This week, I’m taking a closer look at two new coming-of-age dramas: I Hear the Sunspot, which focuses on a college student who’s going deaf, and She and Her Cat, which focuses on a young woman who’s making the transition from full-time student to full-fledged adult.
My least favorite cinematic convention is the meet-cute, that moment in every rom-com when the principle characters first cross paths under improbable circumstances — say, reaching for the last box of Klondike Bars at the local supermarket, or hopping into the same cab on a rainy night. I Hear the Sunspot begins with just such a scene: Taichi, a good-natured spaz, plunges headlong down an embankment and lands on top of Kohei, a stoic young man who’s hard of hearing. What follows this clumsy introduction, however, is a surprisingly nuanced character study.
Taichi and Kohei’s relationship unfolds in fits and starts, with Taichi initially doing most of the talking — and eating. (One of the story’s running jokes involves Taichi’s seemingly bottomless appetite for home-cooked meals.) As the two spend more time together, Kohei reveals how he lost his hearing and why he shuns his classmates’ company, prompting Taichi to open up about his own troubled past. Anyone hoping that their emotional bonding will lead to a steamy love scene will be sorely disappointed, however, as I Hear the Sunspot is not really a boys’ love title, a point that author Yuki Fumino cheerfully concedes in the afterword. True, Taichi and Kohei share a kiss, but that gesture best is understood as an expression of how much their friendship has transformed Kohei’s life, liberating him from a prison of silence, loneliness, and anger. Fumino ends the story on an upbeat, if ambiguous, note that doesn’t offer the kind of neat closure that a rom-com might but feels right for this heartfelt story about temperamental opposites finding solace in one another’s friendship.
The bottom line: Aside from a few melodramatic moments, I Hear the Sunspot steers clear of Afterschool Special cliches and BL tropes, offering readers a thoughtful meditation on friendship and disability. Recommended.
“The Earth turned quietly on its axis. And in the world, her body and my body were quietly losing heat. That was the day that she brought me home. And that’s why I am her cat.” So begins She and Her Cat, a manga adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s first animated film, a five-minute short depicting the relationship between Miyu, a recent college grad, and Chobi, the stray she rescues from an empty field. In Tsubasa Yamaguchi’s capable hands, Shinkai’s concept has been transformed into a series of elliptical vignettes told mostly from Chobi’s point of view. Chobi watches his owner wrestle with the normal challenges of early adulthood — long hours at work, estrangement from friends — not fully comprehending why these seemingly ordinary developments reduce his owner to sighs, tears, and vacant stares.
Though Chobi’s voice doesn’t always sound convincingly feline — he notices when his owner doesn’t wear make-up, for example — there’s a simple honesty to his interactions with Miyu that sells us on Yamaguchi’s approach to the material. Every chapter establishes the rhythms of Chobi’s day with a few statements that are repeated throughout the book: “I’m fond of the irritation I feel when I can’t see her,” “She was beautiful again today when she came home.” Art-wise, Yamaguchi shows us Miyu and her apartment as Chobi sees them, whether we’re peering up at Miyu’s face from the floor or surveying the kitchen from atop the refrigerator. Yamaguchi also does an excellent job of evoking the change of season; though the script plainly indicates the time of year, Yamaguchi’s illustrations capture small details — the intensity of the sunlight, the gentle movement of the air — that a cat might plausibly notice.
The bottom line: The story’s quiet, uneventful depiction of the pet-owner bond offers a warm reminder of how comforting animal companionship can be, as well as a bittersweet acknowledgment of our pets’ inability to fully understand our day-to-day triumphs and follies. Recommended.