Vrai, Dee, and Chiaki sing the praises of LGBTQ+ manga Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare, discuss the importance of it being written by an X-gender and asexual author, and get a little personal about its impact.
Date Recorded: January 12th, 2020
Hosts: Vrai, Dee, Chiaki
0:01:09 Subject and genre evolution
0:06:24 Utsumi, transmasculinity, and well-meaning jerks
0:10:13 Misora, transfemininity, questioning, and sexism
0:18:24 Tsubaki vs closeted gay tropes
0:22:24 Language differences
0:27:42 Ace representation
0:36:57 The city
0:43:59 Intolerance and microaggression
- Art as Discovery, Art as Hope: Kamatani Yuhki, x-gender and asexual mangaka
- Makoto Kageyama discusses mental health issues in Japan and anime
VRAI: Hello, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. My pronouns are they and them. You can find all the stuff that I do on my Twitter @WriterVrai, or you can see the other podcast I cohost @trashpod. And with me today are two other AniFem staff members, Dee and Chiaki.
CHIAKI: Hi, I’m Chiaki Hirai. I am a freelance writer and editor for Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter @TheWeebiestEmpress or @Chiaki747. One’s public, one’s private, and neither have anything sensible to say.
VRAI: Yay! And we have brought this brain trust together today to talk about Shimanami Tasogare, which was localized in English as Our Dreams at Dusk.
It was a seinen manga by Yuhki Kamatani that ran from 2015 to 2018. It’s a slice-of-life series about a group of LGBTQ individuals who come together and work through some of their shit at this shared drop-in center. And it’s a lot! It’s emotionally a lot.
One thing that’s really interesting to establish before we go forward is that we’ve been getting a lot of cool own-voices type essay manga like My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness or The Bride Was a Boy. But this is one of the most prominent examples of own-voices fiction manga that we’ve gotten in English, because Kamatani is X-gender and asexual.
And I feel like that really makes a difference in how this story is able to reach in and gently, just gently, squeeze your heart and crush it.
DEE: Yeah, I think at the end of every volume, I felt like I needed to lay down for a couple of days. But it’s really, really well done. So, content considerations for folks at home, because it will absolutely hit in some very raw, real places. But it’s really well done, and I think at the end of the day, it moves into a hopeful place. Would you guys agree with that?
I think at the end of the day it is a series looking to give people hope, in spite of the problems that a lot of queer folks have in both Japan and abroad with social issues and misunderstandings and whatnot. But I think at the end it is an optimistic series, and that goes a long way.
VRAI: Yeah, it doesn’t feel as much like an educational manga as some. This feels more like it’s as much about venting, but also something that a cis or a straight reader could learn something from. But it feels like it’s more for “Doesn’t this shit suck?” Which can be rough to read, but it is ultimately about how these characters come out of it and are stronger for it through their connections to each other.
CHIAKI: Yeah, I think it’s really a story about personal growth and learning from mistakes or the acts of others.
DEE: Yeah, I agree with that. And I really like how it feels like it’s written… Because as much as I really liked The Bride Was a Boy—I think it’s a wonderful little one-shot—it feels like it’s very much written to explain things to a cis audience. And that is useful.
But Shimanami feels more like it is written for the queer community at large in a way that is really unique and fascinating to me. Especially the way it touches on how different portions of the queer community can have misunderstandings about other portions of the community—especially Tasuku trying to understand what trans people are like or asexual people as the story continues. And I think that lends an authenticity to it that is really nice to see.
VRAI: Yeah, it is maybe one of the only works that I’ve read in manga or in general that is kind of about those inter-community tensions in a way that feels real, but not like it’s saying, “And this other part of the community sucks, and they’re making life harder for us.”
DEE: Yeah, not at all. It’s very sympathetic and accepting of everybody, and it’s more about, like, “How do we communicate and understand each other and not accidentally or intentionally push each other away?”
CHIAKI: Just speaking to how I came across this story, I think it was with you, Vrai, or Rachel. I can’t remember who mentioned it first, but it was during the Wandering Son retrospective.
VRAI: Yeah, Rachel mentioned it way back when we did Wandering Son. That was early 2017, so it was into the later part of its run and hadn’t been licensed yet.
CHIAKI: Yeah. What I’m really happy about, having read this series, is the fact that it’s something that’s grown beyond what I’ve come to expect with, like, Wandering Son. I love Wandering Son, but then I realized there’s some major improvements that could be made, and I feel Our Dreams at Dusk really makes those improvements, those things that I was looking for in a story that has queer rep.
VRAI: Yeah, Wandering Son hits hard in places, but it’s also written by a cis author who didn’t do research until pretty late in the series and really did the transmasc character dirty, and it’s aged poorly in a lot of ways. So, it’s nice to have more modern stuff like this that can step in for a series that I think a lot of us needed at the time but maybe doesn’t hold up so well.
DEE: Yeah, Vrai, you’ve talked a lot about how… I don’t know if this is the flow of the podcast that we want, but I know you’ve talked a lot about how it’s really hard to find transmasc characters.
VRAI: It’s really hard!
DEE: [crosstalk] And there is Utsumi in this one. So, how did you feel about him?
VRAI: Utsumi’s arc was definitely the roughest, by which I mean the most personal for me to read.
