As many readers of my reviews may note, I typically don’t tackle manga titles since anime is more my main priority of covering. But upon learning the premise of With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child almost three years ago, it caught my interest for both personal reasons and seeing how mangaka Keiko Tobe would approach exploring autism as to my knowledge, the disability has not had a serious exploration within any Japanese anime or manga series. The manga focuses on the challenges faced by the Azuma family as they try raising their autistic son, Hikaru, as With the Light explores his life from birth up to junior high school.
To go into the personal reasons that With the Light caught my interest, I shall confess that I am on the autistic spectrum in the same vain that the manga’s lead, Hikaru, is. Growing up had its highs and lows for me with autism. I had a delay in being capable of talking compared to other toddlers growing up and even through school, had to take speech therapy classes due to my struggles with properly pronouncing and expressing words. I was placed in other special education programs such as occupational therapy and a Resource Room to have adequate support in handling school life with my disability. I also struggled often with understanding proper social behavior and interactions with others as I got into enough misunderstandings growing up that led me to being bullied and teased by other kids my age. The struggles I had in school on many occasions caused enough stress for my parents. In spite of these issues, I still benefited from having a strong desire to learn, engage myself in whatever interests I took up, and being the first within my family to graduate from college.
Reading through With the Light and relating it to my experiences growing up, the manga does very well at believably exploring the challenges an autistic child can deal with. The desire for repetitive routines and differences in processing information are typical traits for those on the autistic spectrum, and the social challenges that come with it also get explored when Hikaru’s behavior causes enough stresses for his family and friends due to the misunderstandings and inconveniences it can cause. The toll this can take on Hikaru’s family and friends does get focused on as well with Hikaru’s family gradually learning how to work around their son’s disability and dealing with the ignorance that others have with understanding it.
Outside of its believable exploration of autism, With the Light also features an interesting exploration of how the Japanese perceive and take care of those on the autistic spectrum. While many Americans have gradually come to better understand and provide support to autistics in spite of lingering issues that still need addressing, the situation for autistics in Japan is much worst. Many schools are underequipped to handle caring for students having a mental disability and many teachers lack training in teaching styles that can work around the cognitive issues faced by said students. Also, the Japanese translation of the word meaning “self-closure syndrome” creates a stereotype to many in assuming that the blame for the person’s actions is either their own or the parents instead of genetic inheritance being a factor. This is actually truth in real life as Japan faces struggles with valuing individual worth due to its “group over individual” cultural mentality and the country’s mental health services are underfunded and understaffed, with many staff members lacking adequate training to provide sufficient services to varying mental disorders.
Outside of exploring the everyday lives experienced by Hikaru and his family, the series also devotes time to exploring issues that affect friends and acquaintances known to Hikaru and his family. Issues such as family abuse, neglect, and institutional corruption are touched upon with exploring supporting characters and Hikaru’s family often find themselves caught up in handling or learning of these conflicts.
One thing I should note with With the Light though is the series can get quite heavy with emphasizing its exploration of autism at points throughout its run. Melodrama is often milked to dramatize the emotions felt by its characters in handling their everyday situations, especially in cases where Hikaru’s mother, Sachiko, is trying to understand her son and be responsive to his needs. While there were points where I found this dramatization to be overdone, it still helped enhanced the manga’s major scenes that highlighted developments with Hikaru’s family and other characters learning to better understand the challenges faced by Hikaru and others dealing with various disabilities.
Another issue with the series is that it does lack a proper ending as it ends inconclusively during Hikaru’s middle school years, though this can’t exactly be faulted on quality since Keiko Tobe was struggling with a serious illness that eventually took her life in 2010 and left the series in a permanent hiatus.
Overall, With the Light met up to my expectations rather well in its believable exploration of the challenges faced by Hikaru’s family in raising him despite his disability and the issues that Japan as a whole has with accommodating individuals with disabilities. It can be overdramatized at points with emphasizing its themes. But this is perhaps one of the few titles you can find in Japanese media that offers a serious and believable look at the challenges of raising an autistic child.
Rating: 9 of 10
Someday I’ll be gone To somewhere that we belong And God has never played his role 'Cause I’m the one who saves my soul It’s a perfect world we’re longing for
I've read a few manga about raising children (no, not of the all-too-common S.o.l-Comedy type), but I've never heard of one discussing autism, both within and outside that sub-section. Though stories about children with disabilities are not exactly rare, just not of that variety, so it's already interesting by its premise.
Though I do wonder how someone who may not relate to the subject matter as you do might find it story-wise, since this was obviously a very personal read for you.
I'll keep it on my radar out of sheer curiosity, as this is pretty much new grounds for manga/anime from what I know.
I never heard of this manga nor do I see any anime or manga that explores autism. Did Japan category autism with hikikomori? I shouldn't ask that since those two terms are different.
While I don't think I have it, I do have a loved one, an older brother with an extreme autism as he cannot take care of himself. Just watches video games and frequently washes his hands. He can get violent if he gets out of routine. It's pretty tough especially back then, teachers would blame us whenever he got into fights and no one knew he was autistic until he got medical attention in high school.
I did remember we had a thread in the old site where Eganthevile1 confesses he had autism. Then several of our users share their experiences. Looking at the manga, 15 volumes with an abrupt end. That's longer than I had imagined.
Taka: I see. A global release will benefit it. Gundam did pretty good. The only few franchises that are only popular in Japan but not popular in the west - Yokai Watch comes to mind.
Apr 10, 2021 1:55:16 GMT
Master Menos: F for Respects. DMX did all his work while suffering from a drug addiction, and I almost never knew until a point. I hope his next life treats him far better.
Apr 10, 2021 15:30:45 GMT
HungryWorld: Sorry for taking so long for the things i have to do, have been suffering from some health issues (including mental health deterioration). Anyways hope i can be a bit more active here soon enough once i am properly patched up again.
Apr 27, 2021 17:45:38 GMT
Taka: No worries, health, family, school, and work take priorities first.
Apr 28, 2021 7:41:52 GMT