The Observation Deck: Blue Period

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Announcer: “In a world-first achievement, which took all the strength and concentration he could possibly muster, Jack has finally finished a seasonal anime that he started watching!”

I know, I know, truly an incredible feat for someone as fickle about anime as myself. However, in all reality, given the overall quality of the series, finishing Blue Period was not difficult in the slightest. At least for me, this anime kind of came out of nowhere, and yet has somehow ended up as one of my favorites from last year. Still feels weird to say last year when I’m writing this three days into 2022…

Blue Period tells the story of Yatora Yaguchi, a straight-laced popular kid with good grades who is also a delinquent, as he spends most of his free time drinking with his friends and staying out late. Though he finds some happiness in setting up tasks and achieving them, a chance encounter with members of his high school art club ends up challenging his entire “practicality over everything” philosophy. All of sudden, the beauty Shibuya in the morning becomes an inspiration, rather than a passing note. Art, rather than making money, becomes Yatora’s focus.

What Does “Practical” Even Mean?

Something that I think informs a lot of the praise of this show is Yatora’s transformation as a character in the early parts of the series. Initially, Yatora’s entire mindset around his career choice is focused on not what will make him personally fulfilled, but rather what will ensure a stable job and money.

This is not to say that being concerned about those things is not important, especially in the context of growing up in a poor household. As someone who was born into a solidly upper-middle-class household with a lot of economic and social privileges that others simply did not or do not have, I can definitely understand how it might come off as a bit patronizing to tell someone without those same privileges to “just follow your dreams.”

Even more so than that, though, it feels like Yatora is not just concerned about getting a good job, but rather that his entire life has been dedicated to making others happy. This is so obvious to the other people that even Ryuuji “Yuka” Ayukawa, who in the beginning Yatora has a passing relationship with at best, is able to point this out.

While the dynamic is not exactly the same, as Japan seems to be far more conservative in this area, there are undoubtedly a lot of people, including myself, who grew up only ever worrying about other people, whether that be parents, friends, teachers, etc. The catharsis of living for yourself is truly a transformative one, and it is this same catharsis that makes Yatora such a compelling character.

Gender Identity in Blue Period

Blue Period‘s manga had its first English release back in October of 2020, and since then many have taken to talking about the character of Yuka, whose presence in anime series is also a welcome addition. The reason for the continuous discussion of their character is their designation as non-binary, something that, in the past, has very rarely come up in anime. Even in the situations where it did, it was usually as the butt of some painfully unfunny jokes about how ridiculous their characters are.

Even more impressive though is how Yuka’s character is treated as…well, normal. At no point in the anime does it ever feel like they are there solely as a way to check off some box for character diversity, and when struggles related to their gender do come up, it is treated with a level of maturity and seriousness that every other character in the series gets as well. What I have not seen as much of, though I will admit I could just be missing some important discussion, is how gender and career choices intersect in Blue Period‘s story.

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Like I discussed above, Yatora’s character early on is informed by a sense of social expectations which pressure him into orienting his career choices around that which is considered to be most financially stable. However, a smaller, though still important element, is the gendered expectations that people have of certain careers. This article from cultural anthropologist Jennifer Robertson talks in a good amount of detail about Japan’s history of gender-bending and reading it has revealed that there is a strong possibility that these gendered expectations are likely different in Japan than they are state-side.

Still, I cannot help but feel that the perceived effeminate nature of art becomes another point of confusion and fear in Yatora’s development as a character. He, having grown up as a seemingly conventionally attractive Japanese male, feels out of place in a space dominated by those who are different from the norm.

What is more, Yatora is not even the only example of gendered career expectations rearing their ugly head. Near the end of the series, one of his “delinquent” friends Koigakubo tells him that he wants to become a baker. Yatora is surprised, but ultimately supports him, having been through his own struggle with art and understanding that Koigakubo needs emotional support. Again, there is a challenge here because baking is often perceived as a more feminine career.

None of this is to say that gender expectations are a primary reason for the hesitancy these characters feel. However, I do think it is a sub-element that unconsciously heightens these fears.

Manga Discourse

I do not generally go into writing these posts trying to make enemies. My main goal has always been to talk anime in a way that highlights its literary significance and starts broader conversations. Still, after reading some reviews from those who are clearly very attached to the original manga, I felt it was worth addressing.

I have talked about it before, but part of what makes a good adaptation is recognizing when it is important to make changes. This also means knowing what details are and are not ok to leave out. As a reference, I went ahead and read the first chapter of the manga, which, and this is true, is not the same as reading the whole thing, I will admit. Here is the thing though: I still do not see what people are complaining about.

Yeah, there are some meaningful character details that get left out, like when Yatora’s friends pick up Sudama, only to tell him that he says “facts” in response to things way too much. However, nothing instrumental to Blue Period‘s identity is gone. If those who have read all of the manga have counterpoints that would prove me wrong, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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A lot of the criticism, however, just feels like complaining for the sake of complaining. I understand having an attachment to a specific media property and not wanting some greedy corporation to mess it up. I doubt Percy Jackson fans are happy with how their movie adaptations were treated. What I do not understand is people going as far as saying Netflix’s anime adaptation is “soulless” and “lifeless,” like, did we watch the same show?

A World Full of Colors

One strict advantage that I would argue that the anime has even if it is a “bad adaptation” is the ability to see the works of its characters in full color. There is a lot of art that is done in black and white, and I am sure that most of the sketches in the series look just as fantastic in the manga. Composition is also a big part of painting, as the anime itself likes to reinforce time and time again. Seeing a painting in full color, though, gives the series an extra element of resolution, especially at the end of the second exam when Yatora’s piece is finally revealed.

Even outside of its art context, there are other elements that seeing a series in color can help articular. While his punk attitude certainly comes across clear as day in the manga, the addition of his bleached hair gives an extra bit of personality that would not be there otherwise.

Conclusion

While I certainly would not call it a masterpiece, I also cannot find much in the way of negativity to direct at Blue Period either. It is a series with a bright and colorful cast, with engaging, albeit sometimes not wholly plot-relevant, storylines and animation that helps to enhance its more visually intense scenes. Overall, this was an absolute treat and is definitely worth the time for those who have yet to see it.


How do you all feel about Blue Period? Let me know in the comments below.

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If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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