What’s it about? Yuki loves fashion, cute things, and her friends, and is living her best life in her first year of college. She’s also deaf and uses a combination of sign language and written notes to communicate with her classmates. A chance encounter on a train sees her path crossing with a jet-setting fellow student named Itsuomi, who has just come back from his latest trip. Yuki assumes he can’t possibly be interested in her, but, thanks to some encouragement/meddling from her best friend, maybe her world is about to get a little bit wider.
How about a cute shoujo romance to warm up your winter nights? A Sign of Affection’s first episode is sweet as pie, beautifully put together with a sincere and likeable heroine I’m already rooting for.
The most unique and exciting thing about this premiere is its disability representation—it’s rare to have a deaf protagonist in anime, and I personally have never seen sign language animated in this format [Editor’s Note: Ranking of Kings included animated signing, some drawn by a hard-of-hearing animator but, as part of a series of disappointing decisions, basically discarded this effort in the show’s second half]. It’s really interesting to see how the anime—a medium with sound—adapts the manga and conveys Yuki’s non-hearing point of view to the audience.
The episode uses audio differently depending on whose perspective the scene is from; for example, an opening scene is full of sound, emphasizing the buzz of phones, the chatter of commuters, and the rattle of a train carriage, before panning over to Yuki and fading out into a gentle hum of white noise to indicate that we’re shifting into her perspective. If Yuki can’t understand what a person is saying to her or around her, the sound cuts out, but if she can successfully read their lips the audience can hear the voice acting.
I think it’s a clever way to anchor the story in Yuki’s perspective (and she’s the heroine, so it should be anchored in her perspective!) while still using the tools available, and the conventions expected, in the anime medium. Of course, I’d also be keen to hear from viewers who share Yuki’s experience and see what they think—either in short-form in the comments, or perhaps in a longer Perspectives article. That submission inbox is currently open!
This show is made with (what feels like) a lot of love. The visuals are gorgeous, capturing the soft watercolor feel of the manga’s color illustrations, and the animation is fluid, especially when it comes to depicting characters using sign language, which I’m excited to see more of in future episodes. Yuki is also adorable, shy and sweet but determined to make the most out of her college life, pursuing her crush on Itsuomi from the first episode rather than lingering in slow-burn feelings. Itsuomi hasn’t impressed me too much yet, since he’s one of those closed-off, stoic, cool love interests who (one assumes) defrost a little over time. I also can’t say I approve of him patting Yuki on the head when he’s only just met her, and doing it again to get her attention. Hey Yuki, are you sure your pounding heart isn’t a shock response to a guy reaching out and trying to grab your brain when you’ve known him for ten minutes?
Still, I have faith that the awkwardness between them will smooth out. This seems to be a story where not only will communication be important, but it’s arguably about communication—the different languages Itsuomi speaks, the different assumptions and cultural codes in the way people from different places interact with each other, and the many, many modes of non-verbal communication that take place between protagonists. In this interview, the manga creators highlight that, to them, focusing on something like sign language goes hand in hand with the conventions of shoujo: “both are full of expressions and emotions that aren’t entirely stated, and exist beyond just the dialog. There’s a feeling that in order to fully understand the emotions of the characters in shoujo manga you need to pay attention the entirety of the story, the expressions, the scenery, the reactions and yes, including the dialog. And so, sign language is the same in that you also have to pay attention to the signing, expressions and more to fully understand what’s being communicated.”
With this as the storytelling ethos, I can see A Sign of Affection unfolding into a gentle, subtle, sweet story about the many ways that people can come to understand each other. It’s hard to say where exactly things will go from here, except that I imagine the show will continue to roll down the path of an earnest, personal coming-of-age story romance combo. I’m definitely sticking around to find out— if the rest of the show can live up to this lovely premiere, I think this could be something special.