Tasuku Kaname is at a loss. His life up to this point had been built on lies and silence. A constant refrain throughout Shimanami Tasogare is his belief that being quiet and keeping your head down is for the best. If anyone were to find out his secret, the one he can hardly admit to himself, any semblance of normalcy and stability would be lost. Guarding his feelings to protect himself he lives a fragile existence, easily toppled. Of course such a state cannot last and he is forced out of the closet at school, in spite of his feeble excuses and overly loud denial. Facing isolation at school and no outlet at home he feels his world is crumbling, and the only option available is suicide. Instead of jumping to his death, however, he lands in Anonymous’ lounge. It is a space he did not realize was possible. A space in which people like himself can live freely. A space where he can admit, to himself as much as to others, his true feelings.
The lounge offered Tasuku something he had never before considered – a future where he can be himself. It is that vision which is essential for younger queers. While the media might occasionally toss us a bone in offering a relatable character, being shown that a happy and fulfilling life is an option creates a powerful feeling of hope. The world is suddenly open in a way that was never visible before, and Tasuku is overwhelmed with hope and possibility. He is shown examples of adults like him. Gay people living their lives like anyone else. Not the butt of a joke or as a far away idealized TV character, but a tangible goal that he can look up to and confide in.
This place to confide in is another key point of importance, not just for kids but queer people of any age. The lounge acts as a place of safety and understanding outside the realm of family or friends, no matter how well meaning they may be. You can find support, understanding, and love in ways that cis/het relations are fundamentally unable to offer. It’s no wonder that the owner of the space goes by Anonymous. She is a blank slate for anyone that comes by. You can talk to her with no strings attached, with none of the baggage that family or friends might bring.
The need to find people like yourself cannot be understated. While understanding of queer people and their rights might be increasing in recent years, it is still an often traumatic and isolating thing for a child to grow up with. The expectation that you will follow a conventional path and settle down into a heterosexual marriage is a force that underlines so many interactions with your family and peers that it can easily overwhelm you. Even after coming out, for people who have not lived that experience they cannot truly understand the constant barrage of imagery and messaging in the world that identifies you as wrong and abnormal. Having to constantly explain yourself to others is exhausting. Queer people shouldn’t be responsible for the failure of the education system and the erasure of media. Even if these people may love you and mean well, their interactions with you are fundamentally awkward, belittling, and othering. The relative calm and peaceful understand found in queer spaces is a much needed relief.
Perhaps most importantly these spaces offer not just an escape from the wider world, but a place from where you can build a whole new life. This theme is a constant one throughout Shimanami, with the characters working as neighborhood renovators. There is a powerful sort of imagery in a group of queer people tearing down the old and useless and building spaces to exist and flourish. This flourishing is cautious and stunted, however, taking place in between the cracks of normalcy. While they may find companionship and happiness in the lounge, there is a constant butting of heads with the wider world. People do their best to grow and become stronger in company that understands them, giving them the ability to face family, friends, and society as their authentic selves.
This mutual strength and ability is an all important safety net for those living at the margins of society. As a single mother Michiru’s life can be hectic at the best of times. Between her growing responsibilities at work and caring for her son Yuuta, she is overwhelmed with the adult world that she feels emotionally unprepared for. Maya, her roommate and on again/off again lover works from home and can offer the attention Yuuta needs while saving herself from crippling isolation and depression at the same time. Finally, the downstairs neighbor Nico finds solace and company in the household, after the death of his former lover, the father of Yuuta. In Ohana Holoholo, the found family of the characters is one of necessity as much as mutual affection. Isolated by society and cast out by their own biological families, they create a logical family with everyone supporting the others where they can. While not based on any blood relations, they exist as a family of lovers, partners, parents, guardians, and friends.
The blurred and uncertain nature of their relationships at times can be projected into an uncertainty of how stable such a family can be in the long term. Going from lovers to friends is a difficult transition at the best of times, but as a queer couple where one partner needs to raise a child, the situation is all the more fraught. While showing how life saving such a situation can be Ohana also manages to capture the frightening instability and fragility of it as well, in a world where not everyone may understand. Heteronormativity is presented as a constant temptation, a source of long term happiness.
This is not to present a queer household as something doomed to tragedy, but rather a chance that needs to be grabbed on to and fought for, lest it passes you by. In that sense a hetero marriage is not even a consolation prize, but rather a failure. All of the characters in Ohana are bisexual and thus could potentially lead a satisfying life married to a hetero partner, but this would be to ignore their own emotions, particularly Maya. Her relationship with Michiru had always been a fleeting thing, but she comes to the realization that her happiness requires taking control and actively reaching out for what she wants.
This realization is something which gradually occurred to me as well, through the course of meeting other queer people. Growing up in a standard nuclear family, I found myself in a similar position to Tasuku. Awkward and isolated both at school and at home, I had no strong conception of what was possible for someone like me in the future. Being a millennial, my queer spaces where all naturally found online. Tentative late night searches about gender and sexuality opened up a whole new world. I suddenly had language to explain myself and peers to explore with. And the anonymity of the internet enabled a socially anxious person like myself to open up and connect with others on a level I could not imagine with anyone in my real life.