What happens when a carefree, food-loving student with a huge appetite befriends another student with a hearing disability? This is the basis of Yuki Fumino’s I Hear the Sunspot, a heartfelt manga that dramatizes the intimate friendship between two college guys whose chance encounter evolves into a profound relationship. From that point on, their lives are transformed with each passing event.
The story begins one quiet afternoon when Taichi, an outspoken student, scampers through the streets, accidentally trips and takes a tumble down a path, crash landing on a nearby rooftop, where he meets Kohei Sugihara. Kohei, a freshman, is studying law and eats lunch on a rooftop everyday. When the free-spirited Taichi literally crash lands onto Kohei’s solitary lunching spot, a friendship emerges that deepens by increasing twists and turns.
Taichi offers to be Kohei’s notetaker. As their friendship develops, Taichi grows closer to Kohei and in some cases, runs to his defense. In one scene, classmates jeer at Kohei, accusing him of being standoffish, when in truth, they don’t even notice his hearing disability. Taichi reprimands their snap judgment, and through repeated encounters, draws closer to Kohei, their friendship advancing various levels of intimacy. What starts as a whimsical, chance encounter shifts into a deeper level of closeness, and into a quasi-intimate relationship.
Interior monologue and harbored feelings abound in fluid storytelling that unfolds as we learn more about Kohei. Fumino handles the character of Kohei with gentle care and compassion. From the moment they meet, Taichi befriends Kohei. Kohei’s disability is handled with sensitivity instead of being objectified. And, although this major conflict pervades the story, it’s not always the central focus.
Instead, the momentum evolves from the dramatic interplay between Kohei in relation to the other characters: how they perceive him and how he interacts with them. Most importantly, we are given a glimpse into the budding relationship Taichi builds with him as time passes.
The minimalist style of the character designs and facial expressions, sketched with wispy lines against a faded, grayish ambiance, belies the unspoken threads of connection between characters, drawing readers into a profound dimension of intimacy. Strategically rendered scenes in bleached hues reinforce the melancholy tone and solitary existence between Taichi and Kohei as they share a compelling attraction towards each other, yet are distanced by innocent misunderstandings. What evolves is a relationship that transcends mere romantic love or idyllic crush, but instead, shines with emotional depth and charming beauty.
A welcome entry into the diverse landscape of manga stories, I Hear the Sunspot is geared towards older teenagers given its exploration of the relational dynamics between a pair of college students. That this manga revolves around a character with a disability further highlights silenced voices, altogether showcasing characters with exquisite sensitivity and compassion. The whimsical friendship between two very distinct characters gives rise to dramatic flair and humor at strategic points that resonate with extreme poignancy.
I Hear the Sunspot
By Yuki Fumino
One Peace Books, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)
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Character Traits: Characters with Disability