What does it mean to like someone? This is the central question the main character of That Blue Sky Feeling wrestles with in this unusual and poignant manga. Originally a webcomic, this manga is a remake, with art by Coma Hashii and the story written by the original creator, Okura, that tells a thoughtful story about relationships and friendship… or is it love?
Dai Noshiro is in eleventh grade and just transferred to a new school. He notices that there is a boy in his new class, named Kou Sanada, who is always by himself. He assumes that Sanada must be lonely and so he starts trying to make friends with him. Sanada is standoffish and resists Noshiro’s efforts to get to know him, much to Noshiro’s confusion. Some of their classmates reveal that there are rumors going around the school that Sanada is gay and that’s why everyone avoids him, either out of homophobia or fear of being labled gay by association. This enrages Noshiro, who is quick to defend Sanada against the rumors and chastise everyone for believing them, but Sanada later reveals to Noshiro that the rumors are actually true. Noshiro is initially shocked and doesn’t know how to act around Sanada, but he still wants to be friends with him. As he and Sanada start to hang out more Noshiro finds himself becoming more and more curious about him, until he has to wonder if what he feels towards Sanada is friendship, or if it’s something else?
That Blue Sky Feeling is a somewhat unique manga, as it is a queer romance story featuring two male characters that was serialized in a shounen magazine, a.k.a. a magazine targeted at teen boys. While these types of stories aren’t uncommon in works that are aimed towards women or teen girls, I can’t think of many that I’ve seen prior to this that are aimed at young men. One noticeable difference between this series and the typical Boys Love manga that I’ve read is the design of the main character. Instead of being a chiseled hunk or a beautiful dreamboat, Noshiro is a stocky boy with plain looks and a round face. Definitely not a character that’s intended to appeal to female fantasies! But I found this to be somewhat refreshing and I really liked Noshiro’s character. He’s open, friendly and straightforward; if a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. He isn’t exactly what you’d call worldly and he held a lot of stereotypical views on what gay people were like at the start of the series. But he’s open to having him misconceptions corrected as he becomes closer to Sanada and the other gay characters in the manga. His honest and sometimes over the top reactions to things are hilarious and he’s so naïve about relationships it’s adorable. Noshiro might need to have things spelled out to him in order to understand some things but he always thinks things through sincerely and tries to do the right thing and I quickly fell in love with his character.
Sanada, on the other hand is prickly and, understandably, guarded. It takes him a little while to warm up to Noshiro, but the big lug becomes increasingly important to him as the series progresses. Noshiro is the first person that Sanada has come out to and, while he insists that he has no interest in a straight boy, Noshiro is undeniably his type. Their relationship becomes increasingly complicated as they grow closer and Sanada, who is dealing with some internalized homophobia, becomes more and more worried about making Noshiro hate him. This fear makes him act evasive and he doesn’t always tell Noshiro what he’s really thinking or feeling, leading to plenty of misunderstandings, as Noshiro isn’t really the type who can put two and two together in most situations.
I want to talk about the ending of this manga, as it is rather unique, so if you don’t want to be spoiled feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph. Things finally come to a head between Noshiro and Sanada when Noshiro is asked out by a girl. He agrees to go out with her, partially because he was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to say, partially because he didn’t want to hurt the girl’s feelings and partially because he wasn’t sure if he’d ever have another opportunity to have a girlfriend. This arrangement forces Noshiro to really think about his own feelings. Up until this point in the manga Noshiro had self-identified as being straight, but didn’t show any real interest in girls or in romance in general, aside from curiosity about Sanada’s past love life. Now that he’s dating someone himself things don’t feel right and he finds himself becoming lonely, as he spends less time with his friends and Sanada becomes distant. Noshiro finally comes to terms with what the “like” he feels for Sanada that he’s been struggling to define over the course of the manga actually means. At the same time, Sanada finally resolves to risk letting Noshiro know what he really feels and the two finally confess that they are… special to each other. That’s right, “special to each other”. At the end of the manga Noshiro breaks up with his girlfriend and he and Sanada are closer than ever but they aren’t really sure if they’re going out and Noshiro is still debating with himself if the like he feels for Sanada is love or not. He’s not even really sure what his sexuality is at this point. This might seem somewhat anti-climactic, but this nebulous ending feels fitting for this series. These boys are still young and figuring things out and, after agonizing for so long over what liking someone means and what kind of like they feel and whether it’s different or the same as someone else’s like, the conclusion that they didn’t need to put labels on their feelings or fit their relationship into a neat little box is sweet and even a bit uplifting. I’m glad that these boys are happy and if they’re not quite prepared to say that they’re in love or dating yet, that’s fine.
That Blue Sky Feeling features some great side characters, my favourite probably being Ayumi Yamamoto, Sanada’s childhood friend and the one person who stood by him when the rumors started going around school, but there’s one side character I had something of a problem with. This was Hidemitsu, a 26 year old gay man who serves as something of a mentor figure for Noshiro, listening to him and giving him advice about his relationship with Sanada at several points. He also happens to be Sanada’s ex-boyfriend. As I mentioned earlier, the boys are in eleventh grade, meaning that Sanada was, at best, around 16 or 17 when he and Hidemitsu would have been dating. That this relationship is treated as anything other than exploitative by the manga is hugely problematic. Noshiro initially freaks out when he learns that Sanada was dating an adult, but Sanada brushes it off as no big deal and Noshiro is more impressed that Sanada was “mature” enough to date an adult then he is concerned for his friend. Hidemitsu is treated as if he’s this really kind and accepting guy, but I can’t see him as anything other than a creep and I find his interactions with all of the younger characters to be inappropriate. He really has no business insinuating himself into the lives or relationships of these kids. I wish he hadn’t been included in the story at all, or that the writer had chosen to give him a different connection to Sanada, instead of treating the idea of adults dating teenagers like it’s normal or okay.
That Blue Sky Feeling was a really sweet and emotional story that dealt with the topic of teens experiencing their first romantic feelings and questioning their sexuality with sincerity and sensitivity. It’s a story that can be either an epic bromance or an innocent romance or both, depending on your interpretation. I really wish it had handled the issue of Sanada dating an older man with more thought and care, but overall this is a very well told story and I’d definitely say it’s worth reading.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10.
For more information on this manga check out Viz Media’s website: https://www.viz.com/read/manga/that-blue-sky-feeling-volume-1/product/5604
What did you think of this manga? Did anyone else hate Hidemitsu? Let me know in the comments!