When it comes to boys’ love manga, there’s a widespread consensus that the genre consists of sexually charged material. While there is certainly plenty of that to go around, it isn’t an accurate description of the whole genre. Some series are more subdued slice-of-life tales, such as Viz Media’s That Blue Sky Feeling. The series is written by Okura and illustrated by Coma Hashii. Vol. 1, out this week, collects chapters 1-7. That Blue Sky Feeling stars Kou Sanada, a high schooler who is avoided by classmates due to rumors about his homosexuality, and Dai Noshiro, a transfer student who tries to befriend Sanada. The pair’s relationship is tense and uncertain, driving the manga’s drama. Does the series get off to a good start with its debut volume?
Of the two leads, Noshiro does more to move the plot forward. He’s a classic point of entry character, and the story starts with his first day of class at a new school. Upon introducing himself to the class, Noshiro notices that one of his peers, Sanada, is less vocal and outgoing than the rest. Noshiro quickly makes friends with other boys in his class, but when he suggests involving Sanada in their activities, they resist. It’s then that Noshiro learns Sanada is rumored to be gay. From that point on, Noshiro tries to make his classmates treat Sanada better, and to make Sanada feel more accepted.
Though Noshiro is the slightly more central character, Sanada is the true star of this manga. Okura and Hashii do a fantastic job fleshing him out and creating a believable depiction of a gay character struggling with his social standing in high school. Sanada’s relationship to the closet is nuanced; his life can’t be easily divided into pre-coming out and post-coming out periods. In some scenes his dialogue hints at his true feelings, while in others it appears to mask them. With that said, the reader never knows for sure which is the case at what time. Because of this, the audience, like Noshiro, gets to piece all the evidence together, as opposed to having the truth handed to them on a silver platter.
With that said, the most impressively handled aspect of Sanada’s character is the way he pushes other people, even his friends, away. Other characters frequently wonder how well they know Sanada, and which side of his personality is closest to his truest self. The further into the volume one gets, the clearer it becomes that all sides of the character are genuine, but also sad. Sanada has different strategies for hiding his emotions from different people, and he finds himself choosing between the pain of rejection or the pain of not even attempting connection. As someone who also dealt with navigating homophobic spaces in high school, I find Sanada’s character arc to be painfully relatable and well-written. I had to put the book down multiple times–not because it was bad, but rather because it conveyed traumatic circumstances so affectingly.
Art-wise, Hashii does a fantastic job here. A lot of getting to know the characters comes from their excellent facial expressions and body language. Solid execution of these things is especially important with a character like Sanada, whose words and actions frequently contradict each other, as well as what he’s actually thinking at any given moment. The shading is also well-done throughout, and some excellent hatching helps distinguish background elements from panels’ focal points. The various details of the physical world are also well-rendered, particularly the titular skies. Virtually every aspect of this manga is a pleasure to look at.
Overall, That Blue Sky Feeling Vol. 1 is a painfully well-done story. As I mentioned previously, I had to put it down–not out of anger or disgust, but because it hit so close to home. With that said, I don’t want to give the impression that this series is super heavy and miserable to trudge through; it’s actually quite funny and charming. The artwork is lovely throughout, and the pacing is great. The characters’ relationships develop at believable speeds, instead of feeling rushed to fit the narrative. My only qualm with this volume is with how soon it ends–not because there’s any fault with its conclusion, but because of how impatiently I’m now awaiting the next installment. This is easily one of my favorite books of the year.