious why Japanese society is portrayed less accepting than American society of people with disabilities or who are neurodivergent. My first thought was that maybe they had a lower rate of autism in their society, therefore they are less surrounded by it and less familiar with it. This turned out to be false. In fact, Japan has the highest rates of autism in children (161 out of 10,000 children) and the U.S. is the fifth highest (147 out of 10,000 children) with Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom having higher rates than the U.S. as well.

So, since it must not be a lack of prevalent autism in their society, I began thinking it must be their culture that highly regards obedience, respect and success that make the society as a whole seem less accepting than other cultures. The stigma of autism is hard for anyone in any culture to maneuver around. I can imagine that in Japan where control is important, a child that is seemingly out of control would be hard for the public eye to give the benefit of the doubt to.

This is not only Japan but all people everywhere: when something is new it can be scary and frustrating; then as a response people generally avoid things that scare and/or frustrate them; then the lack of understanding or willingness to learn about this new, scary thing only further propels the misconceptions people have of autism and the behaviors and differences that those with ASD possess. Even though in Japan autism is common throughout the society, basically 2 people in 125 have autism, the mere stigma of being different, uncontrolled, disobedient, disrespectful or even unpromising for success, prevents people from feeling comfortable educating themselves on the topic. This lessens awareness and spreading awareness is a huge first step in understanding.

I’m unsure how this could change in Japanese society, but as I read the book it certainly gave me hope for not only traditional Japanese families who don’t want to believe their child is neurodivergent, but also for all families in general who struggle with this new and intimidating task of figuring out autism. I appreciated the struggle between the parents, Masato and Sachiko that took place in the beginning of the story. It showed the day to day miscommunication, frustration an exhaustion that can come from learning about your autistic child. It also showed that if all members of the family are willing to learn and try hard as a family than they can overcome the hurdles that can come along with ASD.



Wagner, With the Light

I am seeing people touching on this already, but I wanted to talk about how autism is viewed, not only in Japan, but world wide. It was interesting to read this piece and see the immense amount of support happening and to see something that wasn’t light, but positive, mostly. I think that is an important part of autism no matter where – positivity seems to be the key, both in learning about it, coping with it, and representing it. Realistically, of course, but positive as well. That being said, i wanted to do some research on how autism is actually viewed in Japan and if accommodations are made.

In my research, i found this interesting PDF by both the Senior Chief Researcher at the Department of Educational support in Japan as well as the Senior Chief Researcher for the Information Center of Education for the persons with Developmental Disabilities. It states that only recently has autism been added to the laws and reforms of special needs education, but now that it has, students with autism have access to schools and education catered to children with special needs. It doesn’t go any further than that, but it does project for the future, saying that, “The goal of autistic education is to have children with autism participate socially in a cohesive society.

Beyond this, it lists out ways to make sure that people with ASD are accommodated by means of adjusting living environments, professional development for teachers, understanding characteristics and education, as well as cooperation with relevant organizations like (medical agencies). Take a look, for in depth explanations:  http://www.nise.go.jp/kenshuka/josa/kankobutsu/pub_d/d-292/d-292_14.pdf

However, a basic google search also reveals that studies in Japan about vaccines causing autism are popular, as well as ways to “fix” children. I am hoping that the plan in the first source I read is something being implemented in a timely fashion to reduce those stereotypes and negative views.

I also found that Japan has the highest rate of children with autism, being 161 of every 10,000 children. Granted, their population is large, but I found it interesting that even though it is so common, the social awareness of it is still rather low.

I wanted to go a step further and look at ASD and its global perceptions. It was interesting to see how different countries view and deal with children with ASD. For example, in India, it is a popular belief that physical fitness is a mandatory asset to individuals with ASD and while social interaction is something that is worked on at care facilities, so is physical health. ON the other hand, Iceland and its huge healthcare system makes sure children are checked out ages 6-12 and many diagnosis are made, with children being referred to specialists to help educate parents and decide the best coping mechanisms. However, with the system caring for and diagnosing so many people each year, the system still isn’t big enough to care for and treat the growing number of autistic children  (http://thescipub.com/PDF/jssp.2012.196.201.pdf).

In conclusion, ASD is something that has only recently been delved into worldwide. The growing advocation for it seems to be reaching even the smaller countries and accommodations are being made. However, it is clear that the world still has a lot left to be educated on.