I have a habit of sometimes drowning myself in nostalgia, which inevitably leads to regret—nothing serious, but even at my age I’ll entertain the thought, “I wish I could have lived [insert period of life] all over but as I am now instead of as who I was then.” We all make mistakes, but there are those of us who were also immature, younger even then our ages reflected. That was me: always too inexperienced, too senseless, too childish for his age. In high school, that meant that while many of my friends were transitioning into becoming men, I was still clearly a boy.
The differing levels of maturity among two boys and two girls are what form the central conflict at the core of the first volume of Blue Flag, the recent manga release from Viz (volume two comes out next month). One pair knows what they want but are unable to attain it; the other doesn’t yet seem to know what they want at all—they remain childish, just as I was.
As the manga begins, Taichi dwells on his relationship with Touma, a childhood friend whom he swears he’s no longer close to. It’s an inaccurate assessment, but it’s just like Taichi to make it; he endlessly considers who he is and what other people are, seemingly self-aware—except that he isn’t. The proof is in the division between his thoughts and reality: He says he has no friends, though a trio or similarly nerdy guys worry about him all the time; dismisses his intimacy with Touma, though the latter obviously still treats him as a close mate; and is unaware of how much he belittles Kuze, a shy, clumsy girl who becomes one corner of the love triangle that mangaka KAITO points toward through most of the opening chapters.
Kuze, on the other hand, is more obviously clueless. She searches for books on how to make herself attractive to guys and makes drastic changes at the mere mention of what someone else might like to see in her. It’s that naivete that makes me question if she really likes Touma as she purports—that and the very questions she asks. Not only does Kuze go to Taichi to probe him about what Touma was like a child, she also asks what Touma is like period. A strange query to make about the boy you’re obsessed with!
Taichi answers that Touma is pretty much who he appears to be: kind, sensitive, athletic, smart. I’m reminded of childhood friends whom I admired, those who were like older brothers—childish enough that we could speak the same language, but grown up enough that I learned from them and felt challenged in their presence, even electrified, as if I was spending time with someone years older. That’s how adolescence is (and even adulthood, to be completely honest)—we’re all growing up at different rates. The main characters in Blue Flag are seniors, but some are more like 22-year-old seniors and others are mentally more like 15.
In that framework, the less mature Taichi and Kuze think they have it figured out when they really don’t, while Touma’s romantic challenge is different. He knows who he wants to be with, but is constrained by other elements, deeper ones beyond boy crushes on girl.
While I don’t want to assign a maturity to Touma that hasn’t necessarily yet been demonstrated, the story points to it (spoilers for volume one ahead). The revelation of his living situation and the assumption that he had to grow up fast may be the impetus for his maturation. Experience, again, has shown me that many of my friends who had difficult family situations in their lives were the quickest to talk and act beyond their years (as much as they could). But also, it’s the object of his affection that leads me to think his challenge is commensurate with his mental age.
The final pages of Blue Flag volume one drop the most significant reveal of all: Touma is in love with Taichi.
It’s not necessarily a surprise—hints abound from the beginning of the volume, including the cover image which features Taichi at the center, representing the triangle, rather than Kuze. But the violent way in which his feelings are exposed, along with those of the fourth character (a more unexpected development, though perhaps not in hindsight), tell me that these two are in a different world from Taichi and Kuze. The distance between Touma and Taichi, for instance, feels like years. Taichi is trying to understand himself and may be harboring a crush on Kuze; Touma, on the other hand, knows himself very well, and has what feels like a full-out love for Taichi, one developed over many years, but is unable to express it, maybe because of his worry for his friend or societal expectations. In that way, this distance is more like the one in After the Rain—though their ages may not be 25 years apart, their maturity levels may just be.
And that dynamic is what’s most interesting about this series. The revelation in chapter five is like the visible part of an iceberg—the massive piece above hides an even larger one below. I think there are hints that the KAITO knows this, too, as he’s setting up a story that’s far deeper than boy x boy x girl / girl x girl x boy—he’s looking at the incredible distance each person must travel in their relationships with one another, and more importantly, in growing up and learning about themselves.
And if that’s the case, I’m eager to see where Blue Flag leads, and more importantly, how it gets there.