June 25, 2018

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I Hear the Sunspot Vols 1 and 2 by Yuki Fumino

 

I Hear the Sunspot/I Hear the Sunspot Theory of Happiness
By Yuki Fumino
Translation Rights by France Shoin
Published by One Peace Books

A directionless young man with a healthy appetite stumbles into a reclusive college student who shares his lunch. Soon the two are linked together by a bond of friendship, but will romantic feelings break them apart? A very subtle love story between an unlikely pair unfolds in these two volumes by newcomer Yuki Fumino.

I haven't read a boys love (BL) title in a long time, and honestly, though I know this comes from a BL magazine, it really only qualifies because the main relationship is between two young men. The usually heavy romance is absent. Instead, we get two boys exploring their feelings, both for one another, and for the world around them. It's a really sweet romance, and I could easily see a shorter version of this appearing in, say, Fresh Romance or one of the many romance anthologies that we're seeing these days in Western books. (That's not to say BL stories can't be romantic, but this reminded me far more of the chaste Christmas romance books I've read in prose instead of the steamier romances I will sometimes pick up that match the BL aesthetic.*)

Our primary protagonist, Tachi, is a bull in a china shop type, and even gets described that way by one of the secondary characters. He lost a job because he got into a fight at work, punches several people along the way, and his first meeting with Kohei happens because he falls from leaning too hard on a weak fence. He's not the best student, but he's fiercely loyal. And it's that loyalty that keeps him from separating from Kohei on a long-term basis. He won't let this friend go, even as their feelings for each other (and possibly other characters) get in the way. Meanwhile, Kohei is the quiet, studious one who is aloof from so many people until Tachi refuses to let him remain so stolid. Naturally, their differing personalities cause conflict, and neither quite understanding the other until it's almost too late is the main romantic conflict, with both finding imaginary substitute lovers for the other one. 

At times, this becomes really strained, especially in the second volume. We open with the two on the outs, partly due to Tachi's drunkenness, and it gets worse as they continue to miss signs that there's mutual interest. Fumino seeds the signs well, but at a certain point, a reader may want to scream at the misunderstandings, especially the one regarding Kohei's girlfriend (who is obviously not to anyone who isn't required to think so because of the plot). I get just as frustrated when prose romance does this. It's one thing to create real Complications. When they feel too contrived, I'm turned off. If it weren't for how much I loved the two main characters, this might have killed my interest. As it is, I'm hoping that Fumino develops as a creator, she'll progress past the obvious and work on developing stronger conflict. (A serious romantic rival would have done the trick here, I think, for example.)

Fumino's art style will be familiar to those who like their cute manga boys thin, short haired, and full of expressions. On the surface level, it's not all that different from other romantic-themed manga I've read. However, I really felt like Fumino nailed the small moments that create a lasting relationship. Her panel layouts at critical moments highlight things like a brush of the hands, a lingering glance, or just falling asleep in the same room with someone you have feelings for. They're given space to breathe, allowing the reader to linger on the placement of fingers, positioning of those lithe bodies, and other details in a way that others may have missed. I thought it was brilliant and put this a step above other BL work I've read. By not overemphasizing the physical, Fumino actually increases the focus, I think. (Unfortunately I couldn't find any official images of her work on this to share, sorry.)

Additionally, I liked how Fumino kept changing up her panel structures, the way she keeps Tachi in almost constant motion, even when he's doing boring things, and the fact that we got a fair amount of background scenes. Sure, manga is generally not where you go if you want a Perez-like page, but Fumino doesn't give us very many blank backgrounds, either. Even when there's not a lot of details, we see enough to set the stage, which I definitely took note of. It reminds me of mini-comics that do the same thing--even if your art isn't technical, you can still keep a reader engaged in more than the main characters if you try. Fumino definitely does so.

The other interesting part of this manga is its approach to the varying degrees of hearing loss. I am exactly the opposite and I have never lived as a person with a physical disability. That means, when I say that I felt like Fumino approached Kohei's limitations with respect, and highlighted how many people there are who do not respect others with needs, I say that as a person who has only experienced this by watching others be jackasses. However, the idea that Kohei's hearing loss impacted him differently from others who are completely deaf, for example, the description of the tests and technology, and a company designed to increase access for those with hearing loss/deafness struck me as showing that Fumino had done her research. I especially liked Tachi's speech when he points out that one young woman is interested in Kohei not for who he is, but for fulfilling a roleplay, as showing that sometimes our desires to "help" are really performative. Just as Tachi questions his own actions, we should always remember--are we being an ally, or are we just doing our shtick to look good or make ourselves feel better? It's a great question, and I loved seeing it here.

I Hear the Sunspot is a great queer love story with a few bumps and rough edges. It's not going to provide you with kiss after kiss, but you'll want to see Kohei and Tachi get together and have their happy ending, personal warts and all. That's a great analogy for the manga, which has some flaws (like a weaker plot in Volume 2), but overall is compelling, endearing, and cute.

*I also did some reading of the reviews of others to make sure I wasn't off-base, given this isn't exactly a strong knowledge area for me. It seems like those who know BL better than me agree that this doesn't follow the usual genre tropes.