My foray into reading josei manga, or manga aimed at adult women, begins with the drama “With the Light”, by Keiko Tobe. It is a series of thick tomes that follow Sachiko Azuma as she rears her autistic son, Hikaru. They face many challenges, and the first volume alone is quite a ride through the rocky road of pre-diagnosis catastrophes, misdiagnoses, and Sachiko’s struggle to find a place Hikaru belongs within her community.
As the story opens, we are introduced to a pregnant Sachiko who is giving birth to Hikaru. He is named as such because he is born “with the morning light”, and the name “Hikaru” translates as “light” or “radiance”. She has so many high hopes for her firstborn son, wondering what it will be like to raise him and watch him grow. She is quickly disappointed, however, as he cries almost continually and often strains to get away from her embrace. Her husband, Masato, is initially overwhelmed and angry with her, claiming that she isn’t doing her job to nurture him properly. He becomes very irritated and annoyed, and the situation worsens so much between the two—his mother’s hurtful comments and accusations also adding oil to the fire—that Sachiko ends up moving in with her parents for a while. She gets Hikaru tested by a local wellfare center, where they diagnose him with autism. She takes care to learn about the condition and how to provide her baby with a full life. The story really picks up and becomes a bit brighter after Masato has a physical breakdown from overwork, which leads him to apologize and declare that he needs his family and wants to be more involved. At this point they move back in together and try again, with Masato becoming much more engaged.
After the family unit is healed from the trauma of not knowing the problems of their little son, they grow much closer and work hard together to figure out how to deal with Hikaru’s tantrums, obsessive tendencies, and lack of speech development. He goes off to daycare and pre-school, with some complications and conflicts along the way, but is able to move on to elementary school. I loved to read about how Sachiko solved the problems surrounding Hikaru and the ways she slowly begins to figure him out. The entire book is peppered with trials and tribulations, and my joy and excitement stemmed from watching the family solve every single dilemma determinedly. Sachiko does not let up, no matter how tough her life gets. She lives for her child, loves him unconditionally, and has pledged to make sure he gets the help, support, and education he both needs and deserves.
I see Sachiko as a very strong female lead. She takes charge and does not let others keep her down—Sachiko is someone who keeps trying, even when her situation feels impossible. She is definitely one of my favorite literary characters; her passion for her son and others like him is tremendous and unending. If I have a child who has special needs, I hope I can become even half the parent that she has blossomed into by the end of the first volume.
I would also like to note the supplemental materials and how the author tries to provide accurate information concerning autistic people in Japan. The supplemental material includes short stories and excerpts from stories written by the parents of autistic children about their growth, development, and community interaction. It seems that Tobe used them as reference materials for certain scenes in the book, as well as some of Hikaru’s characteristics. I thought it was interesting to read nonfiction accounts beside the fictional tale of Sachiko and Hikaru. As a writer myself, I enjoyed looking at which characteristics the author pulled from different people. Hikaru seems to be an amalgamation of many real-life people. The other thing Tobe provides us with are facts throughout the book, pages that describe autistic attributes and how to properly interact with people who have autism, and factual readings of things like laws and international guidelines for care of the disabled (provided at the end of the second volume). I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated all the extra effort Tobe took to make her work as lifelike as possible. I highly recommend this series.