The Spring 2019 Manga Guide
Transparent Light Blue
What's It About?Ritsu and her two best friends have been together since they were in elementary school, but things got weird when Ichika started dating the only boy in the trio – not the least because Ritsu is also in love with her.
Resenting the way she's been left behind, Ritsu tries to eke all the happiness she can out of stolen moments with Ichika, but it just isn't good enough. When she kisses her one day, things come to a head – and no matter what any of them want, there's really no way that they can go back.
Also included are two short stories about café workers. Transparent Light Blue is written and illustrated by Kiyoko Iwami. Seven Seas released it in April and it sells for $9.99 digitally or $13.99 for a hard copy.
Is It Worth Reading?
While it is very difficult to find something I won't read, or won't enjoy some aspect of reading, there are certain tropes that don't really work for me. The major one in the romance genre (LGBTQ+ or otherwise) is the issue of consent. Transparent Light Blue treads a little too close to the “nonconsensual” line for me to be fully invested in it, both in the main story and in the two short stories about Akane and her crush(es), and that's a shame, because there are many other things I like about the book.
One of those is definitely the art. Kiyoko Iwami's artwork has a sort of disheveled feel that makes every moment feel like the characters are one step away from breaking down, and in the sort of tormented love stories she's writing, that absolutely works. The way that hair is drawn is particularly well done on that front, and watching Ricchan's hair grow increasingly unkempt as her emotions come to a head makes for a very nice, relatively subtle metaphor. Body language is also well done, particularly the protective hunch of someone who knows that the situation they're in isn't great but can't bring themselves to, for whatever, get out of it. This is especially noticeable in the short stories, but we see it in the main tale as well, and when combined with the hair, it contributes a lot to helping readers to fully understand the characters' emotional states.
What they do with those emotional states is more where the issue is. In the main story, Transparent Light Blue, Ricchan secretly records Ichika so that she can listen to the sounds she makes when having her ears cleaned and reimagine what's going on. Ichika, when she finds out, isn't thrilled with the secret recording, but ultimately seems to take it as a sign of how much Ricchan loves her instead of the big red flag it sounds like to me. Likewise in the short stories, Akane seems totally uninterested in Mayuko until she finds out her actual gender – previous to discovering it accidentally, she's just using the other girl as a substitute, which is both cruel (since even before we realize Mayuko's a girl we can tell she has a thing for Akane) and not a great sign for a good relationship later. While both of these cases are clearly intended to be more on the romantic side of things in the “but I just can't help myself!” school of romance fiction, they don't really work for me and if it's not your particular flavor of the genre, this book might not work for you. On the other hand, if sexier yuri (without any actual sex) is what you're looking for and those issues don't bother you, Transparent Light Blue delivers while feeling less trashy than Citrus. It's not for Class S fans, but may be worth checking out for others.
Transparent Light Blue is a case where all the awareness and understanding of how messed-up a situation is in the world can't salvage its overall content. It's the 'I'm a bad person who hurts people, but at least I'm aware I'm a bad person who hurts people' of manga.
Transparent Light Blue is, by a lot of criteria, extremely well-executed and emotionally honest. The problem is that the root of its emotional honesty is abusive behavior and when push comes to shove that abusive behavior is…kind of glossed over. The way Ritsu copes with her feelings for Ichicka is to, at first, bury them and then to, later on, hurt her in order to push her away. This is accurate to a certain emotional headspace, but the sheer, horrific extremity of Ritsu's actions (such as playing a covert recording of them copulating to upset Ichicka, kissing her while she's asleep, etc.) do not gel with the ultimate resolution of them getting together. It would be one thing if the manga forced Ritsu to reckon with the consequences of her actions (which it dances around doing), but in the end all is forgotten and forgiven. And it shouldn't be, because these are not just isolated incidents, they are endemic of larger behavioral and emotional problems.
There's also a follow-up one-shot at the end of the books which shares all the same issues of the main story. It honestly upset me more because it ends in a kind of transphobic reveal, and depicts abuse that is glossed over even more alarmingly. I think my reaction to Transparent Light Blue is a good study of expectations: I wanted to read a cute, charming yuri thing and while parts of it certainly tried to be, it came couched in all kinds of bad assumptions and hurtful things that hit a little too close to the chest in regards to my life experience.
I wanted to like Transparent Light Blue. I really, really did. It was the first thing I read for the guide for that reason. But sometimes you just can't ignore things that upset you. Sometimes you can't help but be hurt when you open your heart to something only for it to display some of the worst parts of humanity. Especially when you've seen, felt, known how hurtful and terrible the kinds of behaviors depicted in this book are. And that's part of life too, I guess. It just sucks.
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