If you have biases or prejudices, does that mean that you shouldn’t speak of them? Is it wrong to view others using the same lens through which you view yourself? What happens when you can’t even whisper the truth that you want to shout? And does a public show of confession make someone’s feelings and orientation public property? That’s a lot of questions to open a review with, but they’re all raised in this volume of Kaito‘s coming-of-age manga Blue Flag, and answers are thin on the ground. That’s actually a major strength of the book: plenty of people have thoughts, or even Thoughts, about Toma’s admission of his love for Taichi to Mami, overheard by others in their friend group, but no one has any definitive answers about what it all means – and the people involved don’t seem to want to talk about it.
That, of course, is both their prerogative and understandable. Things have been at least a little awkward for Futaba and Taichi for a while now, so Toma’s confession is less a major blow to their relationship and more another piece of their confidence and happiness chipped away. Both of those seem to weigh more heavily on Futaba – or at least she’s more comfortable talking about them – which again makes sense, because she’s not the one who has just found out something shocking about her confidant. Even before this point, Futaba was feeling confused about what it was that she wanted to do after high school, trying to weigh her relationship with her boyfriend on the same scales as her future, and there’s been a small sense within her that maybe she’d be better off pursuing what she wants to in terms of education and a career than prioritizing her first-ever romance. When she realizes that Taichi isn’t going to pursue making toys as a future career, she seems conflicted, and although she doesn’t say it, there is perhaps the thought that he’s giving up something he’s always wanted to be with her. That’s not a great reason to change a dream, and we get the impression that it’s less that Taichi doesn’t want to design toys and games and more that he thinks its more “grown-up” to focus on his relationship with a girl. That he’s now suddenly found out that Toma is in love with him throws him off-balance enough that he’s at risk of doing something he’ll regret, because for all that he says he’s in love with Futaba, that’s not really something we’ve seen demonstrated – mostly they just seem increasingly awkward around each other.
This penultimate volume of Blue Flag is, it must be said, more heavy-handed than it perhaps needs to be. Three-quarters of it is characters sitting and talking things out, trying to find their way through the aftermath of Toma’s confession and the rumors caused by his fight and suspension. Among the more striking of these is the discussion in Mami’s friend group (minus Mami), with one of the boys voicing what at first feels like very homophobic views and an adherence to a fairly toxic view of the gender binary. Even before we learn the truth of why he feels this way, there’s a question of whether or not he has the right to these feelings, which makes for a deliberately uncomfortable scene. After we learn why he finds homoerotic feelings uncomfortable, he raises a good point – he can’t stop being male and doesn’t want to be, but that makes it harder to cope with his past trauma. But is trauma the only thing that “validates” his feelings? And what about the people who feel constrained by social ideas about what’s supposedly normal and who face repercussions for speaking aloud? When Futaba tells Mami and Masumi that she’s not sure what she’d do if, for example, Masumi confessed to her, Masumi runs off, opening that door in a way that Mami suspected but leaves Futaba more unsettled.
These are all things that need to be talked about and said aloud, but there’s almost too much of it, which makes for a denser book than we strictly need. On the other hand, having everyone else talk while Futaba, Taichi, and Toma are largely silent emphasizes how this is less about their own feelings and more how the world views their shared drama, and once again, we are guilty of doing the same thing. How many readers want Taichi to end up with Toma because Toma “deserves it?” Or because a straight love story is “boring?” Or simply because you, the reader, like Toma better and have made it about your feelings and not Taichi’s?
As early 20th century New England author Joseph C. Lincoln said in his 1917 novel Extricating Obadiah, “It may be true that Love is blind; it seems to be equally true that all the rest of creation has its eyes wide open to watch the sightless god upon his way.” Blue Flag has consistently done a remarkable job at showing us the truth behind Lincoln’s words, forcing us to view ourselves and our engagement with the story and the characters as the gossips in a small town, imposing our opinions on the characters. Is it our place to judge? This is fiction, isn’t it?
But how will we feel when the final choices are made at the story’s end if we don’t agree with them?
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