Sachiko’s quest for her autistic son to live a rewarding and productive life continues in these two volumes (collecting volumes 5-8 of the Japanese original) from the With the Light series. Continuing the decidedly slower pace of the last volume, we get a chance to adjust, along with Hikaru, to all the changes that took place towards the end of volume 2. We also get a chance to focus in on some new characters, and even a few we’ve seen grow up along the way. Read on past the jump to find out more.
Just as a warning, This review (as well as all other multi-volume reviews) assumes that you have read the first volume of the manga, or at the very least, the previous review. If you would prefer to go in blind to the previous volume without any information from this one, then please go and read the previous volume. On the other hand, reading this before, might give you some additional perspective on the series as a whole, which can be a godsend if you’re on the fence about committing to a new series (and it is a commitment). So with that being said, please take a minute to make an informed decision before you read ahead.
Though the slower pace of volume 2 continues here, the scope of the story expands to allow us to focus in on some of the other characters around Hikaru. As I mentioned in my volume 2 review, the slower pace means that less major events are occurring in Hikaru’s life. We are only covering a portion of his 5th grade year, as opposed to the 10 years covered in the first volume. So of course there aren’t going to be epic struggles and catastrophic events in every chapter. It’s only natural that the story would begin to focus on some of the characters who maybe haven’t had any time in the spotlight. That’s not to say we don’t see Hikaru, or that he’s been moved to the backburner. But we begin to see him from new perspectives, through the eyes of the people around him, while they deal with their own problems.
One such character is Kanata, who we’ve seen off and on since the beginning of volume 1 as a toddler. The most we had seen of him previously was when Aoki sensei videotaped him from behind to teach Hikaru the mouse dance for a school festival. Since that time, Hikaru has taken to always following closely behind Kanata when doing activities with the buddy system class. The two have become close friends, but Kanata’s new found popularity stemming from his burgeoning career as an idol is beginning to take its toll on both of them. We also get to find out a little bit more about what work is like for Masato. With the exception of a few segments in the first volume, we haven’t really gotten to see what life is like for him outside of the house, and here we learn that things aren’t as easy as they might seem. Sachiko also gains the much needed aid of a dedicated 3rd party in the form of the Sunshine house, a non-profit Autism center, but at the cost of what little free time she had left.
The core of the story revolves around whether or not Hikaru can deal with all the new experiences that seem to be flying at him. From dealing with a reluctant new teacher, to going on a weeklong school trip, there are a lot of new elements to push him outside of his comfort zone. Fortunately, he may be able to find aid from some unexpected sources.
Even though the pace has slowed somewhat, Hikaru’s world has expanded to such a degree that it almost seems necessary. While you may not find the same kind of strictly Hikaru oriented storytelling that was found in the first volume, there is plenty here to enjoy. Each segment with a particular character feels like a nice episode of a show, and you come away with a feeling of fulfillment that you have learned something valuable about a particular character. Part of what the story is showing is that everyone has some source of pain in their life, and everyone is dealing with those issues in the best way they know how.
While I enjoyed reading this volume, I found myself getting upset at some of the long time characters for not stepping up to the plate when I thought they needed to. But after some thought, I realized that a character taking action like I wanted them to, would have been unrealistic in a real world sense. Hikaru is only the main character as far as the manga itself is concerned, but Keiko Tobe is trying to create a world full of realistic characters, each with their own aspirations and issues. Their world doesn’t revolve around Hikaru. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about him or want to help, but in real life, there’s only so far you’ll go, especially when your work is involved.
A major segment of this volume is devoted to one particular plotline, and if you’re not terribly interested in it, it may lose you. But, if you really enjoyed the last two volumes, there’s plenty of good story here to keep you enthralled in Hikaru’s world.
Some of the storylines in the previous volume really felt like things were going downhill for a lot of the characters. But events in this volume are really on the upswing in a big way. Like the previous two volumes, this one takes its time with the pacing to focus on some of the supporting cast.
With the big changes that were started in Masato’s life towards the end of the last volume, we spend a great deal of time with him as he works through that situation. Actually, a fairly large portion of this volume is devoted to his character development. It’s a nice change of pace since I felt like some of the side stories in the last volume could have benefited from a little more breathing. His story is compelling and serves to develop not only the character, but also brings the focus of Hikaru’s life into its next stage of development. His secondary storyline is also nice in that it allows for an exploration of completely different issues than what we have been dealing with before.
This volume also marks a distinct turning point in the focus of the story. Up until now, Sachiko and Masato have only aspired for Hikaru to become an accepted member of society. But now, their focus is for him to become a happy, working member of his community. As a result, a lot of the story leans more toward Hikaru developing his pool of abilities. It’s a nice change of pace, since it feels like there is a purpose to the story once again. At times the last two volumes felt a tiny bit aimless to me; we have spent a good deal of time up to this point on the everyday struggles of Hikaru’s school life, but without the same kind of progress we saw in the first volume.
As always, there is a great deal of useful information about life with autism spread throughout the story. While a lot of that information has to do with training and aptitude testing, it also touches on some of the newer developmental techniques that have come to light in recent years. These techniques really shed some light on the importance of getting a child diagnosed as early as possible, and giving them the necessary tools to better aid in their development. There’s also a nice collection of essays (like there always are at the end of these volumes), and these are of course focused on work related subjects and aptitude testing.
Like always this is a great read for any fan of the series. In many ways this volume helped to re-spark my fervent interest in the series. I of course enjoyed the last two volumes as well, but at times I felt that I was reading ahead due to a commitment to the story rather than riveting enjoyment like in the first volume.
Look for my reviews of volumes 5 & 6 later this week, concluding with volume 7 over the weekend.