THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1 by Okura and Coma Hashii
Story
Characterization
Art
Summary
THAT BLUE SKY FEELING leaves you with a lingering warmth, watching these two boys struggle to work through adolescence together and reach a true, genuine friendship. The setup implies the future for them won't be easy, but it's full of possibilities, and I can't wait for what comes next!
90 %
Refreshing dose of happiness!

When you spend most of your life moving from one place to another, it’s difficult to think about things like friendships or relationships in a lasting way. In THAT BLUE SKY FEELING by Okura and Coma Hashii, protagonist Dai Noshiro experiences another school transfer like the many others littering his past. But this wouldn’t be an interesting manga if this time wasn’t any different, so he finds himself drawn to another boy in class, Kou Sanada. THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1 focuses on the story of Dai and Kou’s blossoming friendship, in spite of the adversity coming their way.

Okura initially created and posted the story as a webcomic on his personal website from 2009-2012. GanGan Joker later picked it up for publishing and Coma Hashii was brought on to do the artwork for the manga remake. To better modernize the story, a few characters received new designs.

All that said, how does the manga shape up as a story within such a usually fast-paced genre like boys’ love? I can guarantee you it moves very slowly. However, I also have to admit that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’ll see why.

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All Aboard the High School Rumor Mill!

It wouldn’t be a high school story without the old-fashioned, but effective, storytelling device: the gossip wagon. When Dai comes to his first class, he discovers that Kou sits by himself a lot and doesn’t really speak much to the other guys. Whenever he asks his new friends about him, they tend to brush him off and say he’s nobody to worry about. Dai doesn’t take kindly to this but initially lets it drop since it seems as though Kou’s perfectly content to be alone.

From sitting out during gym class to eating alone with his childhood friend Ayumi Yamamoto during lunch, Kou stays away from nearly the entire student body. Dai can’t wrap his head around why Kou stays alone. Eventually, he overhears the rumor that Kou Sanada is gay.

Dai exits the restroom, overhearing a conversation about Kou.
Sometimes it takes an overheard conversation to get the gears turning. | Image: Viz Media

THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1 establishes early on that Kou is gay, but keeps the ambiguity up just enough. Dai doesn’t believe the rumors at first. When he first confronts Kou about them, though, he ends up admitting they’re true. A lot of the first volume dedicates itself to Dai coping with having a friend who is gay and trying to parse out his own feelings on the subject.

Addressing the Homophobic Elephant in the Room

Okura’s approach to teenage boys interacting with a gay student is incredibly realistic and I couldn’t be more grateful. Some boys make inappropriate jokes about Kou “getting turned on” during judo matches. Others just express that it feels like Dai is “forcing” Kou onto them, painting it as wanting to respect Kou’s wishes. These responses toe the line between mean-spirited and impassive. They show signs of immaturity, which is natural when one doesn’t normally deal with these things.

Dai is very adamant about the others treating Kou with respect, insisting that they not ignore him or leave him alone. As a transfer student, he knows that loneliness can be suffocating. There’s even a moment where Dai judo flips a student who reacts badly to Kou grabbing his shoulder. He doesn’t tolerate the homophobic thoughts and feelings the other students have at all, despite Kou never saying the remarks bother him.

Dai yells at his friend for potentially upsetting Kou. From THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1
Dai Noshiro is not here for your homophobic nonsense. | Image: Viz Media

However, Okura makes it very clear later on that the person most uncomfortable is Dai. All of Dai’s defenses are made on the pretense of making sure Kou is respected. He never asks Kou how he feels. Dai faces his own internalized intolerance and realizes he’s not the “perfect straight ally” he wanted to be for Kou.

THAT BLUE SKY FEELING is, at its core, the story of two boys trying to come together and become friends despite insecurity. Dealing with homophobia in such an open, mature way, paints a better picture of the realistic expectations a gay person might have when it comes to finding someone who can be a genuinely good ally. Dai has room to grow here and Kou has room to let Dai in.

