Category Archives: With the Light

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.

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.

Thaxton Analysis 10, Blog 7

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).