iSugio

Blue – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Kayako Kirishima and Masami Endo are about to discover that their recent friendship is turning into obsessive love. But when today’s hopes and yesterday’s dreams meet tomorrow’s problems, will they be able to continue?

Having only been familiar with manga artist Kiriko Nananan through the two film adaptations of her works up until recently, the considerably well made live-action adaptations of Strawberry Shortcakes and Blue both struck me as films that dealt with the emotional conflicts of their respective female casts through an honest and authentic perspective. With that being said, the 1996 manga Blue is my first introduction to the artistic style of Nananan, with it being viewed as a minimalistic work surrounding the subtle emotional responses of its characters both from the position of its visuals and narrative.

In many regards, Blue fashions itself as an expressionistic exploration of the confusing and emotional roller coaster that being a teenager in entails – a time where emotions are heightened and when life choices matter immensely towards the application of one’s future. Nananan portrays both Kayako and Masami as two young characters who are vigorously contemplating who they are as individuals, and when the concept of love enters into the mix, we begin to truly witness the melodramatic turmoil that each experiences as they must decide between expressing their growing feelings towards one another or if they should simply continue it at all. There is a strong sense of longing felt throughout the manga due to this conflict, a desire for Kayako and Masami to remain together no matter what transpires – but alas time marches forward and individuals and circumstances do indeed change.

Although stemming from the Yuri genre where high school relationships between young woman are commonplace, the honest approach that the manga takes is an approach that I felt was necessary given the circumstances in which the characters find themselves in. Nearing the end of their high school careers, we find them in a very vulnerable place, unsure of their future and certainly of themselves. Nananan expresses these attitudes by offering glimpses – and in many instances, hope – that Kayako and Masami will further their desire to remain together despite the odds. This is primarily seen in Kayako’s suggestion to Masami that she move to Tokyo with her after school, a suggestion that increasingly becomes unlikely as time progresses.

A strong aspect of the manga is that Nananan never relies on the societal notion of rejection concerning the lesbian relationship shared between the two female leads, a choice that I felt did not demean the quality of the narrative whatsoever but in fact strengthened it. Instead we find Nananan relying more so on the simple notion of life itself unexpectedly moving Kayako and Masami slowly apart, with it being really the only significant – and quite unavoidable – external factor influencing their relationship as a whole. Other factors are introduced that somewhat promote one character against the other, or vice-versa, but the narrative expands greatly towards its climax to have us view their relationship as a considerable metaphor for the unpredictability of life after high school in general.

The artistic styling of the manga melds the emotional and minimal through the use of negative space and subdued character expressions, in turn producing a manga that is not entirely filled to the brim within each panel. This stark contrast to some of the other manga series I have read brings about a more endearing and distinct quality to Blue, with such a stylistic direction that removes much of the unnecessary filler to make way for the reader to focus upon the psychological framework of its characters, expressed vividly through the manga’s visuals. As a manga stemming from the Yuri genre, Blue’s realistic and sparse imagery is also a welcome addition and offers up a practical worldview that subsequently allows for a more sensible connection to us as the reading audience.

Blue ultimately succeeds first and foremost because its narrative avoids succumbing to many of the over utilized and outright exploitative elements that derive from the Yuri genre as a whole. While the focus of Blue is on the same-sex attraction shared between two high school females, its larger focus is upon the difficulties of growing up and eventually having to leave the one’s you enjoy being around behind. In one particularly powerful sequence within the manga, a classmate of both Kayako and Masami contemplates the idea of friendship after high school. “They say that friends from high school stay friends forever – do you think so? Right now, we’re comfortable together, but soon all of this will seem so far away,” she says. A truthful examination of friendship – and Kayako and Masami’s uncertain relationship as well – with Blue courageously blending a sincere narrative and creative artistic style that rises above many similar manga titles.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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