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Helen ESP – What disability?

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 in American comics Daredevil has already done the “disabled superhero” concept for decades, with a titular character that uses “sonar” to “see.”

A manifest failure to empathize with the isolation of blind-deaf-mutes.

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.

Morality in Franken Fran, another manga by the same author.

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 the manhwa Zero (listed at ANN as “Zero: Beginning of the Coffin,” though some fans have suggested “Opening the Gate” as a more sensible translation.)  Readers who desire a story about a child who can see spirits are encouraged to instead read the opening story arc of BleachHelen ESP is not recommended for anyone desirous of a story that relates to real-world disabled persons.

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