This manga by Keiko Tobe is incredible and I’ve read lots of manga. I almost just want to shove this tome onto others when they don’t understand autism, because this depiction of it seems to be the least problematic that we’ve seen so far. It illustrates Sachiko, Masato, and Hikaru’s (and later Kanon) plight with coming to terms with disability, finding resources, and finding reprieve and help in others. Hikaru’s autism is intrinsically at the heart of the story, as much of the conflict in the manga itself rises from it. Whether it be coping with Hikaru’s outbursts, Sachiko’s attempts to find a haven for him, or other characters who oppress them, the family definitely has their hands full in raising a child with autism.
As I said, I really, really enjoyed reading this manga. I think it stays true to “manga culture” and seeing a depiction of autism in that culture, for me, has not been an experience until now. Hikaru may not say much at all in this story, but his presence on the page is noteworthy. He takes a lot of dominance on the page when he’s in the scene or even being talked about. In the same vein, I feel like the story is less about Hikaru and more about Sachiko. If I had to say, I’d pin her as the protagonist (obviously, right?). Sachiko is definitely trying to beat the system that seems to be built against mothers like her with autistic children. All throughout the story, she goes to welfare facilities, daycares, has to interview for elementary schools in hopes they’ll accept her child—and often, she’s met with a lot of grief. The mothers with “normal” children don’t like how disruptive and “off” Hikaru is, and therefore puts Sachiko further away from them. Sachiko finds relief finally when she’s around others who understands her predicament, which, slowly but surely, includes her husband.
I felt like this manga not only played with the presentation of neurodivergence and autism, but also in traditional family values and the sort. Masato is the salaryman, Sachiko the stay at home mom. Eventually, the two compromise and Sachiko picks up a job and Masato climbs down the business ladder. I feel like these traditional values get flipped a bit when they both come to terms that their family isn’t “normal”. It seems to reflect the change and the adjustment that Sachiko and Masato have to do in order to help preserve their child. Just a tiny thing I noticed, but seems to be a big deal especially when dealing with this older Japanese culture.
The part that surprised me the most was near the end when Sachiko has her daughter. Sachiko can’t remember the first time that Kanon called her “mommy” when the word was a milestone for Hikaru. “I’m sorry I can’t be as happy as I was with Hikaru.” she ruminates. This was an interesting section that I feel showed a lot about Sachiko’s character. Here is a woman who is used to having to go the long way around, the higher road, the bumpier road, the hardest path yet taken—and yet when faced with a child who acts neurotypical, she almost can’t be thankful. Nothing with Kanon is hard (at least not yet, I feel). She doesn’t have to “try” to “earn her love”. It makes me wonder how the story would go if she had Kanon first—female, neurotypical—and then Hikaru later on in the manga. It would make for a very different story, no less, but what level of tenacity does Sachiko acquire from a neurodivergent child that she doesn’t seem to achieve with a neurotypical? (If I’m saying this right at all).