Manga-ka: Keiko Tobe
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: All Ages
Released: March 2009
Synopsis: “When staffing changes at Masato’s company get him transferred to a dead-end job in the middle of nowhere, more suffering and despair seem imminent for the Azuma family. However, Masato approaches the situation with aplomb and comes up with new ways to pave the way for Hikaru and those like him to become “cheerful working adults” . . . with surprising results. Hikaru himself seems to be getting closer, bit by bit, to achieving this goal as the Azumas decide to foster their son’s independence in a variety of ways, including getting to and from school on his own. But when Hikaru encounters an old acquaintance on the way home and leads Sachiko to a horrific discovery, will the Azumas be able to return a favor and help out a friend in need?”
With the Light is an on-going manga series that follows a family as they cope with the eldest child’s autism. The book acts as both education and entertainment, offering detailed looks at the trials and rewards of raising an autistic child and the dedication of parents who want their child to live a fulfilling life in a society that isn’t always accommodating.
With fluffy interactions and cute moments throughout, what really charmed me about this book however is that all the characters are flawed; flawed in ways that are realistic in nature and in a way that is undoubtedly able and intended to invoke well-placed empathy from the reader.
Hikaru’s parents are both honest, hard-working individuals, and while the selflessness of their character is a consistently proven trait they both share, both will admit they’ve done things that’ve been negative or hurtful. In flashback to a previous volume, Hikaru’s mother reflects on her autistic’s son youth and how she often found herself hitting her child out of frustration until she better learned to understand his needs. Moments like these paint a stark reality over the stories’ lead family, whose lives can at times seem unrealistically calm and linear due to the necessary restriction of the plot which moves along a timeline of Hikaru’s life.
Undoubtedly I also learned a lot reading through this book. I remember having several part-time classmates throughout my years in public school that had autism and yet I learned more from this one volume of With the Light than I did in those many days spending class and activities together. It would’ve been a great benefit to have somebody explain the students’ disabilities to us or let us know what all the different images and charts were for. It fills me with a little regret now thinking back to how differently some of us would’ve interacted with those students if only we’d understood a little better.
This is a perspective that I believe the book really strives to accomplish, and does so fairly well, using Hikaru and his family as a window into the world from the perspective of a family trying to help their child fit into society. There’s so much to consider and even more to do. The Mother alone is incredible in her patience and consistency and the kindness shown to her by friends and teachers will undoubtedly be as heart-warming to readers as it is to her.
The art style is pretty nice, lacking some polish in places, but ultimately it suits the material well. It has a look that I felt was reminiscent of older classic shoujo titles. My only real complaint regarding the book’s visual style would be that the Mother occasionally looks like she could easily pass for a classmate of Hikaru, over being his Mother. I didn’t find this an issue with other adult characters so the Mother stood out to me a lot in that regard.
Yen Press has done fantastic work with this series from what I can gather from this fourth volume. Targeted as much, if not more so, to those wishing to read a story about interacting and aiding the growth of an autistic child, than that of manga fans, there is special care given to accommodate the format which will likely be alien to the latter audience. Both the front and the back of the book explain the Japanese right to left reading formats, including guides on how to follow the story. The back of the book, along with carefully inserted side notes through the pages, have a good amount of translation notes that explain some cultural references made throughout the story. There’s also some real-life case studies included at the back for added educational and institutional value. Physical quality-wise, the printing is crisp with no gutter issues that I came across and all the text is neatly placed. All the pages turn easily and the book has a surprisingly light feel for something coming in at a total of 530 pages.
Admittedly if With the Light’s plot had been different, I likely would’ve found the occasionally vacant personalities and airy art style to lack substance, but the manga-ka’s keen ability to weave in so much educational material within the story really made this an enjoyable read (not to mention a substantially satisfying one in regards to page-count). I was entertained and educated, a pleasant combination, and I’m eager to read the next volume.