Gender is something really personal for a lot of people. Whether you identify with the one assigned to you at birth or not, one of the quickest ways to make someone uncomfortable is to ask them what gender they are. Even if that didn’t ignore the idea that gender isn’t a binary, being misgendered hurts, especially as we understand the idea of gender today. That can make premises like that of Mika Yamamori‘s In the Clear Moonlit Dusk feel oddly old-fashioned for some readers, although it’s certainly not unique among manga romances or comedies.
As such, being from the creator of Daytime Shooting Star is definitely something that In the Clear Moonlit Dusk has going for it. Yamamori’s previous title to get an English-language release subverted some of the norms of its genre (high school romance, shoujo flavor) to explore its characters’ emotions and motivations, and there’s no reason why In the Clear Moonlit Dusk can’t do the same thing. It’s already a bit different from its brethren in the “misgendered characters” genre – unlike titles such as Never Give Up! or Ai Ore, Yoi doesn’t so much look masculine as she’s got a more androgynous appearance, and people just make their assumptions from there based on superficial factors like her short hair or if she’s wearing pants. Yoi’s quiet personality and helpfulness end up being misconstrued as “princely” qualities based on these details.
It’s something she seems to have resigned herself to at the beginning of the series. While she isn’t overtly bothered by being called a prince, we also get the impression that she’s not all that thrilled with it either, resulting in her keeping as much to herself as possible to avoid interactions with smitten girls. She’s uncomfortable with their adoration, not necessarily because they’re female, but because a piece of her simply doesn’t like being framed as masculine. It’s gotten to the point where she largely avoids most people because she’s not comfortable with the way they react to her, and apart from two friends in class, Yoi is very much a loner.
All of that begins to change when she has an encounter with Ichimura, the school’s other “prince.” While Yoi earned the nickname for her looks, Ichimura’s title comes from the fact that he’s from a very wealthy family, and as the volume unfolds, we can see that he’s fairly uncomfortable with that landing him the prince nickname as well. As Yoi notices, Ichimura works at appearing “normal” from a socio-economic standpoint – he eats the same school-bought bread for lunch, he hides his enormous family home from prying eyes by living in a rented apartment, and he just generally goes out of his way not to let on that the rumors of his family’s wealth are true. That he lets Yoi in, bringing her to his house when they’re caught out in the rain, is perhaps the biggest indicator that his feelings for her are real, because he’s trusting her with one of the things about his life that he tries very hard to keep away from most people.
It’s important that we understand that Ichimura really does like Yoi, if only because she’s so uncertain about why he keeps pursuing her. In her mind, she’s barely a girl, or at least not the kind of girl that boys want to go out with. She doesn’t like the attention that they get if they’re together and she’s uncomfortable with how easy Ichimura’s attitude is; he’s comfortable being closer to people (in the physical sense) than she is, he sees her as beautiful rather than handsome, and at one point he actually picks her up off the ground. It’s in this last that we see that a large part of Yoi’s issue with Ichimura is not because she dislikes him as a person, it’s because she dislikes elements of herself and is concerned that he’s really just making fun of her. When she protests that she’ll break his arms when he’s holding her “princess style,” the first assumption is that she’s threatening to break his arms if he doesn’t put her down, because she’s just demonstrated some knowledge of karate in the previous scene. But it quickly becomes apparent that she’s actually worried that she’s too big to be held in someone’s arms, that she’s insufficiently “feminine” to merit or allow for such traditionally romantic gestures.
That is part of what Ichimura likes about Yoi – she’s not like most of the other girls at school. Fortunately, this doesn’t appear set to go in the “you’re not like other girls” direction, because Yoi isn’t deliberately quirky – she’s suffering from low self-esteem from being consistently misgendered. While the fact that Yoi doesn’t twitter or flutter around him is something Ichimura finds attractive, it’s not the sum total of what draws him to her. He likes her helpfulness and willingness to stand up when she sees something she doesn’t like, and as he gets to know her more, he seems to find more to like. Yoi is clearly going to have a hard time trusting him, but that at least gives us some story conflict that’s about the characters themselves rather than how they appear to the outside world.
While In the Clear Moonlit Dusk isn’t off to as strong a start as Daytime Shooting Star, it is still very promising. Yamamori looks set to take the story in a direction that will explore the characters’ inner selves versus how schoolmates see them. It does still feel a bit old-fashioned in its gendered themes, but the characters are interesting enough that it will be worth seeing where the story goes.