His experience isn’t necessarily mine, where he’s the type of trans dude-type character who passes most of the time and he just kind of wants to live his life. He’s supportive of the other folks at the drop-in center, but he doesn’t really want to take the emotional energy to be constantly explaining things to people. And that’s perfectly valid. But personally, it’s not how I approach my identity at all or really have had the luxury to approach my identity.
But a lot of his arc with his old high school friend—
DEE: Oyama. Yeah.
VRAI: —was just painfully real for me, because I had maybe one of my closest childhood friends that I kind of stopped talking to over the last year or so, because she would talk about being really supportive and how much she cared about me and would just refuse to stop using my deadname because it was just easier for her. “That’s just the name that she knows.”
And I think the stuff this manga gets into about how well-meaning people who say hurtful things and feel like the fact that they’re trying is good enough is some of the most pointed, effective parts. And, overall, Utsumi is great. I support him.
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah, Chiaki, in our private chat you were talking about Oyama as a character. Did you want to expand on her a little bit here? Because I know you were like, “Who’s the worst character? Is it Oyama? Yes, it is.”
CHIAKI: Yes! Because the entire time she is there, she exudes this sense of “I want to be respectful and I want to be helpful,” but it’s more for her own personal fulfillment rather than…
DEE: It’s kind of virtue-signaling a little bit, right? Like she’s really working hard to show how open-minded and accepting she is, even though she continues to deadname Utsumi like the entire time she’s in the story.
CHIAKI: It’s definitely the concept of “No, actually listen to the people being affected.” “Don’t try to talk over trans people,” I think is the biggest lesson here.
VRAI: Yeah. And she has that additional element of, “Well, I support him so much, because this is a disease. It’s something they can’t help. It’s not an orientation like the homosexuals.” Oh, Jesus Christ!
DEE: My skeleton climbed out the back of my body and flew across the country during some of her chapters. It was so painful.
VRAI: Uh-huh! It had intense Midwest energy, those chapters. The cross-cultural…
DEE: I’ve talked before on this podcast about how when people talk about, “Oh, Japan and—being indirect and polite is so foreign to Americans,” and I’m like, “Have you been to the Midwest?” Because it’s really not that hard to—I pinged pretty hard with that as well. So, I’m with you on that one, Vrai.
VRAI: [Laughs] Yeah, that one, and I found Misora’s arc really interesting and a little bit frus— That one’s a little bit hard to read in one or two places. Misora is the sixth-grade kid who comes to the drop-in center to dress up in dresses and present female, but isn’t sure that he wants to live as female full time.
I don’t know. I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to read him as X-gender or just he’s very young and he’s still kind of scared and interfacing with these issues. I don’t know. Chiaki, what have you got on that?
CHIAKI: I felt Misora was pretty into wanting to be at least femme-presenting, because when he wore the kimono or the yukata, he was absolutely enamored with how he looked. The big issue was that he faces the sexism women, trans women face in a very blunt way, which honestly scares him—or maybe her.
VRAI: Yeah, let’s go with “her,” I guess.
VRAI: Let’s go with “her.”
CHIAKI: Yeah, let’s go with… So, I felt she’s definitely at least queer and definitely questioning her own identity and is feeling comfortable presenting as a woman, but then is scared by the sexual harassment she receives.
And that actually hit close to me because back when I was transitioning when I was younger, definitely started getting catcalled, and I was like, “Oh! That actually doesn’t feel that great.” [Chuckles]
DEE: Yeah. That scene with Misora at the fireworks show where she… Yeah, we’ll go with “she.” I’m always hesitant, like maybe “they” because Misora kind of pushes back.
I think they do a really nice thing with Misora and Tsubaki where neither of them is sure and that’s okay. Some people know, and not everybody knows. It can take time to figure out where you fall on these spectrums. And I really like that Our Dreams at Dusk takes some time with those characters and says, “It’s okay if you don’t know. Take your time. Explore. Figure it out. You’ll get there.” That’s really nice. Sorry, that was a side point.
VRAI: No, it is really great. It’s good to bring up.
DEE: Yeah. But that moment where she gets groped and is just horrified. I’m not a trans woman, but that pinged with me because even growing up, there were times when I would… I was never really into feminine presentation. I was more sort of androgynous, masculine, like jeans and T-shirts type thing.
And there were times in high school where I would kind of start to lean into “Well, maybe I want to try wearing a pretty dress or a skirt or something.” And shit like that would—I mean, thank God, not to the extent it happens to Misora; that would be horrifying—but yeah, like you said, catcalls or leering. And it’s like, “Oh, just kidding, never mind! I don’t want any of this.” So, yeah, I felt that, too.
I thought that was really good of Kamatani to bring up the… I think she does… They. Sorry. Japanese pronouns are a little different, but I know Kamatani is X-gender, so we should probably go with “they” on the podcast, I think.
CHIAKI: Yeah, that’s fair.
VRAI: I think the one translated interview with them uses “they,” and I think maybe they in Japanese avoid pronoun usage.
DEE: Mm-hm. Which you can do. So, yeah, I know that can be a little fuzzy coming over, but I’ll go with “they” for Kamatani themselves. What was I talking about?
I like that within the queer community, they also find ways to touch on the sexism that comes about from presenting feminine in any kind of way. Haruka and Saki are constantly getting pressured to be married to men and have children and things like that.
So, to see that with Misora, it’s another one of those moments that kind of rips your heart out of your chest a little bit. Because you want Misora to feel nice and have a nice time going out for the first time and presenting feminine in public, and then it just goes south so bad.
