“I don’t want the world to be a place that’s hard to live in for people who are different.” Taichi
The friendship between two students: handsome, hearing-impaired Kohei Sugihara and irrepressible, good-hearted, loud-voiced Taichi Sagawa has deepened and changed since the day they first met on campus (Taichi almost fell onto Kohei!). Taichi – always ravenously hungry – readily offered to take notes in class for Kohei in return for delicious lunch boxes (Kohei is a good cook, like his mother, who teaches cookery). But then Taichi, inspired to do more to help Kohei manage in the contemporary world with his hearing issues, drops out of uni to join an enterprising initiative dedicated to helping the hearing-impaired. Kohei is confused and feels abandoned and Taichi, not good at explaining himself, only makes matters worse. Their everyday issues are compounded by growing and deepening feelings for each other which neither young man knows how to deal with or to express, leading to some truly painful misunderstandings. This culminates at the end of Limit Volume 2 (the fourth manga in the sequence of five), in Kohei telling Taichi, “I think we should spend some time apart.”
At Taichi’s work, his older colleagues notice his uncharacteristically subdued mood and the fact that he seems to have gone off his food. A new project gets them all fired up, though, even Taichi, who’s always eager to do his best. Kohei is also not faring so well too, especially as he has to decide what to do about the offer of a cochlear implant as well as trying to come to terms with his feelings for Taichi. However, a chance meeting at the hospital between Kohei and a feisty old man (who turns out to be Taichi’s grandpa) acts as a pivotal moment in Kohei’s thinking as he learns more about Taichi’s upbringing and background.
And what of red-haired Ryu, the profoundly deaf, futsal/football-mad (and IT genius) boy who has caused so much trouble for Taichi? The difficult relationship between him and his older half-brother Chiba, who works with Taichi, is explored movingly in this volume.
If you’ve been following Taichi and Kohei (and their friends) throughout the five volumes of I Hear the Sunspot, you’ll be as desperately keen as I was to see if their nascent relationship has finally foundered after the heart-breaking last pages of Limit #2. We’ve come a long way with these characters and when tsundere Maya Oukami (who also likes Kohei) tells Taichi in no uncertain terms to stop moping and express how he feels to Kohei, it’s a surprising and unexpectedly touching development. As is a meeting between Maya and Taichi’s friend Yasuda (who really likes Maya) which also ends in an unexpectedly touching way. Yet it’s hard for readers to see both Taichi and Kohei struggling on their own to come to terms with their feelings and it’s a tribute to the mangaka’s skill in conveying their shifting emotions with sensitively written dialogue as well as her attractive and nuanced art. After getting to know them so well, we’re rooting for them to acknowledge how much they mean to each other. But is it too late?
Another plus with this series is the sensitive yet unflinching treatment of the central theme of living with a disability. Mangaka Yuki Fumino doesn’t judge the reader but nevertheless presents several (sometimes conflicting) viewpoints on what it’s like to try to function in the contemporary world with limited or no hearing at all. One significant scene in Limit #2 where Taichi and his boss Sai-san are assembling different types of hearing aid for a training session, has Taichi try on an aid similar to the one Kohei has been using – and his shock when experiencing the bewildering cacophony of sounds that the user has to learn to adjust to. The narrative doesn’t judge or preach; it shows insensitive reactions from both hearing and hearing-impaired characters, resulting in a realistic portrayal of the problems facing them with no easy answers offered.
Nevertheless, Yuki Fumino is not averse to introducing heart-in-mouth moments to propel the drama forward and she does it again here. We’ve seen Kohei rescue Taichi more than once (Taichi still has a tendency to throw himself enthusiastically into everything, with no thought of personal danger) and these moments sometimes veer dangerously close to the over-dramatic, undercutting the slice-of-life mood of the series that makes these characters so relatable.
Limit #3 concludes with two shorts: Afterglow and Gift, the first taking place before the very first volume and the second portraying events in summer break.
I Hear the Sunspot features a same-sex relationship at its heart but this story is all about feelings rather than depicting scenes of a sexual nature; interestingly, One Peace Books don’t offer an age rating, so even though the main protagonists are students, there are no scenes that would rate an M for Mature, making it suitable for teenaged readers.
The art is as appealing as before, especially as Yuki Fumino is skilled at telling her story clearly through facial expressions and well-judged use of cinematic angles to highlight close-ups and moments of dramatic intensity. She uses different character viewpoints as well, so we see Taichi and Kohei from the perspectives of the others around them, as well as learning more (at last) about Maya and Ryu. The characters are believably flawed which helps make the story even more compelling; they make bad decisions and then have to deal with consequences. There’s no moralizing here about what society should or shouldn’t do in the way it treats people with disabilities but by presenting the dilemmas that Kohei faces as he’s forced to accept his hearing loss and make difficult choices, we gain insight into who he really is. I Hear the Sunspot draws you in from the very first pages and keeps you turning the pages, wanting to know what happens to its young protagonists. Another plus is Yuki Fumino’s beautiful cover art with subtle yet striking use of colours to offset the characters. And it’s good to see both Kohei and Taichi on the cover of Limit #3 (Limit #2 has Taichi all alone in the rain) even if one is hurrying to catch up with the other… Ah, symbolism…
One Peace Books have delivered another well-translated, attractive volume in this series (thanks to translator Stephen Kohler). Is this really the final episode? Well, no… as the mangaka’s Afterword reveals and, indeed, new chapters have been appearing in Canna magazine this year! So even though this volume makes a very satisfying place to conclude the series – I, for one, would be very happy to meet Taichi and Kohei again.