Helen ESP is from the controversial author of Franken Fran and retains much of the same dark style, but takes a much brighter look on life and death thanks to the cheerfulness of the main character. In Helen ESP, we follow Takahara Helen, who lost her sight, hearing and speech in a terrible car accident. Now she lives with her Uncle and a helper dog named Victor... and she's awakening to her own gift.
I suppose there are countless ways of approaching disability in fiction for contemporary authors. And countless ways to fail doing it. It is a rather difficult field to tackle with so many trapdoors to fall into and so many people to offend. How do we treat handicap in fiction? Is Daredevil really a blind man when he can actually sense whatever is happening around him due to superpowers? Is Professor X really a proper representative of people bound to wheelchairs when he can move whatever he wants with the power of his mind? And does it really matter?
Katsuhisa Kigitsu, author of the brilliant and
incredibly repulsive dark satire manga series "Franken Fran", confronts us with Takahara Helen, a young girl who lost her speech, eyesight and hearing in a horrible car crash. She soon realizes, however, that she also developed a peculiar psychic power: she is now able to talk to her guard dog Victor through telepathy, turning him into her eyes and ears.
Instead of forcing the readers to pity the girl for her unfortunate situation, the author (in an unexpectedly gentle and optimistic fashion) illustrates Helen's life full of wonder and fantastic adventures that shape out the well-written characters of the girl, her dog, her loving uncle and her growing social environment. However, the moment when we readers realize that Helen is more troubled by her newly gained powers and their consequences than by her disabilities is when the true colours of this strong character begin to shine through.
In that manner, by facing challenge after challenge with the iron Miyazaki-esque will to selflessly help others despite her own problems, Helen makes her way through this episodic 18 chapters supernatural manga, which, instead of dissecting disability, illustrates a character with both handicaps and growing superpowers and her curious everydaylife with her dog, her uncle and her friends.
I can't stress enough how much I enjoyed reading this manga.
Made by Kigitsu Katsuhisa, the person who made Franken Fran, you know it will at the very least be interesting.
Here, I will tell you in 3 questions to see if you will like this.
Do you know who Helen Keller is?
Do you know what esp is?
Do you think the two combined could be interesting (keep Kigitsu Katsuhisa in mind)?
If you said yes to all 3, you will enjoy this manga. It's highly episodic, which is both a good and bad thing. It makes the story seem longer, and doesn't dwell on things to long,
but some people would have liked to see more of that.
Commenting on others in the review is not allowed, but I believe that in this case there is a good counterpoint to be made. Moritheil, as of 26/12/10 just did not get the manga at all. I suggest you read his review too. If you find what he says very agreeable, than this may not be for you. But what he failed to realize was this was a light hearted (at least as light hearted as the author is capable of) and borderline fantasy, not set in the "real" world and meant to be heavy drama.
But there is only one thing that I personally can complain about, and that is the manga only lasts 18 chapters.
Here is a possible spoiler, but in the whole manga, nothing really seems to move forward, or gets resolved, leaving a mildly unsatisfying ending. Which is only patched up by the VERY interesting chapter 2 extra. The manga almost feels like it was meant to go on a little longer. That complaint aside, you are doing yourself a favor by reading this.
-- This review was originally removed, I forgot what I rated the manga but the way I made it sound seems like it was a 10/10 all round. The reason it was removed was spelling and grammar, and apparently I said nothing I liked or didn't like, though apart from grammar, I changed nothing. --
The focus of this series, that some other people have obviously missed, is not disability. At it's core it's a slice of life series about a girl with ESP powers that goes around encountering short stories evolving the supernatural. Each chapter is like a fairy tale, an urban legend, a fable, et. It's almost like Mushishi.
Not every story involving a disabled person is about the disabilities. And if your dismiss a series just because it overlooks the disability after reading merely 2 chapters you should not be writing reviews.
Anyways, if you read Franken Fran by the same author, this series is pretty similar except it
take a more lighthearted approach and there isn't nearly as much ironic deaths/tragic ends. Imagine Mushishi + Franken Fran with a kind girl as the MC. It's a nice quick read and definitely accomplished what it set out to do.
There are great works of literature on disability. Rather than focusing only on the helplessness of disabled individuals, they turn into affirmations of life. These works serve as important reminders that it is doing what you can that counts, not lamenting what you can’t do.
Helen ESP, on the other hand, takes ignoring one’s disabilities so literally that it is difficult to say the main character is really handicapped. The title character, Helen, is a blind-deaf-mute ripoff of Helen Keller who uses ESP to sense her surroundings and telepathically hold long conversations with her guide dog about subjects as diverse as spirituality, the human condition, and
physics. One might give author Kigitsu Katsuhisa credit for the bizarre novelty of reducing a disability to a fashion statement, except that the “disabled superhero who isn't really disabled” concept has already been done to death elsewhere.
Instead of being shocking but original, Helen ESP is merely tasteless. The struggles of the title character are almost wholly unrelated to those of the average disabled person. Choosing to emphasize a character’s identity as a handicapped person while giving them a power that almost completely negates the handicap is cheating. Worse, it is tantamount to arguing that a handicapped person cannot really be a compelling main character, and their handicap requires supernatural mitigation or compensation in order to make them human.
Comparing Helen ESP to visual novel project Katawa Shoujo leads one inescapably to the conclusion that even 4chan ascribes more depth and meaning to the struggles of the handicapped than author Kigitsu Katsuhisa does. This is truly a shame, because the moral complexity of his earlier work (Franken Fran) suggests a grasp of the subtleties of life. However, in Helen ESP he has opted for the easy way out. The main character’s disabilities turn out to be moe traits akin to generic clumsiness rather than something she must struggle meaningfully against. Indeed there is nothing gained in the series by making her blind-deaf-mute; she might as well simply be a dojikko instead and spare the reader some agony.
Readers desiring a lighthearted romp through ESP with some social commentary should try Apple; for a more serious treatment of teens with psychic powers, consider Zero. Readers who desire a story about a child who can see spirits are encouraged to instead read the opening story arc of Bleach. Helen ESP is not recommended for anyone desirous of a story that relates to real-world disabled persons.