Awhile back someone on my reader wrote a review talking about this title. I, having never heard of it prior, read their first volume review. I liked the concept, a story about queer characters in a broad spectrum, and wrapped in a bit of a coming of age type of story. It was filed away on my ‘plan to read’ list for some time. Many months ago I got my hand on the series and was smitten with it. Greedily consuming the 23 chapters over four volumes, and bittersweetly ending my journey with the series.
But I found it hard to write about. Which is odd to say because, I enjoyed it a lot. It’s hard for me to talk about stories I really like sometimes. Not even really “like” so much as you connect with on a much deeper level? It’s hard for me to explain properly. When I was younger, I’d find certain books at the library that were ‘unread’ and fall in love with those stories. I’d read them again and again, clutching them tightly to my chest when I was finished, because this story I didn’t write was somehow ‘mine’. Which makes no sense, since the story was in a library where anyone and everyone could check it out to read, and in this case it’s not even ‘region locked’ as the story has been translated and released. But somehow Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare feels like a story I don’t want to share with my readers, despite it being so good.
So that’s why, I’m making myself write about it. I have some points to make, and I want to raise awareness about it’s existence so more people can connect with the story the way I have. So let’s talk about the premise, finally-
In the quaint town of Onomichi, there exists a building with a lounge that’s open to all. A group of friendly people gather, telling their own stories of varying degrees of unusual detailing. Also in this town is the suicidal Tasuku Kaname, driven to this point by his classmates finding out that he might be gay. In his own contemplations, he witnesses the potential suicide of a mysterious woman that shocks him out of this idea. She is unharmed and it was not an attempt on their life. In fact, she is the owner of the lounge that’s open to all, and she is called ‘Anonymous’. Anonymous offers to listen to Tasuku’s woes, and he unloads the trials and tribulations he’s faced until their meeting. After this initial encounter, Tasuku finds himself both emotionally, and literally returning to the lounge and meeting an array of others exploring their identities and coming to terms with who they are.
As you can imagine, with the topic of suicide brought up so early on in both the description and story: this isn’t a story for everyone. It doesn’t maintain that heavy atmosphere the entire time, but rather it sets up the most extremes that someone can go through. The story doesn’t become happy-go-lucky either, it’s a story of progress where those who are perceived as ‘other’ create their own space to explore themselves, and expand it into the pre-existing community who has so harshly judged them. It’s a realistic story, especially if you’re familiar at all with Japan’s conservative mindset when it comes to LGBTQIA+ rights.
Before I get to far into why Our Dreams at Dusk is so good; I need to talk about why I struggled with this review so much as from my earlier comments. Because yes, there is in fact a little more to unpack here. I’ve expressed before that I am bisexual, but now’s not the time to really focus on that. I’ve done a lot of personal development to seek out not only bisexual representation, but overall more queer representation. Something that I managed to do with this particular manga.
However, when discussing this title with a friend the following, paraphrased comment arose from them: “Do you actually think the story is good, or are you saying it’s good just because it has queer representation?”
Which, prior to that comment, I had never even considered that. Sure, queer representation is usually a plus in my book, but I had never judged a story solely due to that fact. Or so I thought, since it never occurred to me until that comment that my judgement could be biased in that manner. So I took some time to reconsider why I said I liked Our Dreams at Dusk.
Did I genuinely like the stories told within it’s pages? Would the story being told appeal to me even if I wasn’t part of the community represented? Or did I just like it because it had representation of minorities? That the fact I liked this particular manga making me more ‘woke’ as it were?
Even as someone belonging to the community being represented within it’s pages, I needed to question my enjoyment a little more. Not in a way to destroy the initial opinion of ‘yes this is good’, but just to really call in to question what factors made Our Dreams at Dusk a story I both wanted to keep to myself since it was so good, but also showcase it to the world.
I will admit honestly, that the representations of multiple gender identities, expression and orientations was a reason that I enjoyed this story. It is not the only reason. Nor do I consider it the main reason, but it is a reason I like this series so much. Additionally, it would be negligent to say that this story would function the same way if that cast were all heterosexuals’ and cisgender – it wouldn’t even exist if that were the case.
With all that said and done with a bit more of my personal tribulations inserted, I can finally talk about other factors as to why I liked this series! The first aspect being the pacing of the story. I previously mentioned that it’s only 23 chapters over the course of four volumes. For the type of story that Our Dreams at Dusk is, I find that to be the perfect length especially with the generous page counts per chapter. Each chapter focuses in on one or two characters and their specific struggles, sometimes for a small arch, before re-incorporating the rest of the cast. I found that well incorporated and intentionally thought out, that really allows for us to have a grasp on who these characters are, making them fully realized and complex but not necessarily pinned down. After all, the story is about exploring who these people are, and how they function in their small town.
I also liked how characters were introduced. It was a bit overwhelming given that I consider about seven characters to be the core ensemble. But Kamatani-Sensei knows just how to weave a focus on one or two, and bring in the rest of the cast to branch off their initial interaction of any given duo. So while a particular chapter certainly focuses more on one character, the rest of the cast doesn’t come of neglected or forgotten. And any particular character absence has a logical sequence of events shown to explain their absence from the story.
There’s a lot of consideration and care taken when characters come in as well. It’s clear that each character had a lot of their specific personalities and dynamics are shown through small actions, seemingly insignificant, until it builds into a larger plot point. I also appreciated that variety of body types, and ages for each character. They really felt distinct in their age brackets, but also unique to the story. These details, from hobbies or habits are also rendered with gorgeous detailing that really gives it some serious depth.
Of course, that’s the perfect lead up to one of the best parts of Our Dreams at Dusk: the art. From the covers to inner pages, the art is highly stylized and distinct. Each expression, gesture, location, has a dreamlike quality to it, especially in the emotional highs and lows, but each of these pages also have real weight to it. Like you could both pull it from it’s pages, but also only in a dream. I’ve never come across an art style like this in a manga before, so it was a pleasure to read. In certain instances, it even felt similar to a Western style graphic novel, minus the full color.
All these factors combined, made for a really unique reading experience. This is the first time on the blog that I’ve encountered a series that made me really consider what makes for a good story, and how to best tackle reviewing a series near and dear to my heart. I would, regardless of your preferences, recommend our Dreams at Dusk to anyone and everyone. It’s a story that will have you easily wrapped up, but ultimately satisfied from beginning to end. Thanks for taking the time to read this review and get a little personal with me. I’ll see you around the blog-o-sphere!