Story & Art: KAITO
Translation: Adrienne Beck
Lettering: Annaliese Christman
Design: Jimmy Presler
Editor: Marlene First
Publisher: VIZ Media
One’s final year of high school is bittersweet, the last hurdle between childhood and adult life for many young people. Taichi Ichinose anticipates that his final year of high school will be much the same as any other year — fairly uneventful. However, he immediately discovers that his childhood friend Toma Mita is in his class. Toma is a well-liked, good-looking baseball player. Taichi maintains that they have nothing in common other than having gone to elementary and middle school together, but Toma remains friendly with Taichi, referring to him as Tai-chan and chatting with him like nothing has changed between them. Soon Taichi finds out that the timid Futaba Kuze, also in his class and whom he never really liked, has a crush on Toma. For some reason, Taichi agrees to help her win his affections, even though he thinks he knows the person Toma has been in love with for years.
Taichi doesn’t really know how to win Toma over, but he uses their past friendship and his insider knowledge of Toma’s “type” to try to help Futaba transform herself. Futaba, sweet and adorable but painfully shy, takes courage in Taichi’s guidance, going so far as to chop off her long hair after he makes an off-handed comment about making a big change to get Toma’s attention. For his part, Taichi begins to warm up to Futaba, seeing that her weak facade belies a sort of quiet strength within.
To give Futaba the chance to ask for Toma’s phone number, Taichi arranges an “accidental” meeting at the movies. Futaba, too nervous to go alone, brings along her no-nonsense friend, Masumi. After the movie, the group is shopping and Taichi asks Masumi to leave with him so that Futaba has a chance to be alone with Toma and get his number. Toma, alone with Futaba, misunderstands her backward glance at Taichi and assumes she likes him — and tells her that he’s rooting for her.
Meanwhile, Masumi berates Taichi for trying to set Futaba up with Toma even though he knows Toma likes someone else. She informs him, in no uncertain terms, that Futaba needs to focus on exams and cannot be distracted by romance — and that she will never forgive Taichi if Futaba gets hurt. This altercation leads to Taichi wondering why he agreed to help Futaba in the first place, his guilt causing him to push her away. But Futaba won’t allow their newfound friendship to die that easily, and the two of them, along with Toma and Masumi, form an unlikely friend group.
The love-triangle set up isn’t new in high school based manga, as it adds some easy drama without making the narrative too far-fetched. However, Blue Flag freshens the trope a bit, with Taichi feeling closer to Toma than he has in years, in spite of the fact that he’s technically a “rival,” and someone toward whom Taichi already feels inferior. And Taichi’s inklings about who Toma loves are completely wrong; only Masumi knows the object of Toma’s unrequited affections because, as she says, she is “the same.”
Though Blue Flag has been available to read on Shueisha’s Manga Plus website for a while now, it is easily one of the most anticipated print manga to come out this year. Though it has all the packaging of a typical shonen romance series, it is noted for having a compelling narrative involving queer characters that eschews the sometimes problematic trappings of the boys’ love and yuri genres.
Manga creator KAITO, whose Cross Manage is available digitally through VIZ Media, has the ability to draw characters one wants to look at, even though they are not necessarily over-the-top in design. Each expression, whether facial or gestural, is able to convey even the subtlest emotions. And despite the masterful rendering of movement and anatomy, he is also adept at squeezing in the cutesy, weird, and funny chibi-style moments so beloved of manga.
For those who love romantic drama and the sweet pain of a terrible cliffhanger, the first print volume of Blue Flag will be available from VIZ Media on April 21, 2020. The second volume, which helps to solidify the friendships between our four main characters and leaves the reader with even more questions, is set to follow along in June.