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Romance in any genre is a really hard thing to get right, as there are so many considerations for what constitutes a good romance story. A romance that is straightforward might be labeled too earnest and simple, but one that is trying to weave together multiple character arcs over a short period could get written off as simply overdoing it. Characters that have one-dimensional motivations can come across as boring, but making them super idealistic and ambitious also comes across as a bit pretentious
Blue Flag somehow manages to circumvent all of this and is, without exaggeration, is one of the best romance stories I have consumed in a while. I said this about Golden Time as well back when I watched in the middle of last year, and I am being equally as sincere about Blue Flag. Idk what it is, but I guess I just managed to find all of the good stuff recently.
The story of this manga focuses on Taichi Ichinose, a high school student who finds himself suddenly reconnecting with his childhood best friend, Touma Mita as well as helping a fellow classmate, Futaba Kuze, get together with him. What both Taichi and Futaba do not know, however, is Touma’s secret romantic feelings for Taichi, along with Futaba’s best friend Masumi Itachi’s feelings for her. This love quadrangle only gets messier as time passes, and each of them is forced to make choices about their future.
As unfortunate as it is to say, there are very few stories period, let alone once in which the primary drive is romance, that handle queer relationships in a way that is not one-dimensional or fetishistic. After all, the mainstream view of these communities has and still is, very often clouded by stereotypes. While I imagine the context in modern Japan is probably at least somewhat different than our own, many of these stereotypes seem to be universal.
Thus, it was a wonderful surprise to read a story in which most of those problems are non-existent, in which the characters dealt with the idea of a same-sex couple in a way that was, maybe a bit outdated by today’s standards, but still a real scenario that many gay people go through. When I talked about Blue Period last week, I mentioned how the character of Yuka has been praised for being a non-binary character whose identity does not become her only focus.
What I appreciate is how Blue Flag has a similar dynamic with its characters. Though the comparison is not as one to one due to the identity of Toma and Taichi being very much the center of the story, it still feels as though they are treated as wholistic, independent characters even outside of their continually evolving and messy relationship.
Handling Character Relationships
As I mentioned before, striking the right balance of having too many overly developed characters versus overly simplistic ones is a difficult task. I would argue that a story like Beastars, for example, for as rich as its attempts at world-building are, has far too many non-sensical plotlines to ever feel like a satisfying series. Granted, Beastars is not over yet, whereas Blue Flag is, but the point is there regardless.
Mangaka Kaito has a strong grasp of what it means to introduce a character. Not only does every character feel developed into their own person by the end of the series, but each one gets the chance to interact and understand the others across a cast of 10+ notable characters and a mere 54 chapters. This includes everyone, from the aforementioned main Quadrangle to Toma and Taichi’s extended friend circle.
The only exception to this is Taichi’s parents, and while it would have been interesting to weave in another backstory about Taichi through their perspective, doing so in a way that is forced or uninteresting could have also hurt the series, so I certainly do not blame the author for leaving them aside. One could also include Futaba’s relatives on that list, but I would argue that the small snippets Kaito does give us of her home life are sufficient to justify her character’s behavior.
As infrequently as I talk about manga, I usually avoid talking about the artwork at any great length because my repertoire for comparison is so laughably small. After all, what makes for good art in anime is not always the same as what makes for good art in manga. Still, I cannot help but sing Blue Flag’s praises in this regard as well.
The backgrounds, in particular, are worth pointing out, as no matter what location the characters are at, whether it be downtown Tokyo, high school, etc, there is almost always something to stop and look at. Even in the cases where the art takes a back seat to character interactions, such as the hijinks between Taichi and Futaba, it is done for comedic or dramatic effect. Thus, I would consider its artwork to be about as amazing as a manga can get.
Playing with Perspective
Perspective is one of those literary tools that is always there for non-written mediums of entertainment but very rarely gets utilized in a way that feels at all innovative. The best example is obviously video games, in which the interactive nature of the medium invites a variety of different storytelling perspectives. Manga, meanwhile, is, by and large, a third-person medium, in which characters are seen only from an outsider’s view.
Blue Flag, however, remains unafraid of experimentation. While admittedly not utilized all that much, the series is still willing to take a look at people’s past through the lenses of those characters. Two great examples are the backstory chapters for both Touma and Taichi, where each one has the past revisited from the first-person perspective, which allows us to view the character’s past from their perspective.
In Taichi’s case, we get a view that is largely in the shadow of Touma, who was more popular and had more friends even in junior high. Even as he comes out of this shadow, and meets a girl not unlike Futaba, it is only so that she can confess to Touma. With Touma, we see, from his perspective, his household before and after the tragic accident involving his parents, and how that affects his relationship with others.
All of this is complemented by the way Kaito plays with a first-person perspective in the final chapter. Someone whose name is listed as Ichinose is invited to Futaba’s wedding some seven years later, but it is revealed later on that Taichi was at Yokki’s wedding which landed on the same day.
This combined with a cheekily placed shot of two people in suits holding hands, combined with the noticeable absence of Touma directly, tells us that it is in fact his perspective that the chapter is seen through. What is heavily implied throughout the entire series is revealed in a way that is both unique and playful, fitting the personality of the two main characters.
A Few Gripes…
The series did a lot right in terms of its story composition, character relationships, and artwork. however, there are a few things that I wish were done differently.
First, for as fantastic as the dialogue in the series can be, there are also times where it becomes a bit overbearing. This is most evident in the scenes with Mami and the other minor characters who talk… a lot. Though this is certainly in character for them, it does get a bit annoying when I have to squint just to read every word on the page while only a foot away from my computer. Luckily, these moments are much fewer and farther between, but still feel a tad too present.
Second, why Kaito decided to go as far as invoking child molestation to defend Kensuke’s terrible behavior towards Touma I will honestly never understand. I get that his beliefs are supposed to be irrational, and also that Kensuke himself is supposed to be stupid, but surely there was another way without legitimizing a terrible perspective like that, no?
While I do not know that I could say Blue Flag is perfect by any means, and some of its thematic elements do run up against cliche more often than not, it is, at least, great. What it lacks in grace and brevity it more than makes up for in solid pacing and amazing payoff. What is more, I can honestly see myself coming back to it in a few years as well. If you have yet to read this series, then I would say it is more than worth the two dollars a month from Viz for this series alone.
How do you feel about Blue Flag? Let me know in the comments below. As part of my new year’s resolution, I said that I would be putting out at least one video a month, and for this month, I’ll be revisiting The Promised Neverland, so stay tuned for that.
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