Blue Period Volumes 1 and 2 Review

Yatora is costing through high school with delinquent hair, surprisingly good grades, and plenty of late nights drinking with his friends. His heart isn’t in any of it though and he doesn’t expect that to ever change, after all he’s getting through life easily enough right now and without finding anything that truly excites him.

But on an impulse, one day in art class he actually puts effort and heart into a painting, and he truly enjoys it. Not only that but, with some genuine praise, Yatora pauses, looks around, and realizes that art is so much more than he had previously realized and that he deeply wants to understand it and do it himself. So he joins the art club and begins to learn as much as he can, hoping to make it into one of the top art schools in Japan for college to continue learning and making art for a long time to come.

Once Yatora started getting interested in art I immediately thought “oh this series will really appeal to folks who enjoyed Akiko Higashimura’s Blank Canvas.” Admittedly, part of the draw of Blank Canvas is Higashimura herself, as someone with an earnest commitment to skewering her past self she’s got a niche but devoted English-speaking audience, which is obviously not the case with the fictional Yatora (he’s also far less prone to self-sabotage and screwing up so far). But Blank Canvas was also really committed to giving the reader an in-depth knowledge of both art disciplines and how art school works in Japan which is exactly what Blue Period does as well. It may come off as over-explained for some, since Yatora needs even the basic fundamental of art (like color schemes) articulated for him to understand what he instinctively pulled off before. It’s not as charming as the explanations in GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class, but it’s certainly easy enough to skim those pages if you don’t need the explanation.

I do think that Yatora might be a much bigger hurdle for readers to get over than the artistic explanations. It’s not Yatora’s personality that makes him unlikable, far from it, but he does go through an explosive amount of artistic growth in just these two volumes alone that might be hard for readers to believe. Personally I could buy into it since it matches up with what I’ve seen in life in a lot of different areas, not just art. Whether it’s art, sewing, etc., I’ve seen a lot of people start out a new hobby with a simply exponential amount of growth as they grasp the fundamentals and apply them to ideas that they’ve been mulling over for ages, such as a painting or a novel. Think of the classmate you knew in middle school with amazing art, how it seemed like they were coasting, since at that point they were: they were still in that beginning period where growth doesn’t feel as much like effort.

By the second volume Yatora has gone past that stage into the point where growth and accomplishments take longer as he learns how to refine these basic skills and intuition into something even stronger. This is also when I tend to see someone’s own inherent style really start to become apparent, like how someone might shade a pen and ink drawing or fabric choices they gravitate towards. The passage of time isn’t always as clear as it could be in Blue Period but even then it’s still clear that Yatora is always putting in a ton of work to improve his skills and imagination and all of that is why I didn’t have any issues with just how quickly he grows as an artist (well, that and it is a fictional story after all).

One of the best scenes in these first two volumes, and one I wish I had seen as a teen Yatora’s age, is when he goes to an art museum and for the first time understands how to understand art. My parents enjoyed art so I was certainly dragged to a lot of art museums as a kid but despite liking making art, I didn’t like looking at it! In fact, I’m pretty sure I could tell you the precise day art museums became enjoyable — when I saw in person a print of “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” at the college modern art museum that my mom docents at. Like Yatora, there was just a moment where being able to see art in real life, not as an image in a textbook but inches from my nose and being able to see the individual pin-pricks that make a gelatin silver print that suddenly made it click for me, and Yatora has a near-identical experience when he comes across a work by Degas that grabs him a way that seeing it in a book never did before (funny enough, the only art exhibition I’ve been to since the pandemic started was a Degas one and yes his works are quite engaging in person!).

My mom is fond of saying “not all art is for everyone” and I think that’s a good way to approach viewing art if you too feel lost about where to start, or to take Yatora’s classmate’s suggestion to look at art as if you were a buyer and use that as a jumping off point to articulate just why you do or don’t like a piece. It’s a fantastic scene that rang very true to life for me but one that doesn’t come up much in stories; in “hobby manga” like these the protagonist usually starts from a place of loving the hobby but not knowing how to do it and Yatora has come at art from a different, but equally realistic, direction which allows for a few little differences in storytelling like this one.

In fact, my only concern with the story so far is another of Yatora’s classmates, his childhood acquaintance who everyone else calls Yuka and is widely known in their high school to be AMAB but also always wears the girl’s uniform. Both of them go to the same art cram school as well and there we and Yatora see that Yuka is certainly into guys but that there’s an element of danger when it comes to these guys learning about Yuka’s backstory on a first date. I’m genuinely unsure if Yuka is supposed to be trans at this point, I’m also not sure if Yuka and/or Tsubasa Yamaguchi are sure, but some of Yuka’s actions are concerning enough (in a self-destructive sense) that the English-language staff discretely put in a content warning on the character page and help numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Trevor Project. Yatora does refer to them by their given, male, name although it doesn’t seem to be done out of malice, just thoughtlessness perhaps. I am a bit concerned about how Blue Period will handle this plot line. It’s simply too early to tell how it will go, although my inner cynic was also thinking that this group of art students wasn’t nearly queer enough to be “realistic”.

Unlike other adaptations airing this season, while there’s concern that some people might miss out on the anime version since it’s being streamed on Netflix, overall I don’t have any other concerns about it! While the transition from page to screen means that the anime won’t be able to make use of panel and page layouts in the way the manga sometimes does it will be able to tell the story in color which is a plus for a story that starts with a flash of color. I certainly intend to check out not only the anime but the rest of the manga as well. Blue Period‘s been a strong story and surprising delight so far that I’m eager to continue on with!

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