From its first volume, Yuki Fumino‘s I Hear the Sunspot has been a thoughtful, gently-paced story about two young men finding each other and learning how they want to live their lives. It has impressively maintained that tone and feeling even as the protagonists grow together and apart by turns, and the final volume of its second series, I Hear the Sunspot: Limit, is no exception. Given that it’s dealing with some heavier, more reality-based themes than we typically see in BL manga, that’s a major positive, and even as this volume flirts with a couple of major tropes, it still remains grounded and full of heart as it brings the second phase of Kohei and Taichi’s relationship to a close.
The volume picks up after Kohei texted Taichi about spending some time apart (Volume two, you may recall, was easily the most angst-laden book of the series thus far.) which left Taichi a bit of a mess. While he outwardly appears fine, he’s not eating nearly as much as usual, claiming not to be hungry; and that, to those who know him, is shorthand for him being in emotional distress. Taichi has always been the guy to wear his heart on his sleeve and his feelings on his face, so the fact that he’s trying to keep everything tucked away inside makes his behavior all the more alarming. Although he doesn’t say anything, we get the impression that he’s mentally cataloguing all of the things he did wrong to bring him to this point. Was he unconsciously babying or mistreating Kohei because of Kohei’s hearing loss? Is it the fact that he’s less gung-ho about a physical relationship than Kohei is? Is he simply not a good enough person to deserve Kohei’s love? Taichi’s mental wheels are definitely spinning; they’re just feelings he’s not entirely sure what to do with, or even that he’s allowed to have.
Part of the emotional action of this book – which, as always, is more important than the physical in this series – is Taichi reminding himself that he doesn’t have Kohei’s lived experience of hearing loss. It’s not as if he’s ever forgotten Kohei’s auditory differences, but more that he simply can’t know everything about it, no matter how close they are. That makes the scene where he helps out with an event put on by Sig-n – the disabilities accommodations firm he works for – so important. While this is hardly the first workshop he’s helped with, it is the first time he’s had to round out the numbers for an exercise involving partners. Each pair is meant to take turns putting on various apparatuses to mimic what life is like for someone who is differently-abled while the other half of the pair takes on the role of assistant for them. For Taichi, this is the first truly solid experience he’s ever had with what life is like when you don’t have all the same senses that function in the so-called “normal” way, and while he’s always respected and understood Kohei, now he has a more solid grasp of some of what he’s been through – especially since Kohei was not born deaf, but instead suffered hearing loss as the result of an illness. Taichi now has more targeted empathy, and that helps him to realize that maybe making Kohei’s desire to take a break all about himself isn’t the right, or truthful, approach.
Kohei is also suffering from the lack of Taichi in his life, and for a fairly similar reason. Despite intellectually knowing better, a piece of him emotionally still believes that maybe he’s more trouble than he’s worth, and that having hearing issues makes him somehow less than normal. It’s interesting to contrast that with Ryu, who was born deaf, because until someone told Ryu that maybe he was a burden, he never saw it that way. His normal was simply not hearing, and he resents being told that he can be (or should be) “fixed,” because he’s never felt broken. Kohei, however, has, and at times still does, feel like he’s not “normal” or “right” because of his hearing, and that is at least partly behind his apparent rejection of Taichi. To a degree, that’s Kohei looking at how people who aren’t Taichi treat him. There’s a scene in this volume where Kohei goes to the Sign Language Club and a new member asks him about what music he likes, mistaking his hearing aid for a headphone. She doesn’t mean any harm and just wants to talk to the resident hot guy, but her casual cruelty is driven home by the fact that she’s asking that – and the group is thinking of a music-based presentation for the cultural festival – in a sign language group. It’s as if she, and some of the other members, are treating sign language like a neat secret language instead of an actual means of communication that some people rely on, devaluing JSL as a legitimate language. She didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t make it any better.
While the story does come to a very sweet, happy ending point here (and Fumino’s afterword says that she’s working on the next step in their relationship, so this isn’t the end of Kohei and Taichi’s story), it still finds time to work through another piece of the young men’s relationship while leaving space for future development. There’s some implication that Taichi may be on the asexual or demi-sexual spectrum, and that Kohei is learning to understand and respect his differences as well, which would be a very nice place for the story to go. Even if Taichi is just not emotionally ready for a physical relationship, Kohei makes it clear that he not only wants Taichi’s consent, he wants his enthusiastic consent, which is quite frankly not something we often get to see in the BL genre. That’s what really makes this series so special: it’s not just about two people who both happen to be men falling in love. It’s about the fact that love takes work and understanding to come to fruition. It isn’t always easy. But, as this volume reminds us, it is worth it.