With the Light 1 and 2
written by Keiko Tobe
“The day you were born . . . the morning sun was very beautiful.” With the Light begins like a love letter from a mother to a child, and in a way, it is, although a fictional one. More than that, though, it’s an in-depth analysis of a young mother discovering that her son, who came into the world at the first light of day, is different from the other children she knows. He doesn’t talk. He cries often, and for hours on end. He doesn’t like to be touched or held. He is difficult to understand or relate to.
Gently, and with the aching slowness of gradual realization, Sachiko comes to understand that her son, Hikaru, is autistic. With no understanding of the condition, she struggles to come to terms with what it means and what she can do about it, while her hard-working husband, Masato, pulls away and immerses himself in his career.
With the Light takes all of its principal characters on a long journey of self-discovery. Sachiko longs to understand the way her son’s mind works. The innocence and the tenderness of the scene in which Hikaru finally acknowledges his mother and, in his own fashion, expresses his love, is heartbreaking. With the Light’s ability to convey the complexities of human emotions without getting sentimental or overwrought might be its most admirable quality. Author and illustrator Keiko Tobe at first treats her story almost with the allure of a mystery—Sachiko is driven and determined to unlock the secret behind her son’s aloofness, while her husband and his family separate themselves, and even blame Sachiko.
All of which is not to say that With the Light doesn’t have its tender moments. It does, but it earns each one of them without toying with the reader’s emotions. When Masato struggles with his anger and stress of his son’s autism and lashes out at his wife, it’s not the cloying stereotype of an uncaring man with no time for his children. Instead, it’s all too apparent that this is a man too young to be both an effective father and the star employee his bosses—not to mention his family and society—want him to be.
With the Light’s two volumes run an expansive tale totaling over 1,000 pages, including resource material to help the reader along. A convenient guide to manga helps those who aren’t familiar with its style (the book is read right to left; it’s surprising how easy it is to adapt to it once you get started), and the editors of this English translation include brief descriptions of elements of Japanese and manga culture to avoid confusion and enhance the reader’s understanding. Also included are supplementary materials on autism and translation notes.
With the Light is fascinating to watch unfold. Its broad scope spans years in the lives of this couple and their son, covering not only his development but the relationship he has with his sister, who comes into the family years after her brother. Teachers, doctors, friends, and family all play a role, too—sometimes in a negative, judgmental way, and sometimes with a heartwarming spirit of compassion—as Sachiko and Masato learn to cope, live, and move on. That’s the brightness of these two graphic novels and the triumphant nature of their storytelling.-- John Hogan