Manga Review: Shimanami Tasogare [Our Dreams at Dusk]

Back in 2008 a series about a ninja was making huge waves in the world of manga and anime. No, not Naruto, but Nabari n Ou. Well, that series came and went but the creator Yuhki Kamatani decided to do something drastically different for their next work. Shimani Tasogare doesn't have any ninjas and only has a a single fight scene. Instead, we follow a teenage boy who is bullied for being gay.

Tasuku is your regular high school senior, but he's often teased for being feminine or over emotional at times. One day, Tachibana, a friend of Tasuku, takes the jokes too far and steals his phone, only to reveal to everyone that Tasuku had gay porn in his browser history. (To his credit, Tachibana actually thought everyone was okay with gay people like he was and is one of the only people that doesn't shun Tasuku remaining friends with him throughout, so don't hate him, he's just dumb.) Tasuku walks to a mountain summit and considers jumping. He witnesses a person jump from up high and he rushes to their aid only to learn they're okay. The person introduces themselves as Anonymous and invites Tasuku to a cafe they own which hold meetings for a club called Cat Clowder, which restores buildings on the island.
Tasuku returns and slowly learns everyone in the club is LGBTQ and he stays as he tries to figure out himself. Touma is a boy that Tasuku has a crush on, and he soon begins to hang out at the club after learning about it. Touma's father is a homophobic city planner that often has to meet with the club to oversee their progress, Touma just happened to be tagging along during one of his father's business meetings. Touma quickly brings down the mood of the club with his antics both intentional and unintentional causing tensions flair as Christmas approaches.

I think all of the characters are beautifully written and fleshed out. Touma isn't billed as a main character, but he is and he's my favorite. He's a complete piece of shit, and knows it, but doesn't know how to change. He calls them the gay club and brings some straight girls there from school who don't pitch in, and complain about having to help with repairs. They are only there to swoon over him as he works. On one occasion, he invites Tasuku to work on a class project with him despite Tasuku being a social outcast. Touma tells Tasuku about his love of ships and goldfish, they bond over how much they both love cryptids. Then he abandons Tasuku for some girls. At one point he calls the club members some slurs and Tasuku defends them, they have a fight. At another point Touma is asked why he even comes to the club if he hates LGBTQ people and after a long pause he just responds he doesn't hate them and he leaves the club. Anonymous tracks him down right after he had finished listening to one of his father's homophobic rants. They inform Touma that he belongs there as much as anyone else. However, it was just a ploy for Anonymous to force Touma and Tasuku to drink hot chocolate and stop feuding. In the end he still doesn't know anything about himself but he's not a complete piece of shit anymore, and that's called progress.

Tchaiko is an old man who loves music and is openly gay. He was once married to a woman but left her to be with a man he loved in college. Currently that man is in the hospital. Tchaiko is currently sneaking around trying to avoid his husband's son. Not because he's ashamed of himself, he just doesn't want the son to know his father is gay. We don't know anything about Tchaiko until near the end other than he is happy to be loved, has a song for everything and really hates Touma. Enough that he is the person constantly trying to get Touma to leave most of all. At one point he tells Touma that his position in the cafe is making the music sound bad.

Anonymous is just chaotic good. They are the type of person to ask someone questioning suicide "are you gay?" Anonymous is running a scam on the pop sickle lady, who does have outrageous prices, and always wins a free one then forces people to reveal their secrets while eating before seemingly jumping to their death. Anonymous might stalk two teenage boys and lock them in a room together forcing them to drink hot chocolate until they're friends again. They wear crocs, jump off mountains and dress like a monk, so you know they're crazy. But they are well meaning. 

Most people assume Haruko is dating Utsumi because they're good friends, but people who know her know that she's a lesbian and isn't hiding. That's the reason for her ongoing feud with Touma's father who thinks she's too careless for not hiding it even if she isn't exactly flaunting it either. She's a big part of bringing new people into the club, since she founded it. She also plays a big part in helping Tasuku recognize that he needs to love himself more. This leads to Tasuku telling Tachibana that if they're going to be friends, he can't make gay jokes anymore. Tachibana apologizes because he didn't realize the jokes were hurting his friend and Tasuku can't wait to tell her. She's the cool aunt of the story.

The artwork is incredible. Throughout we get these beautiful landscapes of Japan, which are based on photos taken by Kamatani. Each one is incredibly detailed down to the ripples in the water or different types of grass. Other times we're treated to detailed images of flower arrangements. One of my favorite things is there are moments where the world somewhat warps around characters most notably Tasuku and Touma. For Tasuku it can creating feelings of rage, sadness, or anticipation. Pieces of the world will crumble around him, sunny days may become dark or small distances may seem infinite. For Touma, it is almost always fear or anxiety. In once scene he's arguing with Tasuku who asks him how he can be so homophobic and also want to spend every day at the club with him. The entire world just curves as if Touma is trapped in a goldfish bowl and can't break free. It adds more tension to the scene because it is if he's become trapped and he doesn't manage to say anything before Tasuku leaves him, still trapped in his bowl.

I fall into the camp of people that believe sexual orientation is a spectrum, and people just land on a spot. I don't really get hung up on the dozens of orientations. The difference between bisexual, pansexual, bicurious, spectrasexual and sometimes androsexual, just do not interest me. I'm a 90s kid from the Midwest, everything that wasn't a man penetrating a woman was just "gay," until 2013. For most people it still is, things just haven't changed as much as Hollywood or the internet might have you believe. I know people who refer to themselves as "trannies," and refuse to be referred to as anything else even in 2021. I know married gay couples that still tell people they're roommates. The word "queer," was a slur when I was growing up, now it is a heterosexual white woman with purple hair or a straight man that enjoys a skirt. Is Vin Diesel queer if he has a collection of high priced kilts he's often seen wearing? What about Kanye West and his leather skirts? All the Black women with colored hair? The words homosexual and heterosexual are defined as slurs by GLAAD now when previously those were the accepted terms as opposed to "sexual disabilities," or whatever. Things change, but not at the same speed for everyone.

There are a lot of people like me who aren't stuck on labels. Some just refuse to change, others can't be bothered, many just do not care and that isn't a trait restricted to straight people. Shimanami Tasogare touches on this a lot throughout the pages. You don't really need to have your sexual orientation or gender narrowed down to a category, subcategory and specialization. Tasuku is gay, but he doesn't really put a label on it until we're halfway through the series. Touma, apologizes for the homophobia and leading Tasuku on, then ditching him to spend time with some girls. Still, he admits he has no clue what his orientation is. Shuji is a sixth grade boy who enjoys dressing like a girl, but is very firm that he enjoys being a boy. Tasuku angers him at one point by trying to place him in a box, when he didn't want to be in one.

There's also a thing where some people need a validation of who they are, but everyone doesn't. Some people never come out the closet, but also never hide in their either. When people learned Justice Smith identified as gay it wasn't because he came out or made a statement, it was because people kept posting pictures of him and his boyfriend at the time Nicholas Ashe, as they were in the crowd during Black Lives Matter Protests. He wasn't hiding, nor was he seeking public validation. There are plenty of people like that in the world, that aren't exactly portrayed in media. 

Utsumi is a character in the club and as far as everyone knows he's a straight man who just happens to have a passion for restoring houses. When one of his former classmates drops by and reveals he's actually a trans man everyone is shocked. His logic is, it was nobodies business but his, which is entirely fair. He chose to go through gender reassignment years ago, and they all know him as a man, he shouldn't have to explain it to anyone. To their credit, everyone just accepts it after the surprise wears off. He gives Tasuku a talk about how you can live life without hiding but also without seeking validation from others, if you just love yourself. It may sound condescending to some people, but it is a good message for others. There's a lot of LGBTQ people who aren't hiding but also aren't planning pride parades and they get overlooked often.

There are members of the club in the closet such as Saki but Tchaiko is out, proud and wants everyone to know. Still, there are other members like Haruko who is dating Saki, and isn't hiding her orientation, but also not telling everyone who will listen. Shimanami Tasogare does a great job of depicting what other media doesn't. Every person who isn't strictly heterosexual or cisgender doesn't have some magnificent or tragedy filled coming out moment. Many people just live their lives no different than anyone else. 

I know an 80 year old woman who identifies as someone that "just loves people," and as she was telling me about her ex wife I was surprised and she tells me "media has made everything a spectacle now, in my day you just loved who you loved and if people didn't like it they minded their own business." I thought that was wisdom which only comes from age and being both a missionary and a hippie. For something more recent, take Frank Ocean for example, a man who identifies as bisexual. We don't know anything about his personal life, but he's been labeled as "fake gay," and "gay baiting," because he didn't turn into an activist or alter his personality. He's just Frank Ocean and wasn't embraced the same as his fellow Odd Future member Tyler The Creator because Frank didn't go on tour when he came out. Then again, it could also be biphobia which comes from all angles of the spectrum. But at the end of the day, Tyler can just live his life Frank can't and every interviewer will ask Justice when he knew he liked men.

Anonymous is a character who owns the club but nobody knows anything about them. Eventually they reveal their gender and orientation but state it doesn't matter. It shouldn't matter to anyone as long as you're a good person. There's no shame and letting the world know who you are, but there's no shame in not making announcements either. There's only shame in not caring about yourself.

Shimanami Tasogara is a really good read. There's no budding love stories, no sex scenes, no heavy handed messages, no school festival arc or anything that slice of life usually has. This is just people, trying to find their places in the world. There's children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged people and senior citizens, all just living their lives to the best of their abilities.

You can check out some of my short stories at 12 AM Fiction or if you like vampires follow my web serial Exsanguinate and of course hear me on the Powerbomb Jutsu podcast if you enjoy pro wrestling.

Manga Review: Shimanami Tasogare [Our Dreams at Dusk] Manga Review: Shimanami Tasogare [Our Dreams at Dusk] Reviewed by Darrell S. on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 Rating: 5

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