Every so often a volume lands in your lap (or downloads to your digital reader of choice) and instantly becomes your new favourite. With such a broad and diverse selection of manga and light novels available on the shelves today, that’s no easy feat either. To a certain extent, we can chalk it up to the joy of starting something new. Especially if that feeling can be bolstered by positive word of mouth from fans and a generous helping of hype.
But truthfully the proof is always in the manga-flavoured pudding, of course. While I had a certain level of expectation from the strong reception I’ve seen for Blue Flag (Ao no Flag) online. I never expected how much I’d fall in love with this beautiful, hilarious and heartbreaking manga. With all that said, the question remains. Is Blue Flag volume 1 worth reading?
Friend or lover
Blue Flag follows a central trio of three 3rd year highschool students, Taichi Ichinose, Futaba Kuse and Toma Mita. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be smitten with all three before the end of the first chapter. Be it Taichi’s thoughtful nature, Futaba’s adorable awkwardness or Toma’s admirable gentle giant qualities. It’s almost impossible to not find these three endearing or sympathetic on some level. It’s a good thing too because after ensuring you’ve got an emotional connection with Ichinose, Kuse and Mita, author KAITO is quick to throw them into a love triangle melting pot which has a stubborn tendency to boil over at times.
You see, lovestruck Futaba has a crush on big ‘ol softie Toma, but she’s been too nervous all these years to confess her love. After an extremely embarrassing encounter together, she turns to Ichinose. Seeking his advice, as he used to be Toma’s best friend back before high school. These days, however, things between Ichinose and Toma are quite complicated.
Toma is smart, athletic and handsome, a “different species” to the average Taichi and his current colourful entourage. Taichi himself admits they aren’t close anymore. With the amount of time he spends with Taichi, away from his popular friends, Toma thinks otherwise. Taichi, despite his detached and distant exterior, clearly has feelings for his childhood friend. Feelings he has never confessed to Toma, or himself. Things get even more complicated when an awkward Futaba musters up the courage to approach Toma
You have a crush on him, right?
Witnessing Futaba overcome her nerves and make an effort to express her feelings for Toma evokes a mixture of emotions inside Taichi. He agrees to help her out, but there’s something dark bubbling under the surface. This darkness is represented fantastically by KAITO’s stellar art throughout, with black shadows appearing intermittently around Taichi, or in his thought boxes. A storm of emotions threatening to engulf him. Then the romance boot camp kicks off. As Taichi and Futaba fruitlessly endeavour to transform Futaba into the perfect type for Toma.
These short snippets provide an ample amount of brevity and humour between the more emotional moments of the manga. KAITO has a superb handle on pacing. Knowing when to ease off the throttle and let us catch our breath and when to floor it for the gut-punches. And boy, we sure do get plenty of gut-punches.
Blue Flag volume 1 spoilers
Remember the love triangle melting pot? Well, now it’s boiling. A cinema date for Toma and Futaba inadvertently becomes a double date when the nervous Futaba brings her friend Masumi Itachi along for moral support. Of course, Taichi gets roped along as well. After being a background character, Itachi makes herself known in a BIG way.
You see, Itachi is fiercely loyal to Futaba. She scolds Taicihi for messing with Futaba’s heart. At the same time that Toma mistakes Futaba’s awkwardness as a crush on Taichi, instead of him. So as you can imagine, the date doesn’t exactly go according to plan. And, perhaps Itachi is even more “loyal” than appropriate?
The real gut punch arrives later, however. After spending time and recalling his past with Toma, Taichi finally comes to terms with some truths. It’s a sequence of events that leaves you feeling emotionally raw, and it occurs halfway through the first volume. Fully fleshed-out series rarely evoke such powerful feelings in me. However, KAITO managed it before he even hit double digits in chapters. Sobering yet powerful. Did I mention you’re going to need a box of tissues for this one? Better stock up!
I wonder if she’ll forgive me
The hits don’t stop there! KAITO is swinging for the fences with this one. In the aftermath of the cinema date from hell, Taichi struggles to come to terms with his feelings while Futaba is attempting to reconnect. In a scene that evoked similar feelings to another heart-wrencher, A Silent Voice, the duo has a bittersweet heart-to-heart. With one desperate to let their feelings out and another terrified to reveal their own. Once again, humor arrives in the nick of time, but there’s undoubtedly some unfinished business for Taichi. Just as Futaba has a battle to overcome in her shyness, Taichi finds himself up against an emotional gauntlet of his own.
While order (of sorts) is restored for two out of three of our protagonists, things start to get a lot trickier for the last, Toma. Throughout the volume, Toma’s upbeat positivity has in many ways been a lighthouse for Taichi, Futaba and the reader. A shining beacon of hope as well as the final goal on their ambitious quest. It turns out this lovable lighthouse has a couple of skeletons in it’s, bulb?
It seems that Toma has been repressing some emotions of his own. We learn he had a pretty tragic past despite his chipper demeanour. In a climactic confrontation with Itachi towards the end of the volume, we see a frightening new side to him. With his outer shell cracking a little. Like earlier with Taichi and Futaba, it’s another case of concealed emotions revealed. Setting the stage for a lot more drama to come, and no doubt a lot more heartbreak in the process. It looks like I need to stock up on those tissues!
Is Blue Flag volume 1 worth reading?
It most certainly is! The last series to have this strong a first impression on me was Jujutsu Kaisen. If you’ve read any of my gushes, ahem, reviews for that series, you’ll know I was hooked from the start. Now I find myself on the same boat with this series! KAITO really has crafted something special here. Gorgeous, clean art depicts an emotional tale of friendship, love and everything in between. The cast are all extremely likable. The pacing doesn’t miss a beat, and the unexpected humour hauls you through even the most heartbreaking moments, of which there are many. At times it’s a tough read, unflinchingly honest, but it’s also fulfilling, heartwarming and gripping to an equal effect. Blue Flag volume 1 was an utterly captivating read, and I cannot wait for volume 2 to drop!