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THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1’s Lingering Sense of Unease

I talk a lot about Dai in this review, but I think I should discuss the other lead character, Kou. THAT BLUE SKY FEELING makes a lot of allusions to Kou being involved in the online dating scene. This wouldn’t be bad on its own. Unfortunately, the one real negative I have towards this story is the dating scene itself. Early on in Vol. 1, Kou ends up seeing a man he recognizes outside their school and refers to him as Hidemitsu. The two of them talk and seem to be very familiar with one another.

As they walk away, Dai asks who he is in relation to Kou. Kou refers to him as an ex-boyfriend. This man is clearly a man and Dai is understandably shocked. A teenager like Kou having relationships with older men is worrying. Hidemitsu is about 26 and with the protagonists being in high school, I immediately felt uneasy.

Age gaps are unfortunately rather common in the boys’ love genre. Many manga capitalize on teachers romantically involved with students, such as HITORIJIME MY HERO. I’m not a personal fan of relationships where such dynamics of power are at play.

Kou uses the name ‘Hikaru’ whenever he goes on these dates, but he gives his number out to men. I don’t think they do anything sexual. However, Hidemitsu has taken interest in Kou’s friendship with Dai and has offered himself to Dai whenever he needs help or advice on Kou-related topics. I don’t want to doubt Hidemitsu’s kindness, but I do. I really want to be wrong about him.

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Softness and Subtlety Are Often the Key

Back on another positive note, the art does a fantastic job supporting the often easygoing atmosphere. Coma Hashii’s art style really lends itself well to the story. In the afterword to THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1, they mention having to do a lot of research in the hopes of being able to do the characters justice. I love that Dai is a bigger, more heavyset person. In contrast, Kou is very slender, and both of them have different face shapes.

The expressions aren’t very exaggerated, which fits really nicely. A lot of the expressions are more subtle, and the story focuses more on the dialogue between the characters. There are several scenes throughout THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1 where no words are even exchanged. In these scenes, Coma Hashii does a brilliant job showing how these characters are thinking and feeling through expression alone.

Kou has his back turned to Dai, both of their expressions pained.
Even with so little detail, their expressions hold a lot of weight in this scene. | Image: Viz Media

While THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1 sometimes hits a few of the more cliche boys’ love beats, the slow burn, cautious nature of the boys even developing a stable friendship is human and believable. You find yourself cheering for Dai as he tries to get Kou to open up. Likewise, you cheer for Kou, hoping he’ll see that Dai is worth opening up to. Whether they end up a couple or not, their relationship as people takes so much precedence. Their subtle interactions and inability to keep away from one another keeps readers supporting them.

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Are There Clear Skies Ahead?

For a debut manga, Okura and Coma Hashii have created a diamond in the boys’ love rough. A slow, soft romance that prioritizes the building of an actual relationship and the growth of the people involved is hard to find these days. All of the characters, major or minor, will surely find a chance to shine and become better people.

THAT BLUE SKY FEELING truly captures that emotion you feel looking up at a cloudless sky; the deep inhale of fresh air, the slow exhale, and the desire to just lay back and stare for what feels like forever. Their relationship is unfurling very slowly but at a very natural pace suitable for these two hesitant characters.

Steadily, Dai and Kou blossom into who they’re meant to become. THAT BLUE SKY FEELING Vol. 1 serves as the perfect setup to a series. From cute characters you can root for, to believable, human approaches to homophobia and finding one’s place in high school, this story hits all the right notes. I have faith that these characters will reach the happy ending they’re looking for, so I highly recommend giving this story a read!

You can purchase Vol. 1 on Viz Media’s website both in print as well as ebook format.

Featured image courtesy of Viz Media.

One Comment

  1. Kris

    August 15, 2018 at 11:38 am

    I’ve been waiting for a slower paced BL series like this for a while, so I’ll definitely have to give this a shot soon. I also like how the series addresses homophobia instead of pretending like it just doesn’t exist, like most BL series do. If you’re ever looking for another slow paced BL, Star x Fanboy is a really great series. It’s about a celebrity and a fan who meet through Twitter. There’s a trend of people making role play accounts for characters they like, so when the celebrity sees a fan of one of his characters asking to interact with a role play account of that character, he decides to make one, and to hide his identity. They both end up really enjoying each other’s company, and now the celebrity has to decide if he wants to reveal his identity or keep their relationship strictly Twitter based.

    Reply

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