Blue Flag, volume 1, by KAITO

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Publication date – April 21, 2020

Summary: An unexpected love quadrangle with a dash of unrequited love as two classmates, a boy and a girl, begin to fall for each other when each of their best friends have already fallen for them.

For some reason, Taichi Ichinose just can’t stand Futaba Kuze. But at the start of his third year in high school, he finds himself in the same homeroom as her, along with his childhood friend Toma Mita, a star athlete. But one day, Futaba opens up to Taichi and admits she has a crush on Toma. She then asks for his help in confessing to him! There’s just one problem—Toma seems to already have a secret crush on someone else.

Thoughts: Futaba has a crush on Toma. Toma has a crush on Taichi, but thinks that Futaba has a crush on Taichi. Futaba’s best friend Masumi has a crush on Futaba. So far I think the only one who doesn’t have a crush on someone else is Taichi. So, to sum up, we have one guy with a crush on a guy, one girl with a crush on a girl, one girl with a crush on a guy, and one guy who doesn’t seem to have a crush on anyone.

I’m rooting for everyone to end up in a stable group relationship by the end, I seriously am.

I knew from the moment I saw the description of Blue Flag that I wanted to read it. The whole, “but Toma has a secret crush on someone else,” made me wonder if that person was Taichi, and I deliberately went and looked up spoilers to see if I was right. I’ve mentioned before that I keep wanting to read manga with queer characters, but so many BL stories are problematic that I keep getting burned out and disappointed. But Toma’s crush on Taichi instantly made this one stand apart, because that one crush wasn’t the whole of the story. It couldn’t be. Not with Futaba in the mix. I went into this series with some spoilers in hand, wanting to see how it all played out, to see if this presentation of queerness was any better than most of the others I’d encountered.

What I didn’t expect was to have a bonus wlw relationship thrown in the mix! So as much as this manga seems to be playing out like a contemporary high school romance story, it’s already got me more invested than other titles, because there’s a mix of straight and not-straight love going on.

I can really relate to Futaba. Shy, earnest, awkward, generally a loner most of the time because people are scary and weird. Taking out the adorable earnestness, I was pretty similar in high school. And Touma is exactly the kind of person I would have developed an impossible crush on, because he’s considerate and popular and if someone like that had deigned to say kind words to me, I would have definitely felt a pull to them.

Taichi, too, was an interesting character. At first it seems like there’s no much to him, that he’s a “just another face in the crowd” kind of guy, one who doesn’t seem to have much direction in life and is a bit disillusioned with things, not seeing what the point of anything is. But the more he got to know Futaba, the more it seemed like he started questioning that aspect of himself. If shy, awkward, “nobody likes her” Futaba can have hobbies and interests like gardening, for instance, then why doesn’t he? If someone people think nothing of other than to put them down can still have passions in life, then what’s stopping him? It feels as though him seeing an unpopular person still have more of a life than him made him stop and reconsider some things, and that was pretty good to see. Especially in manga, because so often I see the “go home club” type characters glorify their laziness and then often end up having massive story arcs and being Chosen One type characters instead. I get that the point is to emphasize the “zero to hero” bit, but in a more realistic setting, it’s actually somewhat refreshing to see someone go, “Maybe I ought to reconsider what I’m doing with my life,” after seeing someone else have fun with theirs.

I can’t say too much about Masumi yet, because her character shows up rather late in this volume and I haven’t had as much time to learn about her as I have the other three. But she does bring an interesting dynamic to the romance, that’s for sure!

There isn’t too much more I can really say about this first volume of Blue Flag. As a contemporary romance, there isn’t some great big world-changing story arc or anything filled with action and tension. It’s slow-paced, a rather relaxed story, but that does mean that the first volume doesn’t contain too much to discuss. Taichi starts to help Futaba get more comfortable talking to Toma, questions his life decisions, learns some things about his new friends, and that’s it. Even the reveal that Toma likes Taichi and Masumi likes Futaba is a short scene between only Toma and Masumi, so that aspect of the love, er, quadrangle hasn’t really been brought into play yet. It exists almost passively for the moment, though I’m hoping that picks up some in the second volume.

Which I’m absolutely going to read, by the way, because as I said, I’m invested in seeing how this definitely-not-straight romance situation plays out. There’s how I want it to play out, how I half expect it to play out, and possibly a third option in there for how it all might go down, but I’m very curious to see it happen, because I haven’t encountered any manga that attempt to tell a queer love story alongside a straight love story without it basically being very much yaoi or yuri, and at that point, you know how it’ll turn out because of the genre. This has so many variables, so many unknowns, and that mystery is what keeps me wanting to read more.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)