And Tasuku does not know how to deal with it. He’s trying, but he just doesn’t know.
VRAI: Yeah, I think that scene is the biggest example—the moment where it really clicks that, “oh, this manga is really made for the people it’s about,” because it never really explicitly spells out that Misora is scared because she experiences sexism and social misogyny for the first time. That’s the tension of the scene that’s never quite spelled out. And it scares her away from the drop-in center and from wearing any kind of feminine presentation until the end of the story.
DEE: Yeah, and Tasuku sort of accidentally victim-blames her, which is real bad. Again, not on purpose, but I think the series does a good job of showing how easy it is to accidentally hurt people, especially younger people who are still working through all of this stuff.
VRAI: I feel like the one weird note in the series is that when they eventually make up, Tasuku is like, “I’m so sorry. I was trying to help you, but I was making it about me,” and he does this really great apology, and Misora is like, “Well, thanks. I’m not gonna apologize, because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Which is, on the whole, really great. It’s great for her to be allowed to get mad at him. And it’s good to be mad, and you don’t have to forgive people who are shitty to you. But also, she does maliciously try to out him and calls him a bunch of slurs in public. That was bad.
CHIAKI: Yeah… That was pretty bad. I feel like Misora especially is pretty immature. You can identify as a girl, but you’re still a sixth-grade kid. And I’ve said dumb, dumb shit when I was in sixth grade, fifth grade, elementary school, that now I feel like, “Oh, no, I definitely should apologize for that.” But at that time, I thought I was in the right because I was hurt. Therefore, I have the right to hurt back. That’s a very juvenile…
VRAI: Oh, it’s totally real.
CHIAKI: Yeah, it’s juvenile.
DEE: Misora is extremely middle school. Yeah, the way she lashes out at Tasuku and they push each other’s buttons, it felt very much like an angry middle schooler just trying to needle everybody around them so that they will feel a little less insecure.
And I do like that all of these characters, in addition to dealing with various queer identities, are also—as the series points out multiple times—individual people who are at particular points in their school lives or have different interests. Like, Tasuku’s into UFOs. There’s these really nice little beats where you learn other stuff about them, so they feel like very fleshed-out characters.
And I think both Misora and Tsubaki lash out at people because they’re confused and just kind of angry at everybody. And I do like that the series allows the kids to do that and is a little bit more forgiving of them than it is of, say, Oyama, who is an adult and should fucking know better.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, no, it’s totally understandable, and I think Misora will grow up into a perfectly good adult. I think why it tweaked for me a little bit is just because that particular line has a half-page panel and it’s like the emotional healing, closing moment for that story beat, and I’m like, “Okay, but narratively speaking, that was a dumb kid thing to do. Oh, whatever. We’re moving on.”
DEE: [Chuckles] No, I hear you. I hear you.
VRAI: I am astonished with Tachibana, because he’s the homophobic closeted kid.
DEE: Sorry, Tachibana?
VRAI: Oh, sorry. Tsubaki.
DEE: [crosstalk] Tsubaki. Because Tachibana’s their other friend who kind of hovers in and out of the story, right?
VRAI: Yes. And Tsubaki is the guy that Tasuku has a crush on.
DEE: Yes, yes.
VRAI: Yeah. I’m astonished that Tsubaki is the trope I hate most, which is the closeted homophobe, and I do not hate him. It feels so naturally done, like, “oh, this is a thing that has basis in reality before it became this ‘get out of jail free’ card for straight people writing homophobia into their words.” And he is it.
DEE: Yeah, I agree. And I think it helped that he gets called the fuck out on it, right? —Sorry, I apparently have a little bit of a potty mouth tonight.
VRAI: It’s my fault. I encourage this behavior in you.
CHIAKI: Yeah, I swear a lot.
DEE: Yeah. But when Tasuku and Tsubaki have that clash at the end of the third volume where he has been just progressively, kind of intentionally pushing buttons, kind of trying to get Tasuku to admit things, and then just goes off on this very hateful speech at the end of that volume.
And can we talk real— Well, the imagery in this series is so good, so I hope we spend some time on that.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s beautiful.
DEE: But there’s the whole UFO thing where Tasuku rips off the door of the UFO and just shouts at him, like, “You have to stop talking like this. This hurts me. Maybe you don’t realize that, but this is very hurtful.” And they have that scene where Tsubaki just starts sobbing. And yeah, I agree with you, it is a really good, real, honest, very nuanced take on what is an extremely tired trope.
VRAI: Yeah. God, I posted a couple of panels on my Twitter. I think the closest example I could think of, that English readers might know, is Ichikawa’s work in Land of the Lustrous. Kamatani is so good at abstracting these intense emotional experiences into this visceral, almost beautiful kind of body horror, almost, and surreal imagery.
DEE: Mm-hm. Oh, absolutely.
VRAI: It’s so good!
DEE: Because there’s a lot of glass shattering—and every volume has an imagery theme to it, which is pretty cool—in the first volume, there’s a lot of glass and shards of light.
The second volume: the fishbowl. And the fishbowl is kind of like the safe space that you then have to exit, and then the fish on the ground dying at the end… God, it’s good! That’s Misora’s volume, where Misora finally tries to present feminine outside of the safe space of the call-in center. And you have all this fishbowl imagery throughout that volume.
