REVIEW: A Sign of Affection – Love, Beauty, and Perspectives

Season aired: Winter 2024

Number of episodes: 12

Watched on: Crunchyroll

Translated by: ?

Genres: Romance

Thoughts: While I welcome the sudden rise in shoujo anime adaptations, it also comes with downsides. The vast majority of new shoujo adaptations are adapted with terrible production values – bad with almost nonexistent animation and horrible art, which often hurts an otherwise strong story. Thankfully, A Sign of Affection is not one of them. Sporting beautiful art and visuals, incredible character designs, and fluid sign language animation, A Sign of Affection is arguably one of the most beautiful anime this season from a visual perspective, even if not the strongest story.

This attention to beauty in colors and sceneries is purposeful. The anime’s protagonist, Yuki, is deaf, so a lot of emphasis is placed on how she sees the world – especially as someone who depends on her sight even more than the average person. When the anime’s perspective shifts to other people like her friends, the colors noticeably dim but the sounds grow louder. When it switches back over to hers, the colors brighten, the light is more pronounced even in darkness, and the soundtrack disappears. The point of view pulls out to a wider perspective, and the viewer is immediately put into her shoes to take greater notice of her surroundings.

Stunning visuals

The very first scene makes use of this perspective shift. Starting on the subway, the direction takes the viewpoint of the general subway rider. A cacophony of noise travels through the ears, and the world has color but with a slight gray filter. Then the scene focuses on Yuki, and the noises melt away to silence. The viewer “feels” the tap on the shoulder through three blunt noises that sound like something hitting your ear. Yuki then turns to see a foreigner trying to ask her for directions.

Her world then brightens  when a fellow college student, and her love interest, steps in to answer for her. Although he initially thought Yuki didn’t understand the foreigner’s language, Itsuomi quickly catches on once Yuki pushes her hair behind her ear, flashing hearing aids to him. Thus begins the relationship of a guy who knows multiple languages but doesn’t know sign, and a girl who signs and can only read lips when the other speaks Japanese. It’s an intimate and emotional connection for the two, and the first episode immediately sells how their relationship will grow in loving ways.

I have no qualms about the relationship, but I can understand why some might find the story slow. There are relatively few conflicts between the two. Itsuomi, who travels the world to learn different languages, is immediately enraptured by the fact that he didn’t know sign – a language in his own country that he has neglected to realize. Yuki is equally enraptured by Itsuomi’s worldliness, having stayed confined to Japan and even more limited in her interactions with mostly deaf students when growing up. The viewer can instantly understand why the two are a good match, and thus, it can be boring at times to watch a relationship go perfectly with relatively few setbacks.

Majority of the anime is about their relationship

While I wouldn’t change how the relationship progressed, I do wish we got to understand Yuki’s world even more. This show is mostly a romance, but the moments that impacted me the most were scenes about Yuki’s day-to-day life outside of her relationship. For example, when her alarm clock vibrates against her bed to wake her up, we see that her alarm clock is shaped differently than other clocks. To ensure that the strength of the vibration is strong enough to wake her, the size of the clock is flatter and rounder, meant to cover more surface area to vibrate a greater part of the bed and meant to lie flat on the surface rather than stand. Another example is when she struggles to find a part time job because many interviewers lose interest upon learning she is deaf, and one of her deaf friends helps her through this difficult job hunt. Having a disabled protagonist in a contemporary story is one in a million in the anime medium, with most of those portrayals taking place in fantasy, and I wished this series gave us even more of an opportunity to experience Yuki’s world.

The reason why I wish for even more emphasis on her life outside of Itsuomi is because of how easy it can be to forget how her deafness affects the way she lives. One scene that stood out to me was when Yuki was surprised by her friends’ reactions to Itsuomi calling her name. They later explained to her that he was calling out to her in such a fond manner that it made them feel like a third-wheel. Despite knowing she can’t hear, I still forgot that being deaf can completely alter a conversation because of an inability to hear intonations and inflections, and I found those specific scenes to be so indicative of her character and only wished there were more.

Learning sign language

The animation is effortless, but in many ways, it needed to be to do the story justice. Much of the series is communicated through sign language, and it was beautiful watching the fluidity of the characters’ hands as they communicated with each other through sign. There’s an obvious progression in Itsuomi’s fluency as the series continues – his movements start out with a lot of pause and uncertainty but by the end, his sign language flows as smoothly and gently as water. Just like in verbal language, how you sign also shows a lot about the characters. Oushi, the closest the series has to an antagonist, signs very aggressively with sharp, angry movements, clueing the viewers in pretty quickly to his rough personality. If the animation quality was any poorer, the nuances would’ve been lost.

It’s hard to judge a voice cast for a series where the lack of speaking dialogue is important and inherent to the story. However, I have to give credit to Yu Miyazaki. Despite not having much experience in voicing main roles as large as Itsuomi, he really brings to life the quiet curiosity that defines Itsuomi’s character.

Everything comes together for a well-thought out and well loved production of a wholesome romance. While I definitely wouldn’t suggest this series for those who look for the stakes and conflicts of a romantic relationship between two gorgeous characters, I do think it’s worth checking out a few episodes, just to open your perspective of the world in the same way that Yuki and Itsuomi did together.

Rating

Plot: 7.5 (Multiplier 3)

Characters: 7.5 (Multiplier 3)

Art/Animation: 9 (Multiplier 2)

Voice acting: 8

Soundtrack: 8

FINAL SCORE: 79

 

 

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