Manga of the Month: Our Dreams at Dusk

Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani

“You give yourself a little breathing room. But that breathing room is only the thinnest barrier between you and the dangerous maelstrom of reality.”

At the start of Our Dreams at Dusk, Tasuku is reeling from believing he has been outed as gay in his high school. As he stares over the edge of a guardrail, contemplating suicide, a mysterious incident distracts him and leads him to a meeting house of sorts. It’s there he finds a new group of people whose lives and stories bring him a new perspective on himself and the world.

The 4-book series goes on to explore various queer identities, the successes and struggles of Tasuku and those he meets, and the incredible power of finding a community.

The series also touts some abstract and thematic imagery highlighting emotions and moments. Although I was at first wondering if there was a supernatural or magical realism element to the story (and I imagine you might wonder the same after reading just the first chapter), I came to see it more as an artistic choice than a literal one.

One of my favorite pieces of this story is the age range of the characters who gather at the meeting house. It highlights how self-discovery and -acceptance can come at any age, and showed deep empathy for everyone on their own journeys without a roadmap or a right time to finish.

Our Dreams at Dusk is a coming-of-age story that is ageless. It is a beautifully drawn series about people coming together to support one another which manages to be hopeful without shying away from difficult conversations and the pain we all sometimes inflict or endure.

“Even if we get hurt, we have the power to stand up. When we hurt someone, we have the heart to reflect on that.”

-Kate

Manga of the Month: Blue Period

Blue Period (ブルーピリオド)
by Tsubasa Yamaguchi

Late in high school, Yatora Yaguchi finds a passion for painting that puts him on a new, and sometimes arduous, path as he strives to develop his art skills and pursues admission for the prestigious (and affordable) Tokyo University of the Arts.

From the first volume, Blue Period tackles the myth of talent head on. When Yatora initially strikes up a conversation at art club with a senior he admires, she pushes back on her “being talented” and lays out all the ways in which she has worked and spent her free time for years to be able to create her vision. This moment is a catalyst for Yatora to get to the hard work of being an artist.

And work he does! Having little interest in art before, Yatora finds himself learning basic technique while simultaneously producing huge volumes of work just to keep pace with peers who have been at it for much longer. But being a novice isn’t necessarily a detriment, and those around him prove to be valuable resources, reasonably-harsh critics, and sometimes great inspiration.

Yatora at first struggles with getting his mother on board for art school, and throughout the series many characters deal with varying degrees of support. As Yatora goes to extra classes and his friend circle expands, he grows as an artist and learns to talk about his determination to pursue art seriously.

There’s also a fascinating (and if I was in high school in Japan, practical) look into how each of the major art colleges of Japan admit students, their costs, and what they prioritize. Plus, the series also starkly shows that it isn’t cheap to be an art student, even if your tuition is paid for: Art supplies are a killer. All of this arms Yatora with tools to know where he wants to go and how he is going to achieve it.

One of my favorite parts of each volume are the breakdowns of different art techniques. The lessons on composition really stand out to me as spot on. They’re so good that the reader could learn either to use the techniques in your work as an artist or to better discuss and “read” art as a viewer. These portions also serve to further distance the story from the myth of talent, as teachers in particular pull back the curtain to show how works of art are calculated, and not just created.

We are still early in Yatora’s journey as an artist and hopeful student, but Blue Period lovingly and accurately captures the creative energy and self-doubt that comes with being an artist, along with the realities of pursuing art as a path in life.

-Kate

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Manga of the Month: The Rose of Versailles

Screen Shot 2021-08-22 at 1.02.25 PMThe Rose of Versailles (ベルサイユのばら)
by Riyoko Ikeda

July 2015 will probably be remembered as the summer when anime and manga dreams came true. Sort of. The month before has been the E3 where the The Last Guardian was saved, Final Fantasy VII got a remake, and Shenmue III was going to get made via a kickstarter. The Anime Expo 2015 did the same thing for the otaku community. While the impossible dream of getting the Legend of the Galactic Heroes anime and novels would normally be enough to make the announcements go into the realm of the fantastic the manga lineup was no slouch. The most surprising news was probably the fact that Udon was going to release the original The Rose of Versailles manga from the 70s.

The Rose of Versailles was always one of those manga that everyone asked for but never really expected. When the Right Stuf licensed the anime the reaction (beyond being slack-jawed) usually was, “It would be nice if we could also get the manga but this is more than good enough.” So when Udon of all people unveiled their little SDCC it made a mad sort sense given the events that had occurred in the last few weeks. I don’t think a year and a half ago most people who have guessed:

A. Anyone would license such an old shojo manga.
B. Anyone could get such a tricky prestigious shojo manga.
C. That it would have ever been from someone like Udon.

That summer of 2015 was interesting as most of the titles I mentioned had some major hiccup that changed the way people saw that string of miracles. The Last Guardian was sort of good but it sort of got overwhelmed by expectations thanks to years of dreams so it mostly exists in this limbo state between a dream come true and an utter disappointment. Shenmue III got really bad reviews but everything I have heard seems to say that it deserved every thumbs down it got. Final Fantasy VII has taken a long time to come out and since it is now being released in parts it has yet to be seen how the final product will be especially since there have been some major changes in the first part. It seemed like everyone of those wishes was made on a monkey’s paw. Not every wish ended in disaster but no one really got exactly what they wanted.

The Rose of Versailles manga seemed to have been a wish made on the same cursed monkey’s paw. As delayed as the Final Fantasy VII remake was at least there was occasional news updates even if they were few and far between. Udon seemed to just license The Rose of Versailles and then completely forget about the series. The was some speculation that Udon had just bit off more than they could chew and the license and they were just waiting for the license to lapse. But then beyond all odd Udon actually released the manga and it was in a super amazing premium format that lived up to most expectations and often exceeded them.  It was a long wait but it was very much worth it. Continue reading