And then the third volume, you have the UFOs that then transform into the ships, because now they’re not aliens to each other. They’re all on the same boat together and trying to move forward together.
It’s just really well done. I’ve read it twice at this point, because I wanted to refresh myself before we did the podcast. It’s one of those things you appreciate more when you read it a second time and can see those links. It’s really nice.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah. It was a mistake for me to binge this series. [Chuckles] Because I’d been putting off reading it until it was kind of done, and then I bought them all for the podcast, and then I just kind of quietly laid on the floor for a while.
I feel like, readers at home, in addition to just the general content stuff, there’s a lot of slurs in this manga. It is very real about that part of the experience.
DEE: And Chiaki, you read this in Japanese, right?
CHIAKI: Yeah, I have the four volumes in Japanese, so I’ll probably be not understanding some of the names you say at first, because there are differences, probably.
VRAI: Oh, yeah. With Someone-san, I imagine.
DEE: And so, a question I had for you was… And at this point, Seven Seas has earned my trust with their translations, so I didn’t ask too many questions with this one. But there are a couple of times where they drop the F-bomb, and I don’t mean “fuck.”
But for the most part, when characters are being kind of rude, they’re using “homo” instead, which in English is like a slur, but it’s much lower key than… You know what I mean? One of those terms, I’m willing to repeat on this podcast; the other one, I’m not. [Chuckles]
VRAI: And that’s a sign!
CHIAKI: Yeah, usually in the Japanese, a lot of it is “gay” and “homo” that I’ve read. The other thing, though, is that the Japanese don’t necessarily have a word as dirty as the F-bomb here. So, maybe in a particularly emotional and strong moment, I think it’s a justified word to use to convey the harshness of what the character is saying. But having not read the English version, I don’t know which instance exactly you are referring to.
DEE: I will absolutely give the English translation credit. They use the F-bomb very, very sparingly. Because I’ve seen some illegal fan translations out there where it’s constant. Some of the original screencaps I would see passed around on Twitter, they use the harshest slur possible the entire time, and I don’t think that’s true to the context. I think most of the characters, it’s a very casual kind of… It’s more microaggression, right? Which is what “homo”…
VRAI: [crosstalk] Right. It’s microaggression o’clock.
DEE: Yeah, this series is heavy on the microaggressions. Like “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, but…” is constant throughout the series.
CHIAKI: Yeah. Yeah. I’ll agree there.
DEE: Yeah, but there are a few places, like when Misora is pissed at Tasuku and they’re at the festival. At first Misora is throwing “homo” at him several times and then drops an F-bomb right at the end. And in the moment, with as pissed off as Misora is, it felt true to the scene. But I was kind of curious as to what the language was like in the original.
And there’s definitely moments in this where Tasuku will be like, “You know, that’s kind of insulting,” and then the other character will go, “Okay, so you would prefer ‘gay.’ That’s the term you want.”
CHIAKI: So, yeah, I have the books next to me right now, where Misora is yelling at Tasuku. Typically, she uses “homo,” but in a sense like “You homo bastard.” So, definitely, in that sense, the F-bomb would probably fit as a succinct translation.
DEE: Mm-hm. Yeah, again, at this point, because Seven Seas has done such a damn good job with a bunch of these other series, I tend to trust them. But this was definitely one where I was like, “This would be nice to have the Japanese copies with me as well, so I could just cross-check terminology and see how they were handling different contexts and things like that.”
Actually, my other question for you was, in the Japanese version, is Dareka-san—or Someone-san, as they are translated—are they ever used with gendered terms? Do you know?
CHIAKI: Not exactly, but it feels they’re coded female. How is it translated in English?
DEE: In English, there’s a couple of moments in the first volume where the other characters will kind of… I think Tasuku refers to Someone as a woman. And then throughout it’s she/her.
VRAI: And then you have the last volume, where she has her big monologue about “If you see me as a man, that’s right. If you see me as a woman, that’s right.” So, to me, Someone-san felt very nonbinary or X-gender-coded, because I definitely read Someone-san as Kamatani’s wish-fulfillment insert, which I’m cool with. So, I was just automatically reading, “Oh, so, you’re ace and you’re X-gender. All right.”
DEE: Mm-hm. Yeah, and Chiaki, correct me if I’m wrong here: X-gender is kind of a catch-all for both nonbinary and agender, where, again, in English, the subtle difference there would be nonbinary is “you very strongly feel that you are neither” and agender [is] “you don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other.” Would that be about right? X-gender kind of covers both?
CHIAKI: Yeah, I think so. And so, as far as Someone-san goes, I feel they’re definitely like an agender—based on how they were trying to say, “Well, maybe I’m not anyone at all.”
VRAI: Dee, I know you don’t like to get super personal on the podcast.
DEE: Yeah. [Chuckles]
VRAI: [Chuckles] But I know it has been your long, long trial to have… Well, you’ve got Yakumo, and you have the nice boy from My Love Story.
DEE: [crosstalk] Suna.
VRAI: And that’s kind of it for ace characters.
DEE: They’re both very implicit. This is my first explicitly ace character in manga, and as close to explicitly agender, which is pretty cool, too. They use she/her throughout. And, again, I feel pretty confident because I know Seven Seas—the translators checked with… The Land of the Lustrous, they checked with… Oh my God, I’m blanking on the author’s name. Vrai, help me!
