Adolescence is never an easy time. From all the changes happening, the insecurities that plague every second and pressures from friends and family in matters of life and love, your teenage years are never an easy time. But, when you’re different, those times can become even harder. This week on the Otaku Rabbit Hole, we’re venturing into the slice of life, shounen-ai romance manga, That Blue Sky Feeling from Viz Media, a manga that deals with growing up and first-loves in a way that often sets it apart from its contemporaries. So then, buckle up and get ready for a manga morsel that you can really sink into.
Our story focuses on transfer student and judo lover, Dai Noshiro who, upon joining his new class, becomes fascinated with his fellow classmate, the solitary Kou Sanada. Determined to become his friend, Noshiro makes every attempt to bring Sanada out of his shell and to get him to open up, not only to Noshiro, but to his other classmates too. Many of his earnest and innocently heartfelt attempts end in disaster, and Noshiro is left confused as to why his attempts are failing. This is until he overhears a rumor that may explain all – Sanada is gay. From here, the manga moves at a delicately swift pace, where Noshiro helps Sanada become more confident and in turn Noshiro begins his own journey of self-discovery, spurred on by Sanada.
The friendship of Sanada and Noshiro takes centre stage at all points in this manga and sets the stage for the blossoming of friendship into something more. This volume sets the scene remarkably, with a slow and steady approach to character development, all the while framing the difficulties of self-acceptance and self-discovery in a gorgeous and appropriately delicate way, befitting of a first-love story. As is the case with most first volumes, this manga sets the scene for the events to come in the upcoming chapters. However, I was never left feeling unfulfilled, and enjoyed this first look into the lives of these characters.
I found the characters somewhat hit and miss depending on their status as either recurring or main cast. Our main duo receive some fantastic development, while the remaining cast are sidelined and left severely underdeveloped, often becoming indistinguishable from one another. This results in these characters coming across as very one-dimensional, almost verging on tropey. I also found Sanada cold and generally rude for the majority of this volume, but he did start to become more and more open as the story went on, although he can be somewhat grating. With this being the first volume, my hopes for future volumes are high, but we’ll have to see if they deliver on what the first volume has started.
The biggest issue
This first volume is far from flawless, however, and if there’s criticism to be had, it would be with Sanada’s ex, a 26-year-old man, Hidematsu. While there are very different societal norms in Japan, including the age of consent, the implication of a 16-year-old high school kid having been engaged in an intimate relationship with a grown man can come across as sleazy, however unintentional that might be. There are also times where Noshiro contacts Hidematsu for advice which, on one occasion, resulted in the two of them ending up in Hidematsu’s apartment. I will admit that these interactions are played off as a mentor/ older brother figure giving helpful advice, but it still is somewhat uncomfortable given both the context surrounding Hidematsu and the cultural differences between Japan and the West. Again, while there is no sexual subtext here, this plotline can be a real deal-breaker for many and it is essential that anyone considering delving into That Blue Sky Feeling be aware of this before diving in.
The silver lining
Standing apart from other manga in this genre, That Blue Sky Feeling avoids many of the pitfalls so often associated with shounen-ai, instead setting a strong foundation on which a beautiful love story can hopefully grow. Shounen-ai, or Boys’ Love, is a genre that can often turn away potential readers in fear of gratuitous sexualisation of their characters. However, this manga approaches its topic area with an honesty that is both refreshing and heart-breaking. That Blue Sky Feeing portrays a realistic coming-of-age story that explores the complex emotions and self-discovery that’s synonymous with adolescence, and is truly a pleasure to see.
Despite its flaws, this first volume was an enjoyable window into a tale of burgeoning love, in a tell-all package, filled with highs and lows. I have high hopes for the next volume, set to be released in early 2019. While I enjoyed this story for its beautifully delicate, drip-feed approach to its storytelling, only time will tell if That Blue Sky Feeling will become an easily forgotten work doomed to the murky waters of shounen-ai, or if it will dazzle all as a refreshing take on the genre that will help set it on a different path. However, if the first volume is anything to go by, its sets a promising love story in motion, and I personally look forward to seeing where the story of Sanada and Noshiro will end up.
If you’ve reached this point, thanks again for joining me on this trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole and I really hope you’ve enjoyed. Until next time, keep it weeby!