First Impression: Blue Period

Yatora Yaguchi is a walking contradiction, embodying what are usually the mutually exclusive extremes of the teenaged delinquent and the honor student. He spends his nights hanging out with his friends, smoking “socially”, watching the game, and binging on ramen for breakfast, then dons his tie and blazer and pulls off straight As in class. There is a simple theme unifying his paradoxical way of life though: Yatora does what others expect of him. He is a people-pleaser. It just so happens that the people he wants to please are two very different groups: his tough guy friends and his parents who, it is implied, are relying on him to secure a scholarship to finance his post-secondary education. But an after-school encounter in the art room with a painting in progress and a former friend challenges Yatora to consider a different way of life—one where he discovers and pursues his passions instead; one where he can have real conversations with people for the first time in his life about how he sees the world, what brings him joy, and what he would like to pour his heart and soul into. And so begins Yatora’s ‘blue period’ of exploring the possibilities hidden in a single color of paint. Let’s hope it proves just as fruitful as Picasso’s, but without the depression.  

Close encounters of the painterly kind.

This is a well-crafted show: the writing is strong, the art is appropriately well-done, and the characters are rich. Yatora’s willingness to rethink his entire philosophy in the face of one encounter with a painting and an experience with blue paint is a little sudden and not completely convincing, but I’m willing to suspend disbelief because, well, his approach to life up until that point was just so sadly cynical that I want to see him find some genuine enjoyment in life. And hopefully some deep human connection too, which he seems to lack with his pals and ’rents. But which maybe he once had with his friend Ryuuji, who now goes by Yuka-chan, a member of the art club, or Mori-senpai, the artist behind the painting that so arrested Yatora’s attention that evening after school. The series is set to explore themes of socioeconomic hardship, gender identity, and the search for meaning and purpose—and it looks set to do so in a thoughtful way.   

But the main reason I’ll be tuning in next week is the art teacher. Maybe it’s because I’m at that point in life where I identify more with the teachers than the students in stories set in high schools, but I find that among the diverse and well-drawn cast of characters, Saeki-sensei is the real gem of the episode. With her, we finally have an adult in a high school anime who is more than a one note character. She is instead a well-rounded, multi-faceted chameleon. Saeki-sensei does what every good teacher should do, but which is nevertheless rare: she meets her students where they are at. When she’s first introduced, she seems pretty ditzy and maybe a bit of a pervert—but this is because she is attuned to her audience: a group of male delinquents whom she is trying to engage in making art. So if that means playing along with the one dude’s joke, when tasked with painting his favorite scenery, that it is to be found just below his girlfriend’s face, well, play along she will. Later though, we see her practical, instructional side, when she shows a cool head for figures and offers strategic advice to art club hopefuls keen on applying to costly university art programs. Later still, she reveals her charisma when discussing the purposefulness of art, opening her eyes (which had been squinched up cheerily until then) and encouraging Yatora’s budding passion in serious tones. For her part, Saeki-sensei’s philosophy is that risk-taking and following one’s passion is the province of youth, and that Yatora sounds altogether too much like an adult. I am very interested to see if we get a bit more backstory on her, and learn from whence springs her well of wisdom: is she advising out of her own approach to life—tried, tested and true—or out of the mistakes she made and the regrets she must now live with? Saeki-sensei, I look forward to seeing you next week! 

Will Yatora learn what this means? (And if he does, can he please tell us?)

Blue Period can be streamed weekly on Netflix.

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