When we last saw Shun in Seaside Stranger, his former fiancée had just arrived on the small southern island he had retreated to with the goal of informing him that his father was ill and to convince him to go back to the family home in Hokkaido. Since Shun left under the cloud of his parents not being able to come to terms with the fact that he’s gay, this news was a major source of conflict for him, especially since he’d just gotten his life together with the help of his aunt , his cousin and her girlfriend, and Mio, his new boyfriend. Now we pick the story back up with Shun and Mio en route to Hokkaido, Shun having decided to seize the bull by the horns as long as he has Mio to help him do so. He’s nervous, but determined.
The emotional through-line of Kii Kanna’s BL story is what continues to truly make this worth reading. Even though Shun rarely says as much, we can see how important a support Mio is for him. He’s able to push aside his own anxiety because Mio is with him…and kind of freaking out about the actual travel and the new sights that he’s seeing on the journey. Shun may be from a rural area, but he’s had time to move around Japan and to try out different modes of living and transportation, while Mio has lived most of his life on a small island. There’s a big difference between rural mainland life and rural island life (trust me, I’ve lived both), and even Mio’s nigh unquenchable happiness can’t quite hold up to the horrors of doing so many new and frightening things. The airplane scene is probably the best example of this, and the way that Shun calms him down and rearranges their plans to make Mio more comfortable is a beautiful display of just one of the ways he finds solace and love in their relationship: there’s a true give-and-take of mutual support between them. Mio is going with Shun, and so Shun is making the journey as comfortable as possible for him.
Of course, part of the reason Mio is going with is because he’s worried about Shun being in a situation he knows all too well. The death of Mio’s mother has moved to the background of his life, but it’s always there, a mom-shaped hole that can’t be filled. Since the impetus of the trip is the purported illness of Shun’s dad, Mio wants to make sure that his partner can get through the situation with all of the support he needs. This also makes Mio’s meeting with Shun’s family take on a different tone – Mio’s lack of parents makes him want to help Shun be on good terms with his own, but there’s a sense that he can live at least a little vicariously through Shun’s family, helping out as if he, too, were a member of it.
As Shun’s boyfriend, that’s ostensibly something he could become, and the lack of his own blood-related family becomes a driving force for how Mio helps Shun navigate a very tense family reunion. Mio knows that Shun left because he felt his parents couldn’t accept him as a gay man, and Mio desperately wants them to be able to move past that. As it turns out, Shun’s father is much more of the problem, and it’s less that he thinks being gay is objectively bad; it’s just not something that ever touched his life before. This comes across in a variety of prickly dad moments, from being mildly upset when his wife gives Mio his old clothes (the poor young man had zero idea how to pack or dress for winter in the north) to making comments about “doing that when You’re alone” for mild flirtation to lying silently when Shun comes to talk to him. While we could read all of these as being homophobic actions, based on Shun’s mother, it seems like the better explanation is that he’s just deeply uncomfortable with having his world view disrupted in a way he never saw coming.
Shun, however, absolutely reads it as homophobic, although in part that’s because he’s been thinking that his parents wanted nothing to do with him for years based on his sexuality. During his one-sided talk with his father, Shun says that he’s always known he was gay and felt ashamed of it, only getting up the courage to speak when he was on the cusp of an irrevocable move. It isn’t hard to guess that at least part of Shun’s self-loathing came from the heteronormative expectations his parents had for him and the feeling that wanting something contrary to them made him abnormal – especially since Sakurako herself was so jung-ho about their marriage. And although his father never explicitly says that he and Mio are just fine, the offer to allow them to clear out a separate building on the family property to live in volumes. He’s not fully ready to approve of Shun’s life, but he’s also not going to disown his son for being someone he doesn’t understand, the first step in the healing process for both of them.
Shun still has a long journey ahead of him. Mio’s support stands to be the one thing that helps him to keep moving forward, but there are very clear roadblocks to navigate around for both of them. But this volume shows us that they can keep moving forward, no matter what unexpected people and events pop up when they least expect them. (The one introduced in this volume is a doozy for Shun.) Seaside Stranger: Harukaze no Étranger is a book with a warm heart underneath the angst of Shun’s homecoming, and hopefully it’s the proverbial March wind blowing through the month like a lion only to retreat like a lamb with the passing of time.