The gulf between manga and Western comics seems to shrink in fits and starts as some genres and titles become popular with American readers. There’s a particular gap between slice-of-life manga and American readers (though young women especially have been steady consumers of these stories). Manga provides for readers who have graduated beyond middle grade and YA books but still want to read more light-hearted comics, a shortcoming in the American comics industry. Yuki Fumino’s I Hear The Sunspot is a prime manga example.
I Hear The Sunspot: Limit Vol 1 (One Peace Books) is the third book in the series, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to dive in here. The previous two volumes introduce Kohei and Taichi, two young men studying at the same college, where they begin to develop feelings for one another. As both a slice-of-life story and a boys’ love manga, I Hear The Sunspot is full of familiar tropes and comfortable plot points. Kohei is distant and reserved; Taichi is loud, emotional, and constantly hungry. The characters will feel familiar to manga fans, but they don’t feel stale, in part because of the fact that Kohei is hard of hearing and slowly becoming entirely deaf. His hearing is the driving force behind his self-imposed isolation, and it does lead to misunderstandings between the two characters as they slowly orbit toward one another, twin stars in a single solar system, destined to collide.
Though Kohei has stayed on at college, Taichi has gone on to join the workforce. Never a strong student and driven to make people feel safe and welcome, he’s started work a company that helps serve deaf and hard of hearing people, which has become something of a passion project in no small part because of his budding relationship with Kohei. They’re both struggling with the fact that they no longer see each other every day and are worried about the growing emotional distance between them. Limit Vol 1 also introduces the first characters who are fully immersed in deaf culture, urging Kohei to finally commit to embracing it himself, to use sign language, and break up with Taichi. It’s a fascinating and nuanced exploration of real-world issues that people who are deaf or hard of hearing face, tucked gracefully into the rest of the story.
This is what really makes I Hear The Sunspot sing: Boys’ love narratives and slice-of-life manga are readily available and come in a wide range of quality. But I Hear The Sunspot confronts bigotry that’s both external and internalized, the way people often blame themselves when things go wrong and allow that shame to impact their relationships. Taichi and Kohei are sweet to one another and their love story is a painstaking slow burn that may be unfamiliar to readers who haven’t tried this kind of manga before. There’s a depth of emotional investment that can be hard to find in monthly comics, and the art is appropriately focused on people, both facial expressions and body language.
It can be hard for American readers to differentiate between specific manga creators, but Fumino has a detailed style with fairly thin line weights and a penchant for tight close-ups and occasional lens flares. It makes the whole book delicate and a little dreamy. Visually, I Hear The Sunspot is just as gentle and kind as the story is, leaving enough space for characters to be upset without punishing them for their emotions or forcing them to recover too quickly. There’s a healthy pace moving the plot forward, but no one is lurching from one emergency to the next without time to recover. I Hear The Sunspot an ideal introduction to manga; not so reliant on manga traditions to confuse new readers, but adept at introducing common character types, tropes, and artistic stylings while telling a sweet, slow story about young love.