In Pride Month (June) of this year, Seven Seas announced their license of Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare by Yuhki Kamatani. I’ve followed Shimanami Tasogare, a manga by openly x-gender and asexual mangaka Kamatani about a gay teenager who joins a small community of LGBTQ people, since its first chapter and have looked at it many times on this blog, and its popularity in English-speaking spheres has only increased over time. I regularly look up discussion of it across the Internet to this day.
In the time more people have become aware of Yuhki Kamatani as a creator and Shimanami Tasogare, the English conversation around them has slightly changed. When people rightfully promote Shimanami Tasogare as a story with LGBTQ characters authored by someone LGBTQ, Kamatani’s nonbinary gender is often mentioned… but not their asexuality. When the identities of the cast are listed, the asexual character Anonymous (asexual and aromantic in English terminology) is omitted despite being central to the story. Not only does this leave potential readers uninformed about Kamatani as a person and the content of the manga, but it misses the point of Shimanami Tasogare.
As I’ve explained before, asexual has different definitions in English and Japanese. For the sake of clarity, the Japanese meaning will be referred to as “aseku” and English as “asexual” from here on out. English language efforts to bring awareness to Kamatani being aseku go back to at least May of 2014, two years after they came out on Twitter. Kamatani came out as aseku and x-gender simultaneously, describing both as what made them as a sexual minority, so both were shared in tandem. I’ve followed suit on this blog and in my article on Kamatani for Anime Feminist. Some of the most passionate and enduring supporters of Kamatani, long before me, are asexual and/or aromantic. Their efforts made me pick Nabari no Ou back up and finish it in the interest of an aseku creator, and I’ve been a devotee ever since.
Unfortunately, around the time English-speaking fans such as myself were becoming aware of Kamatani, English-speaking LGBTQ online communities saw the rise of the current wave against asexual and aromantic spectrums of identity. 2015, which many consider the beginning of “ace discourse,” was the same year Shimanami Tasogare entered serialization. Consciousness of the series among English-speakers has been a slow build, with the occasional post or tweet promoting the LGBTQ themes or artwork going viral. Campaigns to suggest it for localization in the bimonthly Seven Seas reader survey also spread the word, eventually leading to a license.
There are two points of asexuality related to Shimanami Tasogare: Kamatani themself, and Anonymous. Before Anonymous was confirmed aseku in the final volume, there was only Kamatani. It was one thing for promotions or recommendations to not mention Kamatani as a sexual minority at all, since they may not be familiar with them or their work, but another to only mention them being x-gender. When aseku specifically is omitted or actively ignored, I assume it’s due to the “ace discourse” over whether being asexual or aromantic constitutes queerness or LGBT inclusion, or legitimate identity at all. Whatever you believe, not acknowledging Kamatani being aseku when discussing their manga as #OwnVoices erases the existence of aseku people, and those who are both asexual/aromantic and a letter of LGBT (in their case, T).
Anonymous symbolizes the message of Shimanami Tasogare: you may not be able to fully understand someone, but you can connect to and respect them. Their aloof personality and magical realism tendencies make them hard to pin down on multiple levels, but the guests of their lounge nonetheless come to know them. Tasuku, who’s come to terms with his attraction to men and gay identity over the course of a year thanks to the lounge, wonders if it’s possible for Anonymous to never fall in love. Like with every member of his community, Tasuku has to realize he can’t base his understanding of other people on his own experiences. Their identity isn’t based on attraction to others like his, but neither fit the mold of heterosexual.
In the past, Anonymous couldn’t understand people like Tasuku who define themselves by relationships and attraction either. When they met Tchaiko-san and Seichirou, they correctly assume they’re a couple because that’s what happens when two people come together. Anonymous has observed Elizabeth Brake’s theory of amatonormativity:
I call this disproportionate focus on marital and amorous love relationships as special sites of value, and the assumption that romantic love is a universal goal, ‘amatonormativity’: This consists in the assumptions that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types.
They explain their predicament with a metaphor where other people ride ships like man, woman, wife, or husband to sail through life. However, Anonymous says they can’t picture defining themself by relationship to a family member, boss, or rival either. In the present Anonymous has achieved a balance between individuality and attachment, symbolized by their lounge: an open space for people to gather, but with private quarters for Anonymous too. They live in isolation without defining themself by others, but let people like Tchaiko, Daichi, Misora, and Tasuku into their life as well. The lounge has allowed other LGBTQ people to forge connections and solidarity that aren’t romantic either.
As I said in my in-depth look at the character arcs of the manga, the themes of Shimanami Tasogare “coming from a character with a more ‘obscure’ LGBTQ identity makes it all the more poignant.” It’s not a coincidence that the protagonist is a cisgender gay boy ignorant of lesbian, transgender, elderly, asexual, gender non-confirming, and questioning lives. It’s not a coincidence that the story’s gathering place for LGBTQ people is non-sexual, alcohol-free, and all-ages. It’s not a coincidence that the owner of the lounge and one to deliver Kamatani’s message is aseku.
LGBTQ intracommunity hostility toward asexual and aromantic people, asexual and aromantic as part of LGBTQ community, and “queer cafes” are all points of contention in English language “ace discourse;” which may be why these elements of the manga are often swept under the rug in discussion. It’s bizarre to see people openly hostile to asexual or aromantic people in their participation in “ace discourse” turn around and praise Shimanami Tasogare, as if the point flew over their head. If others keep erasing the aseku elements, I’m prepared to get louder. We should acknowledge Kamatani’s intentions with the story, and consider a Japanese perspective on asexuality. As we draw nearer to the release of Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare in English, I simply ask that asexuality not be erased from the conversation.
If you enjoyed this article, you can support me with a tip by buying me a coffee. Thank you! Keep an eye out for my upcoming post Asexuality in Manga and More, based on a lecture panel I hosted with a friend at Kumoricon 2018, for more about asexuality in Japanese media.