DEE: Ichikawa. I know they checked with Ichikawa to see what pronouns she wanted them to use for the Gems. So, I would assume there was a check here with Someone-san, and Kamatani said, “Yeah, she/her’s good.” So, I’m not going to get on the translator for that. That seems like an okay choice. But I do like that the character doesn’t seem to particularly give a crap one way or the other. That’s kind of nice. But, yeah.
So, Someone-san is explicitly asexual, probably aromantic. My biggest… The thing I really like about… Because Someone and I, we’re not similar. We’re very different characters, and that’s fine, because I don’t expect every asexual character to be exactly like me. But it’s cool to have a character be explicit about it.
And I really, really like that scene where Tasuku is talking to Someone and Someone talks about, like, “Yeah, I’m just not sure I want to… I kind of want to be transparent and not really connect closely with anyone”—which is bullshit, by the way! But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
But Tasuku has that line that’s like, “Oh, so I had a hard time understanding why you didn’t really want to connect with anybody. But if you’re ace, then that totally makes sense.” And Someone looks him dead in the eye and is like, “No. Those two things are unrelated. I’m my own person. Me being ace doesn’t have anything to do with my desire to keep at arm’s length from other people.”
And that was huge for me, because my biggest concern with Someone was that in some ways… There aren’t a lot of ace stereotypes because there aren’t a lot of ace characters, but the one that you do tend to come across is, “oh, they’re very cold and antisocial and don’t necessarily like people.” And that is extremely not me. So, I was really worried the series was leaning that way, and I was gonna be like, “I can’t be mad at you, Kamatani, if that’s the way you feel, but please don’t try to lump us all under one umbrella like that.”
So, I really like that the series—again, throughout the series, I think it does a really good job with every character of being like, “And please don’t think that this character is representative of every single person who is gay or trans or ace or what have you. These are individuals who also happen to be part of this queer community, as well.” So, I really liked that about Someone.
The fact that they’re literally magic… I don’t want to say “literally magic.” There’s a lot of imagery used in this series, right? Tasuku’s chest isn’t literally shattering in volume one, and the fish aren’t literally flying around Misora and things like that. So, I’m not sure if Someone is intended to be literally flying across rooftops and things or if that’s just supposed to be part of her character: being this ephemeral form that tries to keep this mysterious aura about themselves.
CHIAKI: That was my reading of her as well. I was kind of surprised, like, “Oh! Literally, the ace character is magic,” and I’m like, “What?”
VRAI: The cloud imagery just got so overt at the end, for a minute I was like, “Are we doing some fabulism, Kamatani? I’m cool with that.”
DEE: Well, and I know Kamatani… They have another series that hasn’t been brought to the U.S. I’m probably gonna mess up the premise of this exactly, but it’s got a lot of Buddhist undertones and it’s about a bodhisattva merging with a human, and that character also doesn’t have a gender.
So, I know Kamatani has some interest in Buddhist mythology and religious beliefs and theology and things like that. And one of the things that does come out of Buddhism is: you move away from those attachments—being free of attachments. And so, that refers to lust, but also unhealthy emotional connections.
And there is definitely some stuff in Buddhist mythology about how once you reach a certain point of enlightenment, you can fly and jump super-far distances. And, again, that’s not as much in the theology; that’s more in some of the more mythological elements of it, but it’s there.
And so, with Someone-san, I read a little bit of that into maybe this little wink about, “Oh, yeah, well, she’s closer to enlightenment.” Which, I have to admit, I do kind of appreciate that.
VRAI: No, that’s awesome. Although, like you said, it is kind of bullshit that Someone doesn’t want friends or doesn’t care about the people in the drop-in center. [Chuckles]
DEE: She does though, right? I mean, she definitely does.
CHIAKI: I feel she does.
DEE: The whole point of the final volume and Tchaiko’s partner Seichiro in the hospital… Someone spends that entire volume lowkey checking up on Tchaiko and being worried about Seichiro and starts making café au laits [Pronounced like “oh lots”] for everybody. Café au lait [Pronounced like “oh late”]? I’m pronouncing that wrong.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Café au lait [Pronounced like “ow-lay”].
DEE: Okay, au lait. Thank you! Starts making those for everybody in the drop-in center as a way of reaching out and forming more of a bond with them, because she’s clearly thinking about this person who’s important to her who is dying.
And I love how much of this series is subtextual, but I think you get a lot of that in that final volume of like… And this I do feel very strongly, and I do like that Someone’s character verbalizes this, this sense of… Like when she meets Seichiro and Tchaiko, she talks about— God, I’m talking a lot. I’m sorry, guys.
VRAI: No, no, keep talking.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Go ahead.
DEE: I’ll turn the floor over to you guys in a minute.
But when she meets Seichiro and Tchaiko, she asked if they were a couple, and they’re like, “Well, do we seem like one?” She’s like, “Well, not really, but in this world, it just seems like when two people are paired together, that’s the assumption.”
And her pushback against being labeled and this idea of “Well, when you form a bond with somebody, there’s an expectation that it will also be romantic, and that’s not necessarily my—“ Or sexual. Whichever, you know. One, other or both, depending upon who you are. And so, I do resonate a little bit with Someone’s sense of “I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, so maybe it’s better if I just sort of fade into the background and don’t form those close connections in the first place.”
But I do like that there’s a lot of subtext in the last half of that final volume where it’s like, “Well, no, Someone clearly cares about the people at this drop-in center. Here are these little signs. They won’t necessarily vocalize it, but it’s absolutely there.”
