Mascara Blues is a collection of three unrelated shoujo manga one-shots by Io Sakisaka — creator of the popular Blue Spring Ride — focusing on the love lives of three different high school girls. The first two, the titular “Mascara Blues” and “Draft of Romance,” are fairly unremarkable, at least for the purposes of this database. They’re heterosexual romances between cis people. “A Long Dream — To Be Myself” initially seems no different — the summary describes it as a story about a girl who falls for a hairstylist named Mashima, but worries that he’s just playing around with her. However, it just so happens that the heroine of “A Long Dream,” known only as Hikaru, is a trans girl.
This turns out to be important to the story, of course, with quite a bit of focus on Hikaru’s own insecurities about being accepted as herself, but it’s remarkable how little she and “A Long Dream” are defined by her transness, largely because it’s presented in a very matter-of-fact way. Hikaru has a proper personality outside of just being trans (imagine that!) — she’s friendly and smart, easily carried away by her emotions, and bad at saying no, which is pretty good for a one-shot. It’s more than Jeanne Hishida from Genkaku Picasso ever gets.
Even better, the parts that do draw attention to transness do a surprisingly good job of it. There’s a scene where Hikaru’s friends attempt to cheer her up after she’s basically run out of the girl’s restroom, saying she should live the way she wants and that they’ll support her. Hikaru’s reaction to this is anger. “Don’t act like you understand!” she says. “You’ll support me? Don’t get carried away just cause you’re girls!” This hits real hard. It’s easy for people who don’t have to live with the million little inconveniences and microaggressions and insecurities of being trans or genderqueer to say “just live the way you want,” and even if they mean well, it can still be frustrating to hear.
I also want to draw attention to a small detail that I appreciated a lot — the school Hikaru attends doesn’t have uniforms¹, and at one point she mentions living alone because she’d be too far from school otherwise. This probably means she’s going out of her way to attend that school specifically either because there are no uniforms (meaning she can wear feminine clothes rather than a boy’s uniform), and/or because they allowed her to enroll as a girl. It’s a small thing, but it shows the thought that went into all aspects of Hikaru’s life.
That said, there’s also a fair bit of bog-standard Trans Angst — the long dream of the title refers to the fact that Hikaru feels like she’ll eventually wake up and find herself in a female body. There’s a brief flashback of her as a child, wondering why she has to play with the boys. She has a good cry over the fact that she wasn’t born a girl. That sort of thing. It’s all fine, I suppose — these things are clichés because there’s truth to them — but it gets a bit tiresome to see over and over.
It’s also worth mentioning that when Hikaru comes out to Mashima, she does so by saying she has Gender Identity Disorder.² This is kind of a fraught term, because it frames transness as a disorder, and it gels so poorly with the way Hikaru is written otherwise that I have to wonder if the usage was different back in 2014, when this was written. It’s times like this that I’d give anything for someone to consult regarding queerness in Japan.
In the end, everything works out well for Hikaru, of course — this is a shoujo one-shot, after all. She makes up with her friends, and Mashima accepts her even after she comes out to him. All’s well that ends well. Overall, I think Hikaru is pretty great rep, other than the whole Gender Identity Disorder thing — the inclusion of “A Long Dream” in Mascara Blues positions it as another shoujo romance first and foremost, implicitly reinforcing the idea that trans girls are girls. The depictions of transness are fairly true to life, and Hikaru herself is a sweetheart. The one thing that gives me pause is her design. Maybe it’s just a matter of personal preference, but I like it when trans characters look trans — and aside from her flat chest, Hikaru looks just like any other girl in Mascara Blues. It’s perfectly possible to make visibly transfeminine characters appealing, and I’d love to see what Sakisaka could do if she leaned into that style. Other than that small quibble, though, it’s pretty solid.
¹ – This is practically unheard of in Japan. It’s not just a quirk of Sakisaka’s, either — everyone in “Mascara Blues” and “Draft of Romance” wears uniforms, so it was clearly a deliberate choice.
² – This is inexplicably translated as “gender lesion” by the scanlators — unfortunately, there’s no official translation, and the only scans available are pretty bad, to the degree that mistranslations wind up changing the meaning in a few places.