There’s never been a better time to be a manga fan. With the launch of Shueisha’s Manga Plus app, accessing some of the world’s best manga—and legally, too!—is simply a few taps away. And while the collection features heavy hitters like One Piece and Dragon Ball Super, there are plenty of lesser-known manga just begging to be read. Blue Flag is one of those series.
Created by mangaka KAITO, Blue Flag (青のフラッグ) began its run in the digital publication Shonen Jump+ on February 1, 2017. At first glance, this manga seems to follow the typical school-life drama formula: the shy girl enlists the brooding guy to help her win over his friend, the most popular boy in school. Melodrama, romance, angst: sure, that blurb sounds pretty boring. But I promise you, the Blue Flag manga is far, far, FAR from cliché.
The series opens with a beautiful splash page rendered in watercolor and ink. Taichi Ichinose, the main character, is drawn in soft lines and tones along two other figures. Separating the characters is the tagline, “We’re dyed in blue,” a phrase that highlights the manga’s central theme of adolescence.
In Japanese, the kanji 青 has both a kunyomi reading and an onyomi reading. On its own, 青 takes it kunyomi reading, あお (ao), meaning “blue.” But when paired with other kanji, 青 uses its onyomi reading, セイ (sei), which means “youth.” (That’s how we get words like seinen 青年, as in seinen manga!) Both Blue Flag’s title and tagline allude to youth, as the characters are “dyed in blue,” or “colored in the emotions of youth,” according to the summary.
This theme carries right over to the first page. It’s springtime, the start of a new school year, and while everyone is excited to see their class assignments, high school student Taichi couldn’t care less. He’s too busy feeling sorry for himself: a young man starting senior year with no best friend, no girlfriend, and no motivation. Sure, he’s got a group of nerdy friends, but collectively, they’re on the fringes of the school’s social classes.
Touma Mita, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have those problems. Friendly, popular, and extremely good at sports, Touma is Taichi’s childhood friend. Apparently, this is the first time since middle school that the two have been in the same class. It’s also obvious Taichi and Touma haven’t really spoken much since then, either. Taichi harbors some resentment towards Touma, as the latter appears to have all the great qualities Taichi lacks.
Then there’s their classmate Futaba Kuze, a shy, naive girl. From afar, Taichi has seen her bumble around the school, always dropping things and struggling to speak up. Futaba’s “clumsy and dimwitted” personality, as Taichi puts it, rubs him the wrong way, not because she seems weak, but because she reminds him of his own shortcomings.
So when Futaba suddenly asks him for advice on getting closer to Touma, Taichi is dumbstruck. He’s not entirely sure how to respond since Futaba and Touma’s personalities don’t seem to mesh. Taichi halfheartedly tells Futaba she’d need to do something extreme to get Touma’s attention and suggests cutting her long hair, not thinking she’d actually do it.
The next day, Touma briefly yet cheerfully remarks on how Futaba’s short haircut suits her. Taichi, meanwhile, is shocked she went that far for a single compliment. He exclaims he’s not taking responsibility for Futaba’s radical actions, especially since he already knows Touma has had a crush on someone else since childhood.
However, Futaba’s affirmation to change herself for the better, no matter what the outcome may be, has Taichi second-guessing everything he believed up to that point. He used to think that if you knew yourself and your limits, then you wouldn’t have any reasons to hate yourself. But even with that mindset, Taichi is still unhappy. Seeing Futaba’s desire to improve sparks his own quest for personal betterment. By the end of chapter 1, Taichi agrees to help Futaba get with Touma.
While reading Blue Flag, I found myself thinking of A Silent Voice and the ways in which that series succeeded in capturing the complicated feelings of youth. Like the characters in A Silent Voice, the main characters in Blue Flag struggle to communicate with each other, leading to plenty of misunderstandings and missed opportunities for interpersonal growth, especially when significant events and revelations shake the plot later on (and I’m not spoiling anything here—seriously, read this manga).
And while it’s sometimes frustrating as a reader to see Futaba not taking hints in flirtatious situations, or Taichi ghosting his friends when he’s upset, we can’t really blame the characters for their shortcomings. They’re still kids. They’re still learning. KAITO’s ability to realistically depict the messy world of youth—from complex emotions to volatile relationships—without resorting to trite school life melodrama is what gives Blue Flag its charm.
If you’ve ever felt uncertain about the future or struggle with defining your identity, then do yourself a favor and give Blue Flag a shot. I promise this series won’t let you down.