This winter anime season has been a pretty busy one – Solo Leveling has finally received its anime adaptation, the seconds seasons of both Mashle and Urusei Yatsura are here, Blue Exorcist finally has a third season, and of course there’s the excellent Delicious in Dungeon too. A lot of these, among others I haven’t mentioned, are all quite action packed, and typically fit into the shonen demographic. It’s an area I feel pretty well versed in these days, but I’ve been trying to branch out a bit more, particularly into shojo, a frequently underrepresented section when it comes to broader discussions around anime in the West. I’m slowly getting there, with titles like Revolutionary Girl Utena already under my belt, but I fancied something fresh recently, and luckily, the excellent and very cheesy A Sign of Affection was there to meet me.
A Sign of Affection follows some pretty classic romance tropes right from the get go; there’s a meet-cute on public transport, crushes start to form, literal sparkles appear in the air, it’s all what you’d typically expect from the genre. What makes the show a little different, is that protagonist Yuki Itose is hearing-impaired, to the point she essentially can’t hear anything at all. She’s been deaf since birth, and given that sign-language isn’t widely spoken, the main way she communicates is through texting and lip reading.
For most of her life, due to her hearing impairment, she’s been shut off from the rest of the world because hardly anyone puts in the effort required to enter hers; the first few episodes even show that her own mother never bothered to learn sign language. Enter Itsuomi Nagi, a tall, white-haired pretty boy, who just so happens to be a polyglot. He too, doesn’t speak sign language, but right from the pair’s first meeting, he puts in the effort to communicate clearly with her, slowing down his speech so Yuki can more easily read his lips.
It’s all incredibly cute, and yes, as mentioned, ridiculously cheesy. Pretty much from the first episode she’s wondering if she’s in love with him, with her crush developing at breakneck speed. The dialogue too is a little campy and dramatic at times, but it isn’t in disservice of any of the characters. Early on everyone is very well defined, and even if the romance can be a bit gooey, it doesn’t veer into the unbelievable.
But the thing that makes the show an unmissable one, even just a few episodes in, is the way that the experiences of hearing impaired people are presented. The second episode introduces one of Yuki’s childhood friends, Oshi Ashioki, who does speak sign language, and apparently learned it for her. Sounds good so far, but it turns out that he’s just kind of an asshole, and the thing that’s interesting is that this isn’t conveyed just through his actions, but through the way he signs too.
The way in which he moves his arms and hands feels aggressive, and condescending, especially compared to the very limited sign language knowledge that love interest Itsuomi knows. While the animation isn’t anything revolutionary, it’s just really impressive character work, and you understand so much of the various dynamics at play without needing anyone to talk at all.
I do understand that romance isn’t a genre for everyone (though I think you’re making a mistake if you write off any kind of genre entirely), but I think if you call yourself an anime fan, this seems like a particularly good shojo to start with. It’s an approachable anime just because the genre isn’t a particularly confrontational one, and to centring it around a hearing impaired protagonist, something we rarely see in media as whole, easily makes it one of the most important anime of this year – even if it is still only January.
If I’ve managed to convince you to check A Sign of Affection out, and you have a Crunchyroll subscription, then good news, it’s streaming there! Just don’t blame me if you get a hernia from squealing with joy.