VRAI: The only other Kamatani manga that’s available in English, Nabari no Ou, has very much that kind of feel that you’ve talked about really vibing with in stuff like Pandora Hearts, where it’s about all of these characters of different genders having really important bonds to each other that aren’t necessarily labeled.
Nabari no Ou wasn’t for me just because I don’t like ninja stories, but I feel like, listeners, if you wanted something like this that’s a little less intense and more of a fantasy story, it’s good, the characters are good, and also one of the leads is intersex, which is cool.
CHIAKI: In the first volume, Someone-san says to Tasuku, also to… what’s her name? I’m sorry. Hanako. Haruko.
DEE: Haruka, yeah.
CHIAKI: Oh, Haruka?
DEE: Haru. She just goes by Haru for almost the entire series, so I can’t remember if it’s Haruko or Haruka.
CHIAKI: I believe it’s Haruko.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I believe it’s Haruko.
CHIAKI: Yeah. Anyway, Someone-san says, “Oh, you can say whatever. I won’t be listening.” But the fact that she offers that opportunity to talk, by itself, is a sign that she’s paying attention to the people around her. She’s capable and is knowledgeable or cares enough about other people around her to want to at least give them the opportunity to figure out their shit.
DEE: Yeah. And she will talk back at the moments when people maybe need it. She definitely gives Tasuku and especially Tsubaki some pushes here and there just by asking questions that maybe other people haven’t.
And I think the fact that she forms the call-in center in the first place says a lot about her as a character: that she’s never really felt like she belonged anywhere and so then she just creates this space where other people who have felt similarly can come together and just have a supportive community and figure their shit out. You know, again, that safe space that we touched on a little bit here and there.
VRAI: Yeah. Chiaki, you mentioned that you really wanted to talk about the city itself.
CHIAKI: So, the drop-in center, I believe, is actually modeled after a house on the top of a hill in Onomichi, actually. I’m not sure if it’s mentioned in the English volumes of the manga, but the Neko Shuukai—the nonprofit that remodels old homes—actually exists by a different name in Onomichi, called the Onomichi Abandoned Property Rehabilitation Organization or something like that.
DEE: Yeah, I think in English they translate it to Cat Clutter. Sorry, continue. Just for folks at home.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Cat Clutter? Yeah, Cat Clutter?
DEE: Yeah, Cat Clutter.
CHIAKI: That’s good.
DEE: Yeah, it’s cute.
CHIAKI: So, yeah, that actually is a nonprofit thing that they do, so Kamatani’s definitely done research as far as the city of Onomichi and what’s going on around there. I’m not sure if you know, but Kamatani actually lives in the town right next door, Fukuyama, and that’s why there’s that sort of closeness to this interesting city. I’ve actually been to Onomichi—
DEE: Oh, cool.
CHIAKI: Yeah, back [in] 2008 or so, before this comic was ever conceived. But it’s a really beautiful town. And I think part of what this comic wants to do is drive interest in Onomichi.
A lot of manga and anime today have those things, like Zombie Land Saga, which is all about promoting Saga. Yuru Camp is currently… Room Camp is trying to promote Yamanashi. And just as much [as] Our Dreams at Dusk is all about laying bare queer identity and issues, it’s also about telling people, “Hey, come to Onomichi!” which is actually kind of cool.
DEE: Oh, it definitely is. And in between each chapter, there will be these little mini-comics that will talk about different foods and places you can visit in Onomichi. So, reading this, not only did I have my heart ripped out a few times, but I went, “I kind of want to go to Onomichi now!”
VRAI: Well played, Kamatani.
DEE: [crosstalk] Well done, Kamatani. Yeah, exactly. [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: But it’s such a town in the boonies that [chuckles] it’s… When I went there, back in 2008, it was probably at the height of the… what do you call it? The town was in a rough shape. Everyone’s moved to the cities. The train station only had like one train every 40 minutes. In Japan, that’s ridiculous, technically.
DEE: Yeah, that’s a long time.
CHIAKI: Yeah. And only local trains stopped there. The downtown had a lot of shuttered businesses. And I got in my cab to get to my hotel, and the cab driver was like, “So, why the heck are you even here?”
DEE: Yeah, so that’s interesting that Kamatani chose to specifically set it in a small town rather than… because, especially in the U.S., I think with a lot of stories about queer characters, they’re usually set in the big cities that we like to fancy are super-progressive. You know, most American television shows don’t exist outside of the coasts. But I digress. So, that’s a cool choice of hers, I think, to settle it in this town that’s maybe a little bit further off the beaten path.
And Chiaki, obviously, you’ve spent way more time in Japan than either Vrai or I have.
VRAI: I’ve never been.
DEE: Yeah, and I was like two weeks. —And are more up to speed on actual Japanese-speaking, LGBT community-type forums and things. How does this series match to those real-life experiences? Because this was written very recently. It finished up within the last year, I’m pretty sure.
VRAI: Yeah, 2018.
CHIAKI: Yeah, it finished up 2018, yeah. So, there’s that urban-versus-rural context of LGBT people everywhere.
DEE: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
CHIAKI: And in Japan, by urban, that means generally Tokyo.
DEE: [Chuckles] That’s it.
