‘More than friends, less than lovers…’
A simple phrase that perfectly sums up the relationship between Kouhei, a hearing-impaired college student, and Taichi, the outgoing and charismatic young man he meets by chance on campus. Yuki Fumino’s I Hear the Sunspot offers a refreshingly tranquil shounen-ai experience that should be a staple in any BL fan’s library. This is a much more relaxed story than what many are used to, but it’s one that shouldn’t be missed! With its slice of life styled narrative and its realistic cast of characters, I Hear the Sunspot is poised to become a BL classic. With the newest volume of the series, I Hear the Sunspot: Limit 1 finally being released State’s side, I thought it would be a great chance to revisit volume 1 of the series!!
Manga Title: I Hear the Sunspot (ひだまりが聴こえる)
Art and Story: Yuki Fumino
Released: 2014 (3 Volumes–ongoing)
English Publisher: One Peace Books
Kouhei is a hearing-impaired college student who is used to being misunderstood by his peers due to his disability, so he’s gotten used to being on his own. But, when he meets the outgoing and friendly Taichi, Kouhei finds his quiet solitude is no longer enough to satisfy him. The pair strike up an instant friendship that slowly develops into something more… more than friends, less than lovers, only time will tell where these two will end up.
Plot & Story
Unlike other BL manga I’ve read, I Hear the Sunspot is a much lighter story, focusing less on the romantic relationship between its leads, Kouhei and Taichi, and more on developing them as friends first. In fact, it’s easy to mistake I Hear the Sunspot for a slice-of-life story, with its much more relaxed pacing and focus on the characters as people and not potential romantic partners. The volume takes its time fleshing out who Taichi and Kouhei are as individuals before even bothering to throw around the L-word. It sets a firm foundation for their friendship first before dealing with the complexities of a romantic relationship. Some will be disappointed with the seeming lack of romantic development. There are a lot of subtle hints that the character’s relationship is more than just platonic, but the subtext isn’t as in your face as most BL media is, such that if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might just miss it. Of course there is a romantic element to the relationship between Kouhei and Taichi, however, in volume one it is more in the background. It isn’t until the last few pages of the volume that anyone even decides to act on their budding romantic feelings, and yet when they are out in the open, the outcome is left ambiguous at best.
I appreciate the ‘lack of development’ because it allows the reader to get to know the characters as they are without having to wade through the usual BL cliches, making for a much more organic narrative.
Kouhei’s isolation and disability feature prominently in the story, and rather than being gimmicky or cliched, his condition is handled with the utmost care. After years of being misunderstood, Kouhei has learned to distance himself from others. Fumino could have easily fallen into the usual stereotypes that plague stories about disabled characters, instead she treads a nice middle ground, that I find isn’t often explored in media. When dealing with characters with disabilities, the media is either hit or miss. Some do a great job of fleshing out the condition while others treat mental and physical disabilities as a gimmick. Thankfully, that is not the case here. Kouhei’s hearing impairment is an integral part of his portrayal in the manga and how his relationship with Taichi progresses.
Kouhei and Taichi’s relationship comes about because Kouhei needs someone to help him take notes in his classes and Taichi needs some extra cash. It’s a relationship of convenience that evolves into something more, the more time they spend with one another the closer they become and the more they come to understand one another’s shortcomings. There’s this interesting dynamic between the two main leads that only exists because Kouhei is dealing with a degenerative condition, but despite that, Taichi never treats Kouhei like he is less than. Taichi is one of the few people to treat him like he would anyone else, and that is what endears Kouhei to him in the end.
Slowly over the course of the volume it is revealed that Kouhei’s condition is worsening and could eventually lead to permanent hearing loss and Fumino doesn’t shy away from the emotional impact this has on the characters in the series. We see Kouhei dealing with fear and loneliness in a way that really hits you in the feels, especially when accompanied by Fumino’s emotive art style. There are a lot of great close ups of the characters’ faces and while their style is the same anime-esque style we’ve seen before, but, it’s softer somehow, particularly the eyes. You feel every emotion because their eyes are so full of life… it really adds more depth to the story and the characters.
Themes & Trivia
Not Meant to Be BL: So, funny story, I Hear the Sunspot wasn’t originally meant to be a BL manga. Rather Fumino mentions in the volume’s afterwards that she didn’t realize she was writing for a BL magazine, so, she had to go back and had to up the ante for the final publication. As a result the romance in I Hear the Sunspot is much more subtle than you’d typically find in BL media, even by shounen-ai standards.
Live-Action Adaptation: In 2017 a live-action adaptation of the manga series titled, Hidamari ga Kikoeru, was released in Japan. The film stars Onodera Akira and Tawada Hideya as Taichi and Kouhei respectively and covers the plot of the first volume of the manga.
Footnotes: Instead of a glossary, there are footnotes throughout the volume to explain certain terms, usually those associated with Kouhei’s hearing impairment.
I absolutely love this story. I picked up the first two volumes of the series at Otakon a few months back on a whim and I am glad for it! This is a refreshingly thoughtful BL series that does a fantastic job of fleshing out all the characters. Usually in BL media, female characters are either absent or one note trope characters, but here, not only are they actual characters with some degree of depth, but, some are even integral to the plot! I know, SHOCKER! I also really liked seeing other characters interact with the main leads, BL media has a habit of erasing everyone other than the main romantic pair, we see their friends and families taking an active role in the story.
A Happy Surprise
- Thoughtful portrayal of a character with a health condition; Kouhei is well fleshed out and his condition is handled with the utmost care
- The focus is on the friendship between the two male leads. The romance is much more subtle than you’d usually see in a BL manga and it works well for the more realistic style of the narrative
- Beautiful, emotive character designs and clean, realistic artwork.
- Honestly, I had a hard time finding anything negative to say about this volume… I guess, it’s short only 188 pages when compared to the 305 and 240 pages of the two sequels
I Hear the Sunspot is a must read whether you’re a fan of BL media or not. The romance takes a backseat to the carefully fleshed out friendship between the series’s main leads. The story focuses more on the characters and their growth as individuals and as a pair while delivering one of the most thoughtful portrayals of a character living with a disability I have seen in a long time. Fumino beautifully captures emotions of her characters without being overly dramatic, making for a much more relaxed read than I’m used to finding in series dealing with such a heavy subject matter.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading I Hear the Sunspot and when you’re done pick up a copy of the subsequent volumes, I Hear the Sunspot: Theory of Happiness and I Hear the Sunspot: Limit 1. You will not be disappointed!