By Latonya Pennington
When you’re young and you first realize you’re LGBTQ+, it can be hard to come to terms with your identity. Society’s expectation to be straight, allosexual, and cisgender can result in self-hatred, mental illnesses, and suicide. As an American, I am not an authority on Japan’s LGBTQ community, but a 2017 news article states that LGBTQ+ students often have no one to confide in if they are outed.
At first, this is the exact situation that occurs at the start of Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams At Dusk Vol. 1. After being outed by his classmates, Tasuku Kaname almost takes his own life when he sees a mysterious woman leap out a window of a building. When he goes to the building for help, he discovers the woman is unharmed and that the building is a drop-in center for people from different walks of life. Through the people he meets there, Tasuku slowly comes to terms with his orientation.
In fact, this manga’s cast of characters forms the heart of the story. In addition to Tasuku, there’s his friend Tachibana, who inadvertently outed Tasuku when seeing gay porn on his phone. He teases Tasuku by calling him a “homo” which encourages Tasuku’s peers to tease their other classmates and their homeroom teacher. It’s worth noting that the teacher doesn’t encourage the teasing, but doesn’t put a stop to it either. However, Tachibibana eventually apologies as he and Tasuku prepare for table tennis practice.
Although Tasuku tries to lie about his orientation to save face, Tasuku feels so ashamed that he almost takes his own life right after school that day. From this, it’s clear that he’s been struggling with his orientation on his own for a while and that the fear of being outed was a confirmation of everything that could go wrong.
Thankfully, Tasuku meeting the mysterious woman Someone-san becomes an anchor that leads him to the drop-in center, a safe space. The drop in center also serves as a home base for volunteers that tears down vacant houses and renovates them into something new. Two of the volunteers that Tasuku meets are adults Haruko and Saki, who are lesbians dating each other.
Once Haruko casually mentions to Tasuku that she and Saki are together, the storyline and artwork become more layered as we learn more about Haruko and Saki and Tasuku slowly starts to come out to himself as gay by admitting his crush on Tsubaki, a male member of the high school volleyball club. One visually stunning page of art features Tasuku literally shattering like glass as he imagines being with Tsubaki.
In fact, this page of art stands out to me because it visually represents Tasuku’s fragility when it comes to his orientation. It is a fragility that I have personally felt when coming out to myself multiple times. Coming out to yourself as LGBTQ+ feels like breaking yourself open with a sledgehammer. It’s shocking, scary, and a little wonderful and Kamatani captures that well in their artwork.
Speaking of breaking yourself open, Haruko’s backstory does a good job at displaying this through the use of literal and metaphorical renovation. As it turns out, Haruko decided to make the drop-in center after Someone-san tells Haruko to do something with an old building she owns. Before you can renovate a building (or yourself), you have to be willing to tear down the old. In Haruko’s case, smashing down the walls of the old building is cathartic enough to give her the courage to come out to her parents.
Meanwhile, Saki shows that some people renovate themselves at a different pace than others. While Haruko is fine with being publicly out, Saki is not. Saki and Haruko have a small fight about this near the end of the manga, since Haruko eventually wants to marry Saki. However, Saki makes it clear that she wants the same thing someday, telling this to Haruko and Tasuku as they watch the sunset.
Hearing Haruko and Saki’s dream gives Tasuku the courage to dream as well. Like Haruko before him, he is given an empty building and is allowed to decide how to renovate it. It is at this point that Tasuku thinks that he is grateful to be alive, taking the first step towards queer self-acceptance. Seeing Tasuku’s catharsis is really powerful because it shows that there is no need to rush when it comes to coming to terms with who you are.
All in all, the first volume of Our Dreams At Dusk is an emotionally resonating and fresh coming of age story. Whereas some LGBTQ+ characters in manga might be used as the best friend or the comedic reveal, this manga lets them be fully developed with desires and dreams. If they dream at dusk, then maybe at dawn they can become their fullest selves.
Our Dreams At Dusk
Writer and Artist: Yuhki Kamatani
Latonya Pennington is a poet and prolific critical writer whose work has been featured on sites including WomenWriteAboutComics and The MNT, amongst several others. You can follow them on Twitter right here, and their website is here!
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