CHIAKI: Everyone just goes to Tokyo. Otherwise… for me, I’m a Kansai kid, so, Kyoto and Osaka, also pretty big cities, so a little bit more progressive, a bigger gathering of people. But the rest of the country is pretty rural.
And you get that sense that people are pretty conservative out there because it’s the land of tradition, and Japan kind of eats that up by itself. It’s all about, “Well, we’re not Tokyo. We don’t have all this newfangled… LEDs everywhere. But we do have this 300-year-old sake brewery, and that’s our town’s thing. That’s all we have. But gosh darn it, we’re going to promote it.” And at the same time, that spells out that people are pretty hard-set in their ways.
Maybe they don’t accept LGBT people as much, but I feel like there’s considerable leeway and people can be accepting in the most surprising ways, kind of like Saki’s father, who presents homophobic feelings, but then immediately takes it back, realizing, “Oh, wait, that’s actually really bad.”
It’s more he was angry at the fact that his daughter was outed by this random guy and kind of flared up with this gut reaction before realizing, “No, no, hold on. I just thought something really terrible. I love my daughter, and I want her to be happy.”
I feel that’s a very good read of rural Japanese people who might appear fairly conservative, but at the same time, more open than you think.
DEE: Yeah. Again, a lot of the aggression in this series is microaggressions, and a lot of it comes from people just genuinely seeming to not know what they’re talking about at all. It’s that sense of “Have you ever even met a gay person?”
I love that moment where Tsubaki’s dad is talking to Haruko—yes, I did look it up in the meantime, and it is Haruko—and is talking about the drop-in center and makes some comment about “Well, I don’t want this to turn into like a hookup place or anything. Ha ha ha.” And she snaps at him like, “You know, we’re not just a bunch of horny zombies who only think about sex 24/7, right? We’re people living our damn lives.” I love that she doesn’t put up with shit. She’s very good.
VRAI: Haruko’s so good.
DEE: Yeah. And then pretty much any time somebody confronts him, he kind of has that moment like Saki’s dad has where he’s like, “Oh. Sorry. Didn’t actually mean anything by it. But you’re right. That was a shitty thing for me to say.” Like when Tasuku was like, “Hey, BT dubs, I’m gay. What do you think of that, dude?” and he just sort of apologizes and runs.
And it’s interesting to me because—obviously the specifics of every culture are different, and that is very, very important to take into account. The homophobia in Japan, where that comes from, is very different from the U.S.
But it is in many ways reminiscent to me of some folks I know in the Midwest who will say something accidentally hurtful and then you kind of call them out, and they’re like, “Oh, shit. Yeah, sorry. You’re right.” It vibes with… And again, this was 10-odd years ago, but it vibes with my college experience a lot, as well, I think.
So, I do like that Kamatani will call that shit out, but then give people leeway to be human and apologize and grow from those moments, which is where the hopefulness of the series comes from, I think.
VRAI: Yeah, finding out that this takes place in a real small town really clicks into place why so much of it vibed for me, in terms of my own experience growing up in Wyoming. My hometown is like 50,000 people, maybe, and it’s one of the biggest towns in the state!
But the scene that you mentioned with Saki’s dad, particularly… She worries about this for the whole manga, and it causes tension in her relationship with Haruko. because Haruko is out and Saki isn’t, because she’s worried about her parents. And then ultimately, it all kind of comes out and it works out okay.
And it just makes me think of my mom as a kid working with AIDS patients in the hospital and doing her best to work with them, but talking about them in this pitying, kind of condescending way. But then, after I came out, she worked maybe harder than anybody at being good and supportive and remembering pronouns. And she’s this 65-year-old woman.
And it’s one of those things where this manga is so much about, not political change, not wide social-cultural change, but, even if it’s small, how important those little moments of individuals trying can be. And it gets you right in the heart.
DEE: Yeah, and the idea of acceptance and communication and understanding, like, “Maybe I won’t 100% understand you, but I can still accept you for who you are and attempt to make those understandings.” Because Tasuku says to Someone, “I do not understand asexuality at all, but I don’t want to lose sight of you as another human being.” And that’s such an important first step. And I do really like the way the series deals with that.
Sorry, Chiaki, you were gonna say something?
CHIAKI: No, I just wanted to go back a little bit about Tsubaki’s dad. He’s also a pretty common character, I think, as far as a guy who’s just not meaning anything bad, but he’s just kind of a dick about everything.
DEE: Yeah, he really is.
CHIAKI: That’s a very familiar kind of dad that I am very close to knowing.
DEE: And we’ll say no more.
VRAI: No more was said that day.
DEE: No, yeah, I do— Sorry, go ahead.
CHIAKI: Yeah, I feel so sorry for Tsubaki having to go home later that day to face his dad because, man, I can see that conversation going already. [Chuckles]
DEE: Yeah. I don’t get the sense his dad’s gonna be the kind of person who, if he does eventually come out… because I think that it’s probably fair to say Tsubaki is somewhere on the queer spectrum, whether he’s bi or even ace. Again, his interest with Someone made me wonder if maybe he was romantically attracted to people but may be asexual.
Anyway, however Tsubaki ends up identifying, I don’t get the sense his dad’s gonna kick him out, but it is going to be a very difficult conversation, more so than what Saki had with her parents.
But I do like that there’s that sense of hope with pretty much every character, and the way the series connects past and present with… Haru and Saki have their wedding, and then you have the story of Tchaiko and Seichiro happening.
VRAI: Which destroyed me.
