I think I’m glad I waited to come out until I was in college. As far as I can tell, being queer in high school–particularly in Japan–sucks.
Technically, though, I think Ao no Flag / Blue Flag is meant to be a straight romance where the queer characters are side-kicks, which maybe just makes it more depressing?
There’s a lesbian character in this, Itachi, who is incredibly glum, yet weirdly practical. Itachi has this great moment where she’s sitting with the very easy-going, accepting sister of one of the three main characters at some restaurant or other. The sister has guessed that Itachi is a lesbian and is giving her a pep talk, saying, “Be who you are! Who cares if no one accepts you; you can’t please everyone no matter what!” and she says, basically, ‘Yeah, that’s great, except if you’re not like other people, other people are really hard to empathize with.’
I feel this.
I feel this in particular with this manga. I actually like the main boy character, Ichinose, quite a bit, and the mousey girl, Kuze, who initially asks him for help trying to score Touma, the hot guy everyone loves (but who is secretly gay himself). Like, I find myself surprisingly invested in their friendship and how it may blossom into something more.
But, man–oh, man, do I CARE about Touma.
If they’re not happy at the end, I will probably throw my computer at the wall–which would not be good for it. I already have a busted keypad. Itachi is completely right. Being gay means that I am not invested in the same story that the rest of the world is. I’m pretty sure that most of the readers of Ao no Flag / Blue Flag are super-invested in whether or not Ichinose figures out what he’s going to do with his life, what will happen with Kuze and her love for flowers and desire to get into the good horticulture school, and whether or not the random super-attractive ace girl will never not get everyone riled up and start fights…
Yeah, I could care less.
If Touma doesn’t find a nice boyfriend and get out of his restrictive household, I just don’t care.
The series is ongoing and ended (at the time of this review) at Volume 6, chapter 44, right after Touma has been outed to the school…. and I am too old to sit through conversations like the one Ichinose gets dragged into where he has to listen to a homophobe spout off about how it’s fine for him to have punched Touma because he feels sexually predated by the existence of gay men, because all women are meat to him, so clearly he’s meat to all gay men. He literally says, ‘you’d feel different if you were the target,’ which is a special brand of bull, because Touma never even looked twice at this douchebag, much less confessed any interest un him romantically or sexually.
When one of the girls present calls him on this bullsh*t, she has to sit through (as do I), some guy I thought I maybe liked as a character, tell her she needs to be tolerant of people’s opinions because all emotions are valid, even hate.
Uh… thanks for that, Shounen Jump. You can kiss my queer a$$.
Oh, but wait, Jump or Kaito-sensei clearly didn’t feel like they’d pressed that straight panic button enough, because when the girls counter with ‘look, being in love with someone doesn’t hurt anyone,’ we have to go here:
I would probably feel more conflicted about this revelation and my sympathy for this character, if I were not a writer. I KNOW for a fact that Kaito-sensei did not have to make this part of this particular argument. They brought it up with the intention of using Shounen Jump as a format to say, ‘Yeah, well, what about all the sexual predators, huh? It’s okay to hate them, right???”
In case this needs to be said, let me be clear. Predators are predators, regardless of sexual orientation. Gay, bisexual, and lesbian people LOVE people. We are not universally attracted to all men or all women. I like to tell the women I’ve encountered who actually suggest this to me (and, yes, I have heard this argument, ‘but am I safe with you?’) that I’m sorry, but I really only find LESBIANS attractive. And, honey, even if I was hot for you, you’re still safe with me, ‘cuz you ain’t all that and even if you were I can keep it in my f*cking pants AS CAN GAY AND BI MEN.
THIS is why I resist the yaoi trope that gay men “have it easy” since “all they’re looking for is hook-ups” and that, if you’re seduced by a gay guy when you’re drunk you will catch Teh Gay instantly. Because, thanks to these prevalent misconceptions/fantasies/troupes, there are people in real life, who actually think queer folks are constantly on the prowl.
I’m sure that Kaito-sensei feels that they were being reasonable because they were “showing both sides.” And, how can we be mad at them, Touma is completely likable! And, anyway! This story isn’t even about this one tiny moment.
Which leads me back to Itachi.
Because, for me, this is the only story that matters. What happens to the queer folks in this story is the only story I care about.
I freely admit that means I’m not the target audience here, and I won’t deny that until Touma was outed and all this crap hit the fan, I was moderately enjoying a sweet little love quadrangle–I always had a sense that the queer folks weren’t going to end up happy, but I was willing to follow along anyway, just to see how it was handled and because I always hope against hope.
Once the gay characters are in peril? I don’t really care about anything else.
Like Itachi, I lack sympathy for your straight struggles and your bigoted, small minds. I mean, I suspect that’s going to be the point. I suspect that one of the character moments coming up for Ichinose is standing up for Touma, his friend? But, he really hasn’t so far? So, I’m not so sure. Especially since this manga series starts with lines: “A best friend? A lover? Either of them can be good for you. It’s the ultimate choice. Which would you choose?”
That seems ominous.
So, can I recommend this? I mean, of course I will because it’s well-written and compelling, but with a caveat to my queer friends and readers. Beware: possible heartbreak and pain.
Interestingly a non-binary friend and I were talking about queer representation in writing and how SICK they are of the fact that most trans characters are defined by their PAIN. Like, you know it’s a trans character because they’re outed, in danger, and in constant body dysphoria. I will say, this is why I respect Chii-sensei’s decision to write her autobiographical manga The Bride Was a Boy and focus on the happy.
There can be queer drama without queer pain.
Her pain does NOT equal my entertainment.
Gay and lesbian characters used to suffer from this a lot, too. You only know its a story about us because we’re lonely and unhappy and getting queer bashed. And, I guess I’m worked up about this because Ao no Flag / Blue Flag feels to me like it’s skirting the edges of this ‘queer pain is straight entertainment’ vibe. I’m not making that accusation explicitly, yet, however, because the manga is on-going and everything could change in a chapter or a volume.
Which is why I stand by my “yes, I recommend.” It’s not over until it’s over, and so I will reserve judgment. I don’t, as anyone who’s read MangaKast for any length of time knows, have a lot of faith in Ao no Flag / Blue Flag‘s publisher. If Jump can screw the landing, they will find a way. No shade on Kaito-sensei, but their publisher has the worst track record.
Also, how do you spot the Shounen Jump series?
A self-referential panel, of course~