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Background Cues in With the Light (Vol. 6)

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In Keiko Tobe manga series, With the Light, one of the major strengths of her narrative style is the perspective in which we see the autistic child, Hikaru.  We follow many characters and hear many thoughts, none of which truly come from Hikaru.  This leads to the question of how this can be an autistic text at all if it does not allow him to voice his thoughts and perceptions.  The answer lies in the medium with which Tobe has decided to tell this story, the graphic novel (in manga style, to be accurate).  Subtle additions to the various scenes and panels give readers a clear insight on what characters are thinking and experiencing, including Hikaru. What at first seems like a character with no voice is suddenly filled with life when analyzing the artwork that Tobe has provided.

As early as page 9, Tobe wants to make clear the way in which we will see the world when we are viewing it through Hikaru’s eyes.  When the spherical time capsule is revealed for the school, Hikaru is fascinated by it.  This is clear through the use of a different shading technique for Hikaru, giving him a sparkling look, and a background filled with stars. As the book continues, the trend for the background to indicate what Hikaru is interested in emerges, but the hatched shading style holds a broader meaning that simple interest.  While pages 9, 74, 390, and 410 express the profound attention that he is giving something, usually associated with something that he really likes, page 13 seems to be showing a more introspective attention than the other scenes.  Page 175 and 347 also have this cross-hatched style which could be considered part of his inner thoughts or happiness, but one could also make the case that these are perceptions that characters around Hikaru are viewing him, with their own fascination.  Other cues that Tobe has placed to draw attention to the same things that Hikaru is can be found on pages 46 and 66 (long hair), 74 (soft “shoulder pad”), 19 (snail bus), and 174 (bells). The most common cues used for this purpose are stars in the background (as earlier on page 9) and soft balls of light (best seen on 46 and 66), though there are a couple exceptions.  Flowers are used on pages 234, 212, and 214, mostly in the presence of food.  One particular subtle background is used on pages 274 and 275 when Hikaru has just gotten off the phone with Nobuaki, a child hood friend.  This soft “stream of stars” seems to indicated his excitement at seeing his friends again, and perhaps connects to the “tingling sensation” that he also just experienced, though it is worthy to note that the “stream of stars” is decidedly faded when Hikaru is trying to get rid of the phone.  Tobe also uses graphical cues to help readers catch when Hikaru is upset, usually by darkening the scene and his face.  Pages 235 and 454 are excellent examples of Hikaru’s distress regarding the situation, whether that be a blank calendar or a too-noisy station. Stepping away from Hikaru for a moment, an Tobe draws an interesting scene on page 230.  As his father, Masato reflects on disability, the background around him seems to be washed out and hard to see.  This is a clear connection to Masato’s detached retina and shows that Tobe is not only interested in other health and disability issues, but also how to portray them so the reader understands what is really happening.

The effort which Keiko Tobe put into this text is phenomenal.  The attention to detail not only in the character’s interactions with each other, but also the backgrounds which they are portrayed in and the dialogue which adds to the way we see the characters, gives readers an excellent experience in living with Hikaru, Sachiko (the mother), Masato, and younger sister Kanon.  Each of these family members have their own concerns and challenges, and Hikaru, despite being largely silent, still has an important role, and voice, in this graphic novel.  The challenge for readers is hearing that voice, as it isn’t necessarily easy to find on the page.  The other characters of the narrative are treated with the same background and facial cues, but these are Hikaru’s only means of communicating to us, and in a book about raising an autistic child, Hikaru is a character to study carefully.  Keiko Tobe’s effort in creating a text about disability is a huge success and should be considered when studying the autistic spectrum.

word count: 764

Written by Spyden

December 8th, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Allison Miller’s Final Exam: With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child

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With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child tells the story about two Japanese parents (Sachicko and Masato) who raise their autistic son Hikaru and their daughter Konan. The manga’s main narrator is Sachiko, a busy, yet calm mother who tells readers about her life as a mom (such as events, feelings, etc). What’s interesting about Sachiko is her perception towards Hikaru’s Autism and how she deals with it. She and her husband try to find ways to work with Hikaru’s Autism rather than struggling with him.  Though they don’t know all about their son’s behavior, they still try to accommodate with him rather than go against him, such as using a schedule so Hikaru has order, using earmuffs to block out the sound when he is in a noisy location, etc. In other words, they do not cave in to other’s perspectives about him. By showing this, Keiko Tobe shows us differences between the perception of autism between Japan and the United States. One can argue that Keiko Tobe creates Japanese parents as more accommodating and empathetic towards Autistic children than American parents in order to prove that  people perceive Autism differently in other cultures. First, one will show the difference between Sachiko’s actions with Hikaru and compare it with the American “I Am Autism” campaign. Next, one will show other people’s perceptions in the manga in comparison to America’s perception.

One way in which Japanese perception empathizes more with Autism is how Hiraku’s parents perceive Autism. They (from previous volumes), seem to be used to making Hikaru’s schedules. However, there are times when new incidents will occur. The question is, how do they deal with it? One incident occurs in episode 2 (page 47) Hiraku touches a woman’s hair on the bus and the woman freaks out. The other people on the bus freaks out by asking what was wrong with Hikaru. Although surprised by this incident, reflects on the experience first. She blames herself by saying, “I shouldn’t have been looking at my notepad.” (52). She apologizes, but quickly transitions to how to accommodate this new habit. She thinks,”He has to push the stop button a little sooner this time. On a day like this, he’ll be in a foul mood if somebody else pushes the button first.” (52) Later, she tries to find a way where Hikaru could keep his hands to himself, which she does by making a fluffy shoulder pad for his backpack (63).  In this episode, rather than thinking about herself and feeling sorry about Hikaru, she tries to find a way to make riding on the bus better without Hikaru acting up again. In other words, she accommodates both the strangers and Hikaru’s need. Compare this with America’s “I am Autism commercial” In this commercial, Autism is as an evil voice where it tells the parents, “…and if you are happily married, I will make sure your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self gain.” By stating what it will do, the voice’s main focus is on the parents rather than the child. Although parents, friends, and family fight back against “Autism”, Americans still think it’s an evil aura that we must get rid of. However, fail to state how they will accommodate their child’s needs. In other words, this perception dramatizes parents’ “suffering” more while sympathizing with themselves and their autistic child. 

