After recently moving to Onomichi, Hiroshima, high school student Tasuku Kaname is thrown into despair at the possibility that he may have been outed for being gay. Convinced his life is over, his despair turns into shock when he sees a woman jump out of a window of a nearby house. Tasuku races to the house in a panic only to discover that it's a public meeting lounge owned by the woman he saw before. Tasuku comes face to face with the woman as she walks past him unharmed, but not before she implies that she had been watching him from afar. Confused, Tasuku follows her up to the top of a steep hill where she offers to briefly listen to what's on his mind. Although Tasuku doesn't go into too much detail, he later accepts her invitation to come to the lounge to meet others with similar troubles.
For most of the western world today, tolerance towards homosexuality is almost unquestionable, with gay marriage being written into law with nary a controversy. But for Japan, a country that has traditionally isolated itself from the rest of the globe, attitudes towards homosexuality are noticeably different. Though a 2017 NHK poll indicates that a majority of Japanese people are supportive of gay marriage, two years later even civil partnerships remain non-existent, and people remain heavily closeted in fear of standing out in a fiercely homogeneous culture.
It is important to keep this in mind while reading Shimanami no Tasogare. Those familiar with anime, manga, or
Japanese media as a whole will be well aware that homosexuality is almost entirely ignored, or, if homosexual characters do exist, they are treated as a one-note running-gag-- tee-he, this character is gay/lesbian: so funny. Even Japanese television, which attempts to manufacture a vaguely tolerant image towards LGBT people by having a small handful of transgender hosts on variety shows, treats said hosts almost exclusively as comedy material. Matsuko Deluxe, most famously, for example-- most Japanese people would believe her cross-dressing and usage of female language to be a part of her character, a part of the joke rather than her actual identity. The general attitude towards LGBT people, among the younger Japanese populace, is to act tolerant on the outside, while shutting them out inside and avoiding their company so as to not stick out. For older Japanese people, outright discrimination is as ordinary to them as their hostility towards foreigners. And for children and teenagers, it is of course a reason to bully.
Shimanami no Tasogare is a statement about the reality of LGBT people in Japan. It is a touching and personal story about a wide array of people finding, and coming to terms with who they are, but it is equally the question of why these same people aren't allowed to behave themselves on the outside. Why must they stay closeted? Why can't people be free to love who they choose? They simply wish to live their life in peace without being harassed. Doesn't everyone?
The story begins with the protagonist being driven to the brink of suicide for being potentially ousted as gay by his classmates. He chooses instead to live, and eventually finds company among a volunteer group comprised of other gay people, of lesbians, cross-dressers, transgender and closeted/confused people. Nobody in this group is hostile towards society for not accepting them: they are content merely having found a space where they can make friends and be accepted for who they are. But even this is put into jeopardy by society, with regular and targeted harassment towards the group throughout the series. Sadly, such things had already been a daily occurrence in their lives before they had even joined the group. A shrug and a step forward is their only recourse.
Shimanami no Tasogare's writing is considerably subtle. There is a transgender character whose identity is never outright stated for the majority of the series, but by the time the dialogue explicitly reveals what they are, the reader has already known for quite some time due to their bittersweet conversations with old friends, hinting and nudging towards their past. There is as well a cross-dresser, though whether they truly fit somewhere in the LGBT spectrum, or are merely a puberty-stricken child fascinated by beauty, remains unanswered. It is not of much relevance. In the protagonist's own words, he wants "to live in a world where we don't have to understand each other." And that's quite fair enough.
There is some touching romance throughout the story-- particularly between the protagonist and another boy at school whom he has a crush on-- but this plays a secondary role to the two coming to terms with and accepting who they are, or even who they might be. There isn't necessarily an "and so they got together" ending, as whether or not they do was never really the point of the story. Much can instead be inferred from the manga's often symbolic imagery, with the art, stylistically simple as it may be, both figuratively and literally gouging at the characters with their fears and unrequited loves.
As somebody who is straight and even engaged to someone of the opposite sex, Shimanami no Tasogare comes recommended without reservation, a touching and courageous story despite its brevity. It is not just a story for LGBT readers to relate to, but for anyone who has ever felt alienated, or can empathise with those that have.
Because why should anyone ever be bullied for loving another?
So, I started this manga today (5/23/18) because I saw it updated and thought “Why not I’ve been meaning to read this for a while,” not realizing that it was the final chapter updating. Now I’m writing this review in tears because I read the manga in one sitting.
A brief summary of what I enjoyed because I’m going to get long and personal after: Shimanami Tasogare is beautifully written with art that is gorgeous. The story is emotional, drawing you in, making you question how Tasuku will come to terms with his sexuality, showing personal issues LGBTQ people face, and leaves you in wonder
about who Anonymous is. I recommend it to everyone, no matter their sexual or gender orientation, to read this manga.
