Story & Art by Yuki Fumino
Handling real world disabilities in a work of fiction is always a difficult task. While we’ve seen fantastic portrayals of said issues in series such as A Silent Voice and REAL, it still remains a largely untapped area. I Hear The Sunspot is another series that chooses to tackle this subject matter, depicting the growing relationship between a college student Taichi and his partially deaf friend Kohei. The result is a story that is as emotionally moving as it is thought provoking.
Taichi is a blunt and straightforward protagonist to a fault. While he means well, his actions are misinterpreted by other people. At the beginning of the story, we learn that he was fired from his job when he was trying to stop a customer from dining and dashing. What Taichi perceived as the “justified” action, those around him viewed as “hostile” in nature. Even in his relationship with Kohei, we see this flaw comes into play. Taichi treats Kohei like he would any ordinary person, but as his friend, he has an urge to protect him from the harmful opinions of those around him. Unfortunately, Taichi has difficulty reading Kohei’s own feelings, failing to see that Kohei doesn’t want Taichi to interfere. The nuances between Taichi and Kohei’s interactions makes the growth of their relationship fascinating, forcing them to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s feelings as they become closer.
The nature of Kohei’s deafness leaves him in a unique position as a character. Kohei did not start to lose his hearing until he reached high school, and as a result, he knows what it is like to live a life unimpaired. What Kohei wants most is to simply return to a normal life. He hides his hearing aids by growing out his hair and prefers to read lips instead of communicating with sign language. That being said, his hearing is still impaired and that forces his daily life to stray from the normallacy that he desires. Kohei’s wishes are further hampered by society’s stigmas about his condition. Throughout the course of the volume, Kohei and Taichi encounter people who assume that Kohei’s impairment makes him helpless, and that he can’t survive on his own. While people may have good intentions, the series conveys that these assumptions are harmful to those who suffer from disabilities. What Kohei seeks is not pity, but acceptance.
In the afterword, Yuki Fumino notes that the story’s BL elements were not conceived until further into the story’s development. While there are allusions to Kohei’s sexuality throughout the book, the implication of Kohei’s romantic feelings towards Taichi aren’t fully realized until the end of the volume. Still, Fumino meticulously planted the seeds of Kohei’s feelings throughout the story, allowing for its culmination to feel cohesive. Kohei’s choice to initially hide his feelings from Taichi also fits well into his characterization. Kohei is already insecure about his impairment, and he fears that being open about his feelings will not only isolate him further, but also distance himself from Taichi. The bond he forms with Taichi is something that transcends mere friendship, and he wishes to protect it above all else.
I Hear The Sunspot has a visually soft appearance, taking advantage of large white space to help further contrast dark colors and backgrounds. This allows the artwork to transition nicely between light hearted scenes of Kohei and Taichi’s school life to the more serious subject matter of Kohei’s struggles with his disability. Fumino also takes great care in their use of facial expressions. Both Kohei and Taichi actively react within conversations, conveying their emotions in a way that leaves no need for dialogue. It helps further establish the realistic tone of the series, and immerses the reader in the narrative experience.
I Hear The Sunspot is a fantastic manga that handles its subject matters of disabilities and LGBTQ relationships with great respect. Kohei and Taichi’s relationship is a compelling story that keeps readers invested up to the very last page. If you have yet to give this series a chance, there’s no time like the present.