Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
That Blue Sky Feeling
Dai Noshiro has been the new kid in school enough to be sensitive to the way people treat someone they see as not belonging. That's what initially draws him to Kou Sanada: he's always alone in class and doesn't seem to have any friends. Sanada, however, keeps repulsing Noshiro's overtures, claiming that he's fine the way he is. Noshiro eventually finds out that there are rumors that Sanada's gay, which are behind his isolation. Noshiro decides that that doesn't matter to him, but can he convince Sanada of that?
Rumors are the lifeblood of many a school or workplace. Sometimes there's nothing malicious behind them, but other times the rumors can be socially or emotionally devastating to their subjects. That's what Dai Noshiro is convinced is going on when he switches schools (again) in his second year of high school and spots Kou Sanada sitting by himself, and when he finds out that the rumor in question is that Sanada is gay, he decides that he needs to do something about it. The catch? Sanada doesn't want him to do anything because the truth is, he actually is gay.
Things get muddier from that point, at least in Noshiro and Sanada's minds, and that's what really makes the first volume of That Blue Sky Feeling a story worth reading. Noshiro opens the book by commenting that he doesn't really understand the concept of “liking” someone or romance in general, something he takes pains to hide during guy talk. He doesn't spell it out, but he's clearly concerned that he's not entirely normal, so when he finds out that Sanada is also not crushing on girls, he's more fascinated than anything. He's never met someone who is openly (for a given value thereof) gay before, and there's a real feeling that he's curious without being uncomfortable or censorious. It's more that he's interested in the fact that Sanada understands himself in a way that Noshiro can't.
It's that feeling that makes this not so much a coming-of-age story as a coming-into-yourself story. In that sense, this is not only thoughtful and well put together, but also affirming in a way that anyone who has ever felt removed from heterosexual expectations will appreciate. Through Sanada, Noshiro meets Hide, a young man in his twenties whom Sanada used to date. Hide takes on a mentor role for Noshiro (and would for Sanada if the other boy would let him), recognizing in Noshiro feelings that he can't yet understand himself. As the book comes to its end, it becomes clear that Noshiro can't quite figure things out not because he's homophobic, afraid of standing out as “weird,” or too immature – it's that he's lived a life where he simply hasn't been given the tools to understand his emotions.
Part of what's so appealing about this book is the way that it handles its subject matter. There's no screaming homophobia, just little, biting comments made in Sanada's hearing that you know have to hurt even if he won't admit it. When Sanada tells Noshiro that he's not his type, we very quickly see the lie in that statement, but nothing is ever said outright as the boys try their best to ignore it. Likewise Sanada's childhood (female) friend clearly has a crush on him but is doing her damnedest not to admit it, either to him or to herself, even though it's basically an open secret among the characters. As Noshiro and Sanada's relationship slowly grows, we see her unwillingly retreat into the background, but no overt statements or actions of jealousy mar the self-discovery plot. It's a more subtle approach than we see in most similar stories, and it really works in the volume's favor.
Everything is not puppies and rainbows and easy self-discovery, of course. By the end of the volume we know that Sanada is using a pseudonym on a dating ap looking for men, which feels a little ominous (Hide was a nice guy, but who's to say they all will be?), and he's clearly unsettled by his attraction to Noshiro, who he believes to be straight and a lost cause. Noshiro is struggling with his own self-realizations and blooming jealousies, none of which he really understands. He can't imagine that Sanada likes him as much as he likes Sanada even as a friend, much less anything more, and his worries wear on him as things go on. None of it feels melodramatic, which actually makes it more striking, because there's a realism here that grounds the proceedings.
That Blue Sky Feeling was originally published on Okura's website with his own illustrations, which you can see in the back of the book. Coma Hashii has done a very good job adapting his style and making it a bit more dynamic, and the art on the whole is deceptively simple. Perspectives aren't always great and there are some anatomical issues, but it works very well for the type of story Okura is telling.
In the growing catalogue of LGBTQ+ manga, That Blue Sky Feeling is on par with Wandering Son in terms of its thoughtfulness and calmness. While it isn't tackling as many subjects as that series, it has a similar tone and respect for its characters. If nothing else, this volume wins points for flat-out saying to one of the characters “You're not a bad person. You're not weird and you're not wrong.” That's something that doesn't get said enough, and if Sanada and Noshiro can come to believe in its truth, the series will have fulfilled its potential.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B
+ Thoughtful and respectful to its characters, subtle rather than melodramatic
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