Now a more personal and longer take on the manga:
What got me interested was that it was a story about a gay teenager who tries to kill himself after almost being outed. As someone who is herself a closeted queer person (bisexual) who has a history of suicidal tendencies, I myself know what it is like to go through these feelings and events. Very rarely am I able to see what myself and other LGBTQ people go through, especially in manga form, so the plot interested me greatly. As I read it, I saw a lot of connections between the LGBTQ experience, especially when it comes to the community made through it. I loved reading and seeing how the different people vented their issues with their own sexualities, whether it be destruction, screaming, or keeping it silent inside.
One of the parts I loved the most about the manga was seeing the community portrayed in such a positive light. The story revolves around the queer community and the choices Tasuku makes after becoming a part of it and learning more about what it means to be LGBTQ. From my own personal experience and research, it was so important and heartwarming to me to see him find this community as it does (both in the real-life community and in the story) become another family. This manga is extremely important as it shows the positive of the community, as well as internal struggles they have (such as not understand each other sometimes), but still shows how the community acts as a family and cares for each other. I want to get more into this by mentioning actual scenes but as to not spoil anymore if it I will leave it there.
Moving on (kind of) from the story, the other major part I loved about this manga was the art. Incredibly beautiful (several times I just stopped reading because Tasuku’s eyes were drawn so beautifully I just had to stare at them), the art was so well done and used to its full effect, helping the story and represent what these characters were going through internally. One of the best examples of this (that is early enough in the story that I’m not spoiling much) was at the end of chapter 3 when Tasuku realizes what he is feeling towards a classmate. The scene shows Tasuku breaking apart like glass, with the glass reflecting in classmate. In that moment he also says “No one look at me,” and I cried for a good long while after this part, because as mentioned before, I’ve been where he has been. I’ve seen multiple depictions of what it feels like to be in the closet and realize who and what you are feeling, and that was the first time I’ve seen someone get it so dead on to what I felt, both the breaking and not wanting people to see.
Shimanami Tasogare is an amazing manga that captures a great look at what it means to be LGBTQ, and it’s a manga I would recommend anyone read no matter their sexual or gender orientation.
I’ve said in past reviews that the general societal conservatism of Japan makes it a fool’s errand to seek out good LGBT representation in media. Well, this manga proved me wonderfully wrong.
Shimanami Tasogare is a slice of life drama, but interestingly enough, the first chapter is framed almost as a mystery with some supernatural elements. These elements quickly fade once our protagonist, a gay high schooler who’s deathly afraid of being outed, discovers a tucked-away community of LGBT people. They come in all walks of life, from an middle schooler questioning their gender identity to an elderly gay couple. This should be a generally
happy manga, a story of self-acceptance even with some bumps along the road, but the initial framing renders it permanently bittersweet. By presenting the Cat Clowder organization with an air of supernatural mystery as previously mentioned, the mangaka establishes it as escapism rather than realism. If I’m reading the subtext right, this is meant to depict how LGBT communities can be so hard to find that one might as well just treat them as a fantasy, which is pretty depressing. This feeds back into the plot, with our main character desiring love and validation but being too scared of himself and society to pursue his true self.
When I say that Shimanami Tasogare’s organization is an LGBT community, I really mean all of it. Going into this manga blind, I expected it to be about gay men and maybe women. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Cat Clowder included all sorts of LGBT people, including bisexuals and trans people. There’s even a discussion about asexuality later on, which I never thought I’d see in any media.
Since this is quickly becoming my defining flourish, it’s time for some trans character analysis (In this paragraph I’ll go into some spoilers for the second volume). For once, this manga fares really well with its transgender representation! There’s a trans man who’s not explored too much but I’m glad is there, and a closeted trans girl in middle school who much of the second volume focuses on. Junior high is a terrible time no matter what, and trying to sort through your gender issues then may actually make things worse. This character is scared of going through male puberty, but doesn’t quite have the agency or security to come out as a trans girl. She talks to the main character at large about these anxieties and feels pained every time she has to gender herself or make a conscious choice about identity presentation. Near the end of her arc she finally musters up the courage to present as female and wear a yukata during a festival. This ultimately doesn’t go too well, and a few panic attacks later she flees and stops coming to the lounge for a while, and by extension stops dressing as a girl. All the characters end up concluding that they simply pushed her too fast and that now wasn’t the right time, but that she’d come back and figure herself out sometime later. This may sound like a depressing conclusion, but it’s a devastatingly accurate one, at least for me. When I was in high school, I started questioning my gender identity for the first time, but the lack of resources and self-agency made me give up and repress all those thoughts. It took until the relative freedom of college for me to finally come to terms with myself and start transitioning. Shuuji’s arc may not have been cleanly resolved in canon, but just like me, one day she’ll be able to come to terms with herself.
