Reviewed by: Eeeper
Released by: Netflix
Age Rating: 16+
Region: 1 - North America
Length: 300 minutes
English [For Hard Of Hearing]
English 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Yatora Yaguchi is a fairly popular student who excels in school, but secretly grapples with feelings of emptiness and frustration. When visiting his high school's art club he is inspired to pursue art. He eventually aspires to attend the Tokyo University of the Arts (TUA) after he graduates from high school.
I used to do art and art design in school, millions of years ago, and I remember it to be a frustrating, often painful, experience that also allowed me to explore aspects of life and my internal monologue. I remember art class went from a period in the week that I dreaded to wanting to paint, draw, and collage to my heart's content. I wasn't a very good artist but I had fun exploring my personality in this setting. So reading the manga, and now the anime, for Tsubasa Yamaguchi's Blue Period let me remember the younger me and find my love for art again. Yatora is an average student, content to study hard and get a job when he leaves school. He's one of millions of people in the world who will live out their lives in happiness and heartache every day. But a chance encounter in the school art room and an assignment from the art teacher will send him places he cannot imagine. Yamaguchi's hero is a very basic but complicated person. He wants to be an artist but the path is thorny and full of personal pitfalls. He messes up, doubts himself, and makes people uncomfortable because he holds his tongue in tight situations until he cannot anymore and bursts out with emotion and heart.
Series directors Koji Masunari (Welcome to the Space Show, MAGI, Kamichu!) and Katsuya Asano (Chocotto Sister, Honey & Clover II, Kamichu!) imbue the show with the same energy and knowledge that makes Yamaguchi's manga so enjoyable: you get an art technique or history lesson and also find out more from the cast as they struggle to complete an assignment. The animation is both still as a picture and inversely colourful, exciting, and forceful. It looks so good, worthy of the vast panels that Yamaguchi draws for their manga, as every episode is a chance to see art (which is depicted as realistic even if it's an anime with its own aesthetic) on screen both for what's painted or draw and for how the show paints its own canvass.
I don't know whether it is deliberate as the manga isn't finished yet but the anime's tone for the characters feels different. Yatora is still the same but I find him to be more emotionless in the early part of the series than he was in the manga. Conversely, his friend Yuka, from their high school art club, (or Ryuji as Yatora calls them, using their birthname) is barely in the first few volumes of manga but here, they become a big motivating factor in Yatora's goal of becoming an artist. Yuka teases him all the time but really they respect Yatora's honesty with others. It's his honesty with himself that fails him sometimes and the show teases it out slowly, showing that it's not lack of technique or courage that cripples him but something more primal. On the opposite side, his friend from Art Club, Mori is the one who triggers his need to take up art in the first place. Mori is quiet, reserved, and kind. She only sees how he could be so good and finds inspiration in what he draws. Yatora is inspired by Mori's vast insight into her own artwork. His teachers in art club and art prep class want to know why he draws what he does. These people plus a great cast of supporting characters help show that Yatora's journey is a story of Greek-adventure size: he'll face sirens, traps, people who mean well but will pull him off-course, and his own self-doubt.
The show perfectly captures the young artist in the thrall of chasing the dream. It's not pretty, plenty of causalities, