Friday, December 27, 2019

Our Dreams at Dusk volume 4 makes me wish it was a longer series (Manga Review)

two women in wedding dresses with other couples in the background
Our Dreams at Dusk vol. 4 - 8/10

I really, really wished I could give this final volume of Our Dreams at Dusk (Seven Seas) a higher rating. But unfortunately, it ends too quickly. So much is jammed into this volume, so much is left unresolved, and so many things happen so quickly that the emotional impact is somewhat diminished.

That being said, it's still a wonderful volume for an incredible series. Our Dreams at Dusk dared to be open and honest about a range of LGBTQ issues in an incredibly realistic fashion. Volume 4 certainly upholds this important value, but doesn't rise to the heights I wish it had simply due to how much happens so quickly.

Volume 4 picks up with the Triangle House near completion. It is decided that it will be inaugurated with the wedding of Saki and Haru. It is also Christmas time, and we get deep insight into Tchaiko's personal life. We meet his partner (who is dying int he hospital) and learn about his partner's son and the intentional distance Tchaiko keeps from him.


Along the way, there are coming outs (Saki and Haru to their parents), there are confrontations (Toma's father outs Saki and Toma confronts him), and there are resolutions (Misora and Tsubaki). In addition, we learn a lot more about Someone-san.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. And it isn't even everything in this volume. Not even close. It is so jam-packed with important discoveries, conversations, realizations, etc...that we don't really get time to contemplate what just happened. It made me wish the series was quite a bit longer. Four volumes barely allows for the depth we want from such incredible people, and the representation we need in LGBTQ media.

Maybe most indicative of the frenetic pace of this final volume is the resolution of Misora and Tsubaki. Going back to volume 2, Tsubaki had pushed Misora too hard to express their true gender and Misora ultimately was so hurt that they left the drop-in center and was all but absent from volume 3. Rather than a long, complex resolution to their conflict and hurt, volume 4 simply has Tsubaki apologize to Misora and Misora more or less just says: "ok" and attends the wedding expressing as a woman as if all the months of pain and separation could be magically cleared up that quickly.

Misora was one of the characters I was most intrigued by, probably because I'm a trans woman and seeing any gender-non-conforming individual in comics is awesome. (BTW, I use they/them pronouns for Misora because I am not sure which ones they prefer). I so wish that they had had much more time in the series and that the resolution of the very real conflict with Tsubaki was handled with greater nuance, depth, and length. The blow-up was so big, but the resolution was so small. Many characters are like this, introduced to great fan-fare only to be left lacking.

A good example of this is the ex-girlfriend of the drop-in-center's owner and her daughter who appear in volume 3, cause much of a kerfuffle, and then are mostly absent from volume 4. Why introduce them at all? Or if they, like so many others in this dense series, are to be introduced, why not extend the series to do them all justice?

Someone-san's story also perplexed me a bit. We learn about their background including their asexual/aromantic identity (again, I'm not sure which pronouns they prefer, so I will use they/them). I don't have much experience or first-hand knowledge of asexuality/aromanticism so I would love to hear other's interpretation of this character and the revelations from this volume.

But, from my limited perspective, it felt like their asexuality/aromanticism was carried to a very extreme place that did not feel real. It almost seems as though there are additional underlying needs or experiences (traumas perhaps?) in Someone-san's past that would further explain some of their personality. I just couldn't quite buy their explanation that all of their personality and approach to life came solely from being asexual/aromantic. But, I want to again acknowledge that I don't have the personal experience to truly interpret this section. So I'd love to hear from others. But it is also another example of how the brevity of the series gave short shrift to really important topics that deserve greater exploration.

There are important developments with Toma as well. He clearly seems to be on the path to acknowledging his sexuality and his character continues to be one of the more nuanced depictions. Instead of being a token character, he is a vibrant, conflicted human being. As Tsubaki's love interest, he is given perhaps the most internal depth and strife of anyone. Watching him evolve, fight through it, acknowledge his shortcomings, acknowledge his lack of readiness, his fledgling first steps at accepting his sexuality (confronting his dad, hugging Tsubaki, etc...) are so rewarding. I wanted this from all the characters and their stories.

So that was a lot of kvetching. The truth is, this is a landmark series, beautifully written and illustrated, and deserving of its vaunted status. While far from perfect (mostly due to the brevity), it is extraordinary in that it presents, in very real ways, a huge range of the LGBTQ community of all ages, all levels of awareness and acceptance, and also brings in many of the challenges the community faces in broader society. It doesn't skirt around anything, it doesn't romanticize anything, but it also doesn't over dramatize their lives into pathos or soap-operatic territory. In all those ways, it is incredibly balanced, real, and powerful. Those exceptional qualities are part of why I wish it was longer. I simply wanted more depth, more time, more exploration with the incredible characters and critical topics in this series.

So on the very positive side, in addition to Toma's development continuing to be well explored, the time we spend learning about Tchaiko and his partner are wonderful. Their story is delicately told as his partner is dying in the hospital and Tchaiko is avoiding meeting his partner's son. It gets to the point where Tchaiko avoids spending time with his dying partner just to make sure his partner's son doesn't find out. In many ways, it is a story so indicative of the older generations of gay men and women, forced to hide, forced to play at being someone else. Even in a time where he could be more open, his life experience continues to hold him back. It is heartbreakingly told and one of the best parts of this volume.

In so many ways, this volume and this series are extraordinary. But that exceptionalism and the critical importance of LGBTQ representation only made me want more from this brief four volume series. The sheer number of characters, each of whom we want to know intimately, prevented me from getting the depth I crave. This series was in many ways a surface overview, a flash into a range of complex lives but never getting the time to know them as intimately as I would have wanted.

Our Dreams at Dusk is a powerful, important, and well done series, and yet its strengths only highlight its one weakness: it's too short! In it's attempt to conclude, volume 4 has so much going on that it only showcases the need for a longer series. Through any other lens this series and volume would be given the highest score. But because of how much more I want out of it, I can only give it a 8/10. What it does, it does so well, but that's its downfall. It did too much, too fast and I'm greedy for more!

🚺

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