The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Grand Blue Dreaming
What's It About?College freshman IoriKitahara moves to live with his uncle and two cousinsin a sunny oceanside town where his college is located. Not realizing that the family he hasn't seen in a long time lives in and operates a diving shop, Iori gets more than he signed up for when he meets the enthusiastic, finely-sculpted male members of the college diving club, who spend a lot of time hanging out in the shop and helping his uncle with customers. Quickly taken under their wing, Iori becomes a frequent partyer who drinks to excess, embarrassing himself time and time again on his new college campus. However, he's continually keen to get away from the diving club and better the awkward first impressions he accidentally gives his beautiful and quirky cousins, Nanaka and Chisa.
Grand Blue Dreaming (7/10/2018) is an original manga by Kimitake Yoshioka and Kenji Inoue. It will be available in paperback for $12.99 from Kodansha Comics and is currently available digitally from their digital-first line for $10.99 on comiXology. An upcoming anime adaptation is set to air in Japan in summer 2018.
Is It Worth Reading?Amy McNulty
Grand Blue Dreaming purports to be about a college diving club, but diving is mere background decoration until the very end of the first volume—and barely gets any focus then. This story is, first and foremost, a comedy, but even so, the jokes are often repetitive, shallow, and not particularly amusing. It's not that they're offensive—for the most part—they're just not that funny. Iori spends much of this volume getting pressured into drinking and getting naked or semi-naked, leading to “misunderstandings” with his classmates at his new college and the cousins he seems to have hots for. The secondary characters in the diving club kind of blend into the same muscle-bound partygoer; they may look different enough (though they're all ripped), but they act virtually the same. The exception is Kohei, the odious otaku whom Iori manages to convince to give the diving club a try, and Nanaka, who is strangely quite tolerant of Iori's and the other divers' questionable behavior—probably because she herself has an odd obsession with her sister. Chisa acts as the tsukkomi in the bunch, though she doesn't so much as comment on the inanity going on around her as she does get stark-raving mad and glower at her cousin.
The art has a distinct look, especially considering how many sculpted men there are—and sculpted men who are prone to be nudists at that. However, even with similar body types, their hairstyles and faces differentiate them. With short dark hair and a nondescript face, Iori isn't particularly memorable, but he serves his purpose. Nanaka and Chisa, too, seem generic bishojo types, though being in college, they are older than the typical girls of their ilk. The background art is nicely detailed, even if the settings are limited. It's a shame, though, that there are so few ocean images in a diving-themed manga, though the aquarium is a highlight.
Grand Blue Dreaming is not what one might expect going in—but neither is it a pleasant surprise, either. The jokes often fall flat and go on for too long, and there's little need for the diving club angle, at least this early on. The characters aren't particularly distinguishable or likable, and even if none (besides perhaps Kohei) are particularly off-putting, there just isn't enough to recommend the manga by volume's end. It's far from the worst read, but there are better diving club series (like Amanchu!) and better comedies out there to choose from.
It really is a shame when a creator doesn't trust their audience. That feels like the underlying problem with Grand Blue Dreaming, a manga that wants to be about college freshman Iori learning to scuba dive but spends ¾ of its first volume on him being hazed and pressured by his club senpai. In fact, he doesn't even want to join the scuba diving club in the first place, which takes a lot of the potential joy of the sport away before Iori even gets to experience it.
Of course, most of this is done in the name of humor, which of all the genres of literature is the most subjective. Peer pressure is a particular pet peeve of mine, so scenes of Iori being forced to drink and repeatedly having his stated wishes ignored do not strike me as especially humorous. That the volume also indulges in Love Hina-style gags wherein every action Iori takes (or is made to take) results in obnoxious misunderstandings from his two hot cousins is also not a point in its favor; it harkens back to a style of shounen romance that has generally been moved past. (There is no random slapping of the hero, however, which is a major point in its favor.) Humiliation and unexpected nudity appear to be the cornerstones of the Grand Blue Dreaming's brand of humor, and that isn't going to work for everyone.
The book does much better when there's actual exploration of diving. While that's unfortunately limited to the final chapter of the volume, interesting discussions of whether or not a diver needs to know how to swim and the beauty of the underwater world are well done, and definitely intriguing. Given that this series began as one of Kodansha's Digital First releases (which appears to translate to “digital only” in many cases) and is now getting a physical release, this may eventually be allowed to become the focus of the series, which would make it worth at least a second volume. If the sense of humor prevails, however, it may turn out not to trust its audience enough to make the whole thing palatable.
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