Another thing that’s different between Japan’s and America’s perception is other people’s perception about Autism. Here is where reactions may be universally similar in that strangers know that something is different about an autistic child. For example, when the woman pushes Hikaru away from her on the bus, many people on the bus start to observe Hikaru more closely. In return, Hikaru gets scared as well because he needs order so he will not be afraid and confused when travelling to school. One scene that is different is when Sachiko takes Konan to the first grade induction ceremony. There are a couple of mothers who remembered Hikaru from a birthday party (he accidentally peed in his pants). What’s interesting is that call him rude up until another mother mentions that he’s  “handicapped.” However, they don’t really show sign of pitying Hikaru or Sachiko (467). Her mother in law however gets embarrassed. Compare that with the “I Am Autism” commercial. Not only does it induce fear, but creates viewers’ pity of Autism, which makes viewers want to get involve for “finding a cure” for it.  By pitying a person, they cannot empathize with them, but instead sympathize with them. Perhaps American perceptions are more sympathetic because they focus more on either the equality of Autistic children or trying to help organizations find a cure.

What’s also intersting is the affect of sympathizing. Because American’s perception seems to be more about sympathizing, people either try to help these organizations or try to stay away from that person. However, Sachiko confronts her mother-in-law about Hikaru when she says that she was embarrassed by him. Sachiko states, “I preferred my neighbors to know about Hiraku…In fact, they helped us so many times.” (476). By bringing in neighbors and friends, Tobe creates a community that helps accommodate Hikaru’s needs in order for him to function in the real world. She wants people to know that her son is Autistic so that he can live in the real world when he grows up. She brings up a very good point by saying that now is not the time to be embarrassed, but to help accommodate their child instead of pitying themselves.

Perceptions of Autism will be different in other cultures, but that doesn’t mean one’s perception is better than the other. Japan does empathize more than America, while America sympathizes more than Japan. However, both nations could learn from one another in order to use these two perceptions together to build a better system that will help their children’s needs.

Word Count: 996

Written by library1288

December 8th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Katherine’s Final Exam: The Refreshingly Truthful and Informative Presentation of Autism within Keiko Tobe’s “With the Light: Raising and Autistic Child – Volume 6”

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Keiko Tobe unapologetically presents autism as one valuable point on the spectrum of human experience.  In her graphic text, With the Light: Raising and Autistic Child – Volume 6, Tobe asserts and demonstrates that autism is not a “curable disease” from which someone “suffers,” but a set of characteristics that form how an individual experiences the world.  Tobe also risks the validity of her text as a whole by offering support and information directly to her audience, not just by implying advice through her characters.  Further, this presentation of autism, in some ways atypical, in other ways emotionally truthful, roots this text firmly within the canon of disability studies in that it offers a unique, truthful, life-like gaze into the tensions and epiphanies of a family who is raising an autistic child.

Tobe creates a believable space within this family by offering the same tensions found in the real world: acceptance against rejection, understanding against ignorance, and hope against doubt.  For example, in juxtaposition against her mother-in-law, Sachiko does not try to change Hikaru’s behaviors or ignore them. Instead, Sachiko accepts Hikaru exactly the way he is, and learns to adapt to how Hikaru experiences his world instead of trying to destroy it.  Although Sachiko does occasionally wonder what life would be like if Hikaru did not have autism, this detail of the text only adds to the multi-dimensional reality of the family.  After witnessing how Sachiko and Masato have learned to adapt themselves to Hikaru’s world, the mother-in-law begins to see that Hikaru is not as “far way” as she had assumed.  These tensions are made even more believable as they are selectively resolved or reinforced in both the familial home, as well as the public setting.

On a more raw, functional level, this text even (possibly only in the English translation) offers tips and reassuring notes to parents and families caring for autistic individuals.  In any other text that takes the form of a graphic novel, this bold risk would completely break the “third wall” between the world of the characters, and the reality of the audience.  Interestingly, this detail only serves to add to the richness of this text.  One of these little notes can be seen on page 444, in a footnote, where Tobe directly addresses the reader and offers them more information about how to acquire earmuffs to help autistic individuals concentrate.  Within the genres of graphic novel and manga, it is remarkably rare for the author to purposefully break this “third wall,” and may even be seen as a flaw in some texts if done by accident; but Tobe’s purposefulness adds to the truthful functionality of this text: not only to give emotions and situations to identify with, but to also inform and act as a resource.

The view of autism found within Keiko Tobe’s With the Light is both highly realistic, and inspiringly optimistic, in that every detail of its presentation functions to form a unified text that may serve as a beacon of light within the dark, conflicted halls of autistic studies.  The family dynamics and genuine acceptance found within this text can serve as a guiding light for families of autistic individuals and those studying autistic theory.

Word count:  547

Written by Katherine Sullivan

December 8th, 2010 at 11:28 am