This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series A Home Far Away. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to gun violence, religion, chronic health conditions, self-loathing, child neglect, abuse, violence, rape, pedophilia, drugs, homomisia, sex work, poisoning, murder, overdose, alcoholism, suicide, blood, death, and victim-blaming, as it appears in the manga.
Alan never feels more uncomfortable than he does when he is at home. His parents are intensely religious to the point that they are stunted into praying their lives away at home, blaming even the most slight inconvenience on sin and the devil. This would be bad enough, but Alan suffers from a chronic disease that his parents blame on some sin he has committed and believes that prayer and repentance will heal him. Alan's life is suffocating, but he has nowhere else to go.
One evening, having stayed out past curfew, Alan refuses to go home, though he knows he will be punished when he gets home. Instead, he hangs out on the front steps of a restaurant. While sitting there, he's approached by one of the workers, Hayden, who offers to let him out of the cold after his nose starts bleeding, which is a common symptom of his disease. The two share a deep conversation that continues daily, where Hayden reveals that he's a drifter and will be moving on soon. Alan is heartbroken, but what can he do?
The day Hayden is set to leave, after a desperate and emotional confession from Alan, Hayden offers him a chance to escape with him. Of course, there's a chance, even if they run, that Alan will never find happiness, but at least it would be his choice. So the two escape together, trying to find any small moments of joy they can cultivate for themselves while their dark pasts loom over them.
This is stunning. Very close to realism. When I say it's beautiful, I mean the eyebrow hairs are so detailed in some panels I could count them. Their eyes feel like they're looking through you. The trauma depicted is traumatizing to look at in its raw and painful form, that you feel like you're truly seeing it play out before you, as helpless as our main characters who had to experience it. The art's contradicting beauty and the story's ugliness are dizzying enough that I often felt sick just reading it. That's not a complaint, just to be clear. I love it. I love how clear the horrors of life are alongside the beauty of the art. The art within itself is a message, and I love that.
A critical factor in the story is parents' roles in their children's lives. Hayden and Alan are both suffering from strained and often abusive relationships with their families, and neither gets any closure, which only intensifies their trauma. Hayden longs for companionship with someone who will always be there for him, having seen his mother murder his father and slowly kill herself later with drugs and alcohol. He fears that he is the cause of his misfortune and regrets being unable to save his mother. Meanwhile, Alan longs for a father figure to accept him for who he is and who does not ask for repentance and a mother to shower him with unconditional love. It's these desperate wants for parental love that neither can achieve that draws them together.
Ironically, they both have an intense distrust for adults or those in power because of their families. Hayden doesn't believe an adult could help him since none of the adults he knew as a child would save him from the terrible home life he experienced. Similarly, Alan distrusts God and, in turn, his parents because a priest raped him as a child. No matter how desperately he called out to God, no one would help him. The judgment of his parents compounds his trauma because he knows they would perceive it as punishment for sin and that he would be seen as filthy. In these contradictions, these two are thrust together, two young and hurt people looking for safety in each other because adults aren't safe.
Some people would probably argue with me on this point, but I genuinely don't think there was any way for this to end happily with both characters living. This was as good of a happily ever after as these two individuals could have after everything they had experienced together. Some would argue that Hayden should have lived on for Alan when it was clear he wasn't going to make it, but with everything that had happened up until then, even after begging for mercy from the police and the courts, he would still be punished and end up living his life tied down in prison. Hayden never wanted to be tied down again, which would be worse than anything, especially knowing Alan was dead, too. The happiest ending would be them dying together, as one without the other would just be too much loss to bear after everything else they experienced.
This is not for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach some of the darkest and most realistic content, this is certainly worth a read. I am writing this within moments of finishing this work, so my emotions are still quite raw, and I'm sure my feelings taint this at the moment. Still, even after some time ruminating on this, I don't think my opinions would change much. The beauty is in all of the contradictions, the beauty and the ugly, the trust and the distrust, the need to run, but also to long for what was left behind. This painful journey doesn't end with a happily ever after, but it's real and worth all the pain. It's a joy because it's sad, a wonderful contradiction.
Have you read A Home Far Away? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!