CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of queerphobia and thoughts of suicide. SPOILERS for early events in Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare.
Manga was incredibly important to me as a teen. I fell in love with the various art styles and the anticipation that comes while waiting for a new volume, but that excitement began to fade as I got older. I realized I wasn’t able to find stories that had aged with me and could represent my feelings or experiences. Manga brought me joy as a teen, but I figured I wouldn’t be able to find anything new that would bring me that same joy as an adult. And so, I stopped searching.
Coming across Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare was like finding an oasis. I happened to see an image of the fourth volume’s cover on social media and immediately knew this would be what got me back into manga. The cover features two women in wedding dresses surrounded by floral motifs. It’s clear they’re getting married to each other. There were no pretenses; it wasn’t open to interpretation. This was a queer manga and I loved that the cover didn’t hide it.
While I initially expected a simple story about two women in love, I instead got a diverse cast of LGBTQ+ characters with nuanced lives who demonstrated the importance of intergenerational communities and a “found family.”
Manga Translation: A place where people can talk about what they want to now. A place where no one’ll be rejected. A drop-in center.
Usually, the depiction of queer people in manga is neither for nor by queer people. Often, authors who aren’t necessarily knowledgeable of authentic experiences pen BL stories featuring themes of physical and sexual abuse, while yuri relies on societal taboos such as incest to drive a story. While this has improved a lot in recent years, it’s still not uncommon for queer people to be written as props for fetishization and consumption, or even coded as villains.
Even compared to works for queer audiences written by queer creators like Takeuchi Sachiko, Nobuko Yoshiya, and Gengoroh Tagame, Shimanami Tasogare stands apart from the rest as the first manga I finished as an adult that showed the diversity of the queer community by depicting a different, specific queer experience with each character.
As an ace, X-gender (nonbinary) author, Yuhki Kamatani brings a genuineness to Shimanami. And though diverse in representation, I still found myself connecting to each and every characters’ personal struggles with their sexualities and identities.
The story first opens with Tasuku Kaname, a high school boy struggling with his sexuality, who is contemplating suicide after possibly being outed at school. The way Tasuku’s inner struggles are drawn show the panic and self-hatred he feels. Opening the first volume with a young student struggling with depression as a result of society’s views on queerness makes a powerful statement.
Manga Translation: I’m still okay. As long as I keep smiling, I’m still… I’m still…
Being a teen and navigating mental health along with internalized homophobia is a painful process that can take years to heal from. When I was Tasuku’s age, I was the same. My teen years were full of performative heteronormativity, and then of conforming to what I thought a gay woman needed to be once I did come out. I appreciate Shimanami for using the first few pages to tackle that issue without turning Tasuku’s life into a voyeuristic experience for the reader.
These scenes didn’t feel unnecessarily dark or exaggerated. They didn’t feel as though their inclusion was only meant to shock the reader. I connected to them in a way that felt natural and familiar. That sense of familiarity followed me throughout the series.
From there, the story opens up to focus on multiple characters who spend their free time in Someone-san’s drop-in center, fixing the space and making it their own. Inside this space is where we meet the people who become Tasuku’s “found family.” They are the people he can turn to for guidance and support, the people he can look at and see that he does have a future as a gay person.
Left panel: I had thought I didn’t want my own daughter to be gay.
Right panel: We’re getting married.
We meet Haruko and Saki, a lesbian couple struggling with the fact that they can’t legally get married and the possibility their parents won’t support their love. For me, this couple felt like the next step in my coming-out journey. The characters of Tchaiko, an older gay man, and Misora Shuji, a young boy who enjoys wearing dresses, wigs, and other clothing seen as feminine, play a similar role in this story.
It was easy for me to feel a kinship with these characters as they dealt with avoiding family and attempting to control how they’re viewed by the outside world. Regardless of how comfortable I was with myself and my attraction to women, there was always the fear that my family would refuse to accept me; the fear that I could not be open with the people in my life. It was the one roadblock that stopped me from fully being happy.
Finally, there is Utsumi Natsuyoshi, a transgender man, who visits the drop-in center. Rather than making his story about shame or violence, Kamatani instead shows the ways people from his past align themselves with queer people while still remaining ignorant and oppressive. As queer people, it’s so common for us to look to straight allies for a sense of belonging, and more often than not they disappoint us due to a lack of understanding and blanket statements that veer into stereotypes.
Manga Translation: It’s simple. I want to live a happy life with the person I love. That’s all I’m hoping for. That’s all I want.
Each of the characters has a unique experience that contains honest pain and heartbreak. Shimanami is not a fluffy story about love, but a story that highlights the different experiences that we, as queer people, go through—the struggles of hiding your identity, hiding from family, silencing yourself to please others, or simply accepting that you won’t be accepted. As much as I love this manga for its representation, I love it even more for being unafraid of showing those realities.
There’s something important about seeing the pain you and people like you have faced worked out and processed in a healthy way. Kamatani’s characters have a physical space to go when they need the support that society isn’t giving them; in turn, this manga feels like a safe space people like me can turn to as well.
Beyond the pain in Shimanami, I was able to see the way queer people of all ages can live and exist, learn and grow. I was able to see the way a community that queer people themselves build can become a life-saving avenue. The found family in Shimanami provided each member of the drop-in center a chance to be seen and supported. When I was young, I never got that from reading manga I’d assumed was “LGBTQ+ friendly” simply because it featured two men or two women in a relationship.
None of the arcs in Shimanami are easy to read. They deal with realities such as losing a partner without having the legal rights to be with them, having your identity invalidated, and dealing with vitriol and violence from the people in your everyday life. Again, the genuineness that Kamatani wrote with makes this incredibly hard to digest. I got emotional during multiple chapters, but it was ultimately cathartic.
Through Tasuku’s eyes, we see queer people living as adults and elders. We see that there is a future for queer people, which is important to me because I didn’t always see a future for myself as a young gay woman. Those are the things that draw me to this series and why I find it so special.
I can see myself, as I am now, and I can see who I could’ve been. I was incredibly lucky to discover my own found family as an adult, but without the support I’ve received I could have easily fallen into the self-hating mentality that is so common in our community. I am so grateful that Shimanami showed and validated that experience.
Editor’s Note: As of the publication of this article, the entire Shimanami manga is not available in English. For consistency’s sake, we opted to use images from purchased Japanese volumes throughout.