DEE: Yes. That’s the part where I cried! [Chuckles]
VRAI: Me too.
CHIAKI: Sorry, I didn’t cry.
DEE: It’s okay.
VRAI: It’s okay. You didn’t cry at Princess Tutu. You have a heart of steel and iron.
DEE: You’re so strong, Chiaki! You’re so strong!
DEE: But yeah, I think that that juxtaposition of… they’re able to get married, and then Seichiro and Tchaiko talk about, “Well, it was different for us, but there’s that sense [that] things are moving forward. We had to just be completely in the closet, but this new generation feels like they can be more open about it. And that’s really good.”
But then they still have that beat at the end with Seichiro’s son, where he’s very accepting of it at the tail end here. And so that, again, is this note to the next generation, like things are getting better. They’re not perfect, and there’s still a lot of work to do, obviously. But I like that it ends on that note of moving forward into the future.
VRAI: I was thinking while reading this—I go back and forth on how this would look as an anime, because I wonder if it could be as delicate and beautiful as the manga has space to be. It is only four volumes, I guess, so that’s an easy cour.
DEE: You could do it. You’d need exactly the right director for it, though. I think it’s one of those projects where there’s maybe a handful of people who I’d trust with this, and anybody else, I’d be like, “Er, probably not! Probably this is gonna go south.”
VRAI: The director of the Bloom Into You anime, maybe.
DEE: Honestly, yeah, probably.
CHIAKI: I see it more as a good short-vignettes, shorts movie.
DEE: I was gonna say you could do this as a film, too, and truthfully, if they were ever going to animate it, I think it would have a better shot of getting made as a movie just based on the content. I know there’s been… This was a couple years ago, and… God, I can’t remember the interview. I’m so sorry, folks at home, I’m not going to be able to link to this.
VRAI: It was [when] Makoto talked to us. I interviewed them about mental illness stuff in Japan. I’ll get you the link for when this episode goes up.
DEE: Okay. Yes. I do! I know where you mean, and yes, that was what it was, so we’ll link to it in the show notes. But [the article] was talking about how because, with a movie, you paid the ticket price—you’re gonna sit down and commit to the whole thing—it’s easier to push the envelope in that format in Japan as opposed to TV shows, where it’s once a week and there’s a committee that picks what gets up, and so, they’re not quite as willing to take some of those risks with the subject matter. Although, at this point MAPPA might, because MAPPA seems pretty down for publishing some queer content, which is pretty cool.
VRAI: Yeah, Makoto Kageyama. There we go. I found it.
DEE: Okay. Yes, thank you. … Was kind of talking about that, and so, I could see that with Shimanami, as well.
But I’m so glad we got the manga in English. I’m just so happy this exists and people can read it and I can show it to people, because, again, I think it does a really good job of being lowkey educational but also very true to life and for the queer community in a way that a lot of these stories that we’ve gotten in English in manga aren’t, necessarily. And I really like that about it.
VRAI: Yeah, apparently, this was one of Seven Seas’ most requested titles ever. So, I hope it’s doing well now that it’s actually out.
DEE: It’s only four volumes, folks. So, if you’ve somehow listened to this whole thing and haven’t actually read the manga, it’s all out in English. And Seven Seas very reasonably priced things. It’s a beautiful edition. The covers are this really soft material that I like very much. It’s lovely. So, I would highly recommend it.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Hard same. Yeah. I can’t recommend this series highly enough. And like I said earlier, Kamatani’s other work, Nabari no Ou, wasn’t really for me, but it was a good series. If you liked this and if you wanted Naruto but a little more gay, then maybe that one’s for you.
DEE: [Chuckles] I should give that one another try at some point, for sure.
VRAI: Yeah, the other volumes get better.
DEE: Mm-hm. That’s good, yeah. I’d love it if we could get more of their stuff over here, because that series I mentioned earlier that deals with Buddhist mythology, just based on the summary, sounds pretty great, extremely up my alley. So, I would love to see more of their stuff over here, absolutely.
VRAI: Yeah, I really want to read Shounen Note! That sounds like another painful bucket of feels.
DEE: Oh, yeah! That’s their other one…
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] Oh, I hear that one’s harsh… I hear.
DEE: Is it? [Chuckles]
CHIAKI: I hear.
DEE: Well, maybe someday we’ll get it in English and we’ll be able to do a podcast on it, too, and we can talk about how it also ripped out our hearts, but in a good way, right?
VRAI: I hope! It’s about puberty and voices changing, so that’s…
VRAI: Yeah. Ooh, yeah. Was there any final things that y’all wanted to touch on before we wrap up on this?
CHIAKI: When’s the AniFem Onomichi tour?
VRAI: As soon as we have enough money.
DEE: I’m sure if we get that Indiegogo going, everybody’ll pitch right in.
DEE: Send the team on vacation! Just go!
VRAI: We’ll take a lot of photos. It’ll be great.
DEE: [Laughs] No, that would be lovely, but probably a long distance into the future, Chiaki. I like where your brain is at, though.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I’m here for it. I like this kind of thinking. Keep it up.
CHIAKI: Call me anytime.
VRAI: Yes. Good. All right, well, I think that about wraps us up. Thank you so much for listening, AniFam. If you liked this episode, you can find more of our stuff on Soundcloud under Chatty AF and on our website at www.animefeminist.com.
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And until next time, take care. Bye!