There’s an interesting dynamic at play with Cat Clowder being a demolition and construction organization. I read it as a metaphor for reconstructing personal identity, which is a sweet touch. In addition to character development and drama, there’s usually some big project to move the plot forwards as well, not to mention characters having to juggle their school and work lives as well.
I haven’t talked about Anonymous at all, the mysterious patron of this whole community, who funds their projects and gives them safe spaces to exist. There’s not too much to say about her, other than that I think she’s a nice role model to look up to. If I had time and money on my hands, I too hope that I would act as the maintainer of a big space for all my friends to hang out in if they’re having trouble.
Overall, even across cultural bridges, Shimanami Tasogare’s characters and their anxieties are extremely relatable, and it’s one of the most accurate depictions of LGBT identity in a country and medium that so often distort it. If you’re queer or think you might be, this is a must-read, and it’s a validating journey. Even if you’re not, it’s still a moving character drama and I cannot recommend it enough. We need many more stories like this.
I do realize this is going to be more of a rant, but bear with me.
From time to time, I check top 100 manga to see what's new. And Shimanami Tasogare kind of appeared out of nowhere. The cover art looked nice, so I gave it a try without even reading the synopsis.
Boy was I dissapointed. But no, not because it turned out to be unexpected shounen ai (though not reflected in MAL genres), but because it failed to be interesting, even despite the quite high mean score. The story can be summed up by "gay protagonist meets other non-straight people and sometimes also people
who are maybe straight". Of course, there are plenty manga that have simple idea, but are entertaining. But in case of Shimanami Tasogare that's it. There's not really more to it. It seems to have a reputation of "realistic depiction of lgbt folks" and "their struggles in society". Yet it all falls flat. It might be realistic but well, real life can get boring too. The characters are just thrown at the reader without really trying to make you like them, and most of the "exciting events and turns" consist of the characters turning out to be *insert not-straight gender/identity/whatever*. Mostly in form of those characters saying "Btw I'm this and that."
Shimanami Tasogare tackles the theme of not understanding yourself, searching for the true you and so on. But tackling an interesting theme doesn't warrant it being done in an interesting way. For example there is an arc about a crossdresing boy. *slight spoilers of said arc ahead, but just to show how plain it is* He reveals he's crossdressing to mc after mc doesn't notice, later proceeds to have to have mental breakdown how nobody doesn't uderstand him, not even he himself (basically he screams exacly that and again, that's it), later goes outside crosdressed, seemingly happy with himself, some guy at festival touches his butt mistaking him for a girl and when mc tries to comfort him, mc gets shouted gay slurs at by the one being comforted. Crosdresser (or whatever his identity is) runs away and that's the last time we hear about him. So what? What purpose did this serve and why should we as a reader care? Those questions are left unanswered. "And nothing of value was found."
I can't really say the story is bad though. It's not *bad*, it's just not interesting. It's... mediocre. What I can say is good is the art. It's pleasant to the eye, there aren't any out of model derps (and thanks god no yaoi fingers or similar) and some moments have a nice visual take to them. Unfortunately, those moments are quite rare. I wish the author would make better use of the visual medium that manga is. To work more with "Show, not tell" in mind. Less infodumping and more visuals would certainly do this manga good.
But going back to the mystery I mentioned before, how could manga that isn't interesting be rated so high? Well, it's same similar to regular yaoi manga that gets flooded with 10/10s from fujoshi just because it's yaoi. But this time, Shimanami Tasogare is flooded by LGBT users and LGBT supporters who seems to give it 10/10s just because it deals with LGBT issues. Or because they can identify with the characters. Okay, that's nice that there is the character with same orientation as yours, but that alone doen's make the work itself good. Nor should it warrant any bonus points just on the basis of the character existing. By slight hyperbole, I'm sure as hell not giving something 10/10 just because the main character is Straight Male the Person. I don't seek validation in fictional characters, I just want to read a good fiction. And before you're going to say I'm just whatever-phobic, I don't dislike it because it deals with issues - give me a good manga about that and I'll like it. I dislike Shimanami Tasogare because it's not good. In fact, I could give you exaples of other manga that does it better. Still not masterpieces, but certainly not bad - try My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and A Fine Day.
In conclusion, Shimanami Tasogare is the perfect manga to praise if you want to look like you're just sooo accepting, tolerant and supporting of LGBT issues. If you want an entertaining read, go look somewhere else. Althrought there still is a chance that Shimanami Tasogare will get better with more chapters.
Edit: Now that the manga is finished and I've finished reading it, I have to say that was one unsatisfying ending. The finale was just a conclusion to side character arc and it felt like rest of the story was cut of/mangaka has given up on finishing it. This manga certainly doesn't deserve the rating it currently has.