Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare, Vol. 4

By Yuhki Kamatani. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jocelyne Allen. Adapted by Ysabet MacFarlane.

After three volumes that are brilliantly written but also somewhat fraught and filled with frustration, it was wonderful to see how this final volume of Our Dreams at Dusk has so much acceptance in it. It’s in Tchaiko’s present, when he finds that the distance he’s been deliberately keeping between himself and his dying partner’s family doesn’t have to be that way. It’s in the past, where we get Someone-san’s feelings of wanting to be alone and “unlabeled”. And of course it’s in Daichi and Saki’s wedding, as Saki is accidentally outed to her parents and they both have to deal with the fallout… which is not as bad as initially feared. In the end even Misora is able to make peace with Tasuku after getting an apology, and then an apology for apologizing (which I really liked), and shows up at the wedding dressed to the nines. And, of course, there’s still the amazing artwork as well. It’s a conclusion that should satisfy almost everyone.

Tchaiko gets the majority of the focus in this volume. We learn about his partner, who’s dying an in a hospital, and see some of their life together, which looks wonderfully happy. Despite that, Tchaiko goes to visit him only when his family isn’t there, as he doesn’t want to insert himself into their lives – Seichiro has a son from a previous marriage (he had broken up with Tchaiko at that time) and they’re finally talking to each other again, so Tchaiko doesn’t want to get in the middle of that. But that’s not what Seichiro wants, and (as it turns out) not what his son wants either. Through Tchaiko, we also get a better handle on Someone-san, who (appropriately, as it turns out) has been around the periphery of this manga but never seemed to be a main cast member. In a flashback, she admits to Tchaiko and Seichiro that she’s asexual, but doesn’t want to be explaining that every minute of every day, which leads Seichiro to suggest she “wants to be no one, someone from who-knows-where”. It’s a great moment.

Speaking of Someone-san, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how far Tsubaki has come over the course of this manga. From being the remote object of Tasuku’s attraction to a somewhat uncomfortable participant in Cat Clutter’s world, he’s also the one able to point out crucial insights, such as when Someone-san makes cafe au lait for the group, and they’re all startled to see her getting involved. Tsubaki points out that she’s still a human being, a label that is both correct and as broad as possible. This leads to Tasuku inviting her to Daichi and Saki’s wedding despite knowing she won’t be there, and saying that her being someone is enough for him – and so is the distance, which doesn’t have to be less OR more. As for Tsubaki, at the end of the book he feels far more comfortable being Tasuku’s friend, and Tasuku’s acceptance by others and acceptance of himself has led him to grow enormously as well.

The book ends with a death and a wedding (and I didn’t even get into the reaction of Saki’s dad, which once again plays into “I know intellectually what my reaction should be, but it’s much harder when it’s my daughter we’re talking about”, but is really heartwarming), and it feels an appropriate place for the story to stop. It was an incredible journey, and this may be my choice for the manga title of 2019. Everyone who loves manga should be reading it.

Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare, Vol. 3

By Yuhki Kamatani. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jocelyne Allen. Adapted by Ysabet MacFarlane.

“You have to learn to let it go.” A sentence that has been uttered by a lot of people over the years. Sometimes it’s correct. But sometimes it’s also sending the wrong message, and repressing things is not the answer. The third volume of Our Dreams at Dusk has two parallel narratives, and neither of them involve Misora, who after the events of the last book does not appear at all. Instead, we see Tasuku feeling guilty but also returning to work on the house project with the rest of the Cat Clutter folks. Unfortunately, Tsubaki is there as well, and is giving Tasuku some very mixed signals (which, as becomes clear later on, are mixed in his own mindset as well.) Meanwhile, an old classmate of Utsumi’s shows up and tries to be as well-meaning as possibly, in all the negative senses of the word. It’s upsetting everyone else, so why is Utsumi letting her continue to try to be “helpful”? Can Tasuku move forward after seeing how Utsumi deals with things?

Tasuku’s narrative is fraught with highs and lows. Tsubaki is working with him, and being nice, and seeming close and friendly. But he’s also using some homophobic slurs when describing the group to others. A very telling point comes when he and Tasuku are out at the local dockyards, which Tasuku briefly imagines as a date till Tsubaki invites two girls from the volleyball team to come along as well. As they have a meal, Tsubaki once again uses a slur to describe the group, only to be stopped short, not by Tasuku, but by one of the two girls, whose friend’s older sister is married to a trans man. Once Tsubaki realizes his words upset people he knows, he apologizes. Tsubaki himself is upset at his own feelings about Tasuku, leading to a confrontation at the end where Tasuku wants Tsubaki, the man he likes, not to hurt other people. It’s very powerful.

Then there’s Utsumi, who has been one of the pillars of strength that Tasuku has been leaning on throughout the manga. Reuniting with Shoko, whose attempts to be sympathetic, understanding, and accepting grate on absolutely everyone around her. But Utsumi is dealing with it with a smile and some kind words… till on a bike ride with Tasuku one day the repressed fury all comes out at once. Being consistently misgendered constantly is NOT something to accept with a shrug, and when Utsumi goes to a lunch with the other girls from that class, he finds that he can’t do this anymore. Shoko’s “you aren’t like other homosexuals” again reminds us that it’s much harder for some people to deal with this when it;s someone they know well, rather than the nebulous other. (I also loved that Shoko’s daughter keeps going to see the Cat Clutter people, even after her mother stops.

We have one more volume to go, and I suspect that it’s going to be dealing with Tchaiko’s past and the wedding. I’m going to miss this series with its stunning visuals and excellent LGTBQ cast.

Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare, Vol. 2

By Yuhki Kamatani. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jocelyne Allen. Adapted by Ysabet MacFarlane.

It was always a possibility, of course. We’ve seen that sort of thing in countless other titles. The new character comes along to an already existing group and is able to magically help all of them with their problems. And indeed, we saw Tasuku last time introduced to the drop-in center, and the bulk of this second volume revolves around Misora, the kid from last time who was rude and dismissive of Tasuku, and is on the cusp of puberty and also having gender identity issues. It would make perfect sense to see Tasuku help drag Misora out of their shell and help them come to firm realizations. Indeed, we start to see something like that. But life is just not that simple, and Misora’s issues are deep-rooted and not easily solved. And so we end with more lashing out, and more slurs used to hurt, and more art as metaphor with Tasuku’s world literally collapsing around him.

Both people on the cover are Misora, who dresses as a girl at the drop-in center but would never do anything like that at home. Their relationship with Tasuku is extremely bitter and confrontational, and Misora takes delight at times in not only correcting Tasuku’s misconceptions but also hammering on Tasuku’s wounds. At the same time, of course, Misora is also guardedly opening up to Tasuku and feeling him out, ready to lash out in pain and fury at the slightest sign of pity or confusion. But at least Tasuku has defined himself, even if he can’t admit it to the man he loves. Misora is not sure at all what they are – a boy, a girl, or what have you. And they also know that puberty is soon going to make this much, much harder. Meanwhile, Tasuku’s story is hardly over, as he’s spotted at the drop-in center, and outed to his crush… who may already have an inkling about things anyway.

The plot of this volume is very good, but it’s the journey that’s even better. There are no wasted pages, and the frustration burns off the pages as Misora spews more and more slurs at Tasuku – there’s lots of them in this book, all meant to push Tasuku away and also other him to a degree. There’s also more terrific art – I’d mentioned the collapsing building metaphor earlier that serves as the climax, but there’s also little moments like Tasuku taking a wave that Tsubaki gives to him and consuming it at stars, or Misora shown in the water of a glass that Tasuku drops, about to shatter to the floor. Little moments like these help to move the reader along, and the character moments – which can be agonizing – help to slow things down. (I also want to know more about Tchaikovsky guy, and hope we see him next time.)

If you’d been on the fence about reading this series (and I can’t imagine too many who were), pick it up. It’s a painful journey, but also amazing to read.