That Blue Sky Feeling volume 1
Story by: Okura
Art by: Coma Hashii
Translation by: Jocelyne Allen
Lettering by: Joanna Estep
Design by: Yukiko Whitley
Edited by: Joel Enos
Originally published by Square Enix, 2017
Published by Viz Media, 2018
Copy purchased from ComiXology
I will crawl
There’s things that are worth giving up I know, but I won’t let this get me
I will fight
You live the life you’re given with the storms outside
And some days all I do is watch the sky
‘Watch the Sky‘ by Something Corporate, 2003
What is it?: Chunky and enthusiastic good boy Noshiro has transferred to a new school, and whilst he’s able to quickly and easily make new bonds, one quiet, distant student gets his attention, Sanada. In trying to get to know him he learns that rumours of him being gay are true, and Noshiro has his eyes opened to his own prejudice, as well as the potential feelings within him. A heartwarming coming of age, slice of life-type dealie, but with a significant focus on being a gay teenager.
What I think: I’ve previously been, perhaps needlessly, cautious going into any comic with LGBT themes. As a bisexual person who uses gender-neutral pronouns, I’m naturally inclined to want to see good representation of myself and others within the community and manga, particularly in the west, hasn’t got an *amazing* track record with this. In recent years this has changed considerably, particularly in the last two where we’ve had such gems as (the eisner-winning!) My Brother’s Husband, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, The Bride Was A Boy, and After Hours, this has lessened, and I’ve become better prepared to just… enjoy a comic, without worrying about whether it’ll hurt me somehow.
I’m very glad this was the case for me and That Blue Sky Feeling. A more cautious person may have been put off by all these teenage boys saying the word homo constantly throughout early parts of the volume, not trusting it enough to dig past that not massively unrealistic example of The Dumb Sh*t Teenage Boys Say to find the core of the story, an incredibly sweet depiction of a boy learning about his own backwards attitudes and growing, developing a better sense of empathy for those seemingly different to him along the way.
Noshiro’s growth and slow development of what seem to be romantic feelings is definitely the highlight of this series, but there’s so much to be said for his design and general demeanour too. Reading mainstream manga can sometimes leave you with the impression that rounder characters, like literally anyone with ANY meat on their bones, is only worthy of being a side-character or joke, and the simple move of making Noshiro the main character, of not having his size even be noteworthy, outside of it being a good build for judo, is fantastic. It creates a good visual difference between him and Sanada that I appreciate, and fills a void I didn’t even really realise was there.
His personality is great too. It’s bubbly, cheerful, honest, almost forcefully inclusive, but not all that he is, as a lot of Noshiro’s downtime is spent on self-reflection, thinking about how he’s behaved with others, or trying to understand how they’ve behaved with him. It’s all very believable, ringing so true for my own youth, even down to those early instances of accidental homophobia, because teens don’t always think through the implications of their thoughts and actions, instead it’s important to show them grow from them, and Noshiro is a perfect example of this idea.
This isn’t to say that the other members of the cast are slouches. Sanada is great as gay character, one who’s isolated himself in a way at school, but who still has connections, such as his best friend Ayumi, or his ex Hige (he’s got a beard, so of course he’s Hige), who along with Noshiro give him ample opportunities to express himself freely, even as developing feelings make that difficult with Noshiro. Ayumi is pretty great too, a character who you may think has feelings for Sanada, never to be fulfilled, but more than anything someone who wants to understand all facets of her friend.
Hige, I think, is an interesting character too. An older man, who broke up with Sanada because he felt Sanada was too immature, but who himself is up to the less than mature level of behind the scenes meddling you’d have expected more of from the younger characters. He’s supportive in his own way by doing this, but it shows an interesting contradiction in how he perceives himself and Sanada, and one I almost expect to cause a few problems down the line.
Finally I’d like to talk a little about the art. Coma Hashii was brought in for this version of the story, it originally having run as a webcomic beforehand, and they’re such a perfect fit for this story, having an art style that sits somewhere between the soft tones and emotional close-ups you’d associate with a shojo manga, and the rounder, more expressive linework you’d be far more likely to see in a series aimed at the shonen demographic. It’s a really great case of having an art style with a little bit for everyone, and ultimately does something to show the meaningless of the styles people associate with demographics, but that’s a deeper rabbit hole than I want to go down when I’d much rather be talking about how well this composite-feeling art style does at pulling at the heartstrings at every given opportunity. There were several moments in this volumes where I had to stop and just grab ahold of my chest, it was so powerful. The faces, in particular, have such a strong variety to them, no emotion is left unshown. You really can’t undersell quality facework like this.
That Blue Sky Feeling is a pretty special comic, one that’s doing much more than I ever expected from it, and is occupying that space in my brain as Something Important, the sort of series that (if it nails the landing in future volumes) could go down as essential reading for all ages, and I can’t think of higher praise than that, that this comic deserves canonising as an all-time great.
That Blue Sky Feeling is for fans of: My Brother’s Husband, A Silent Voice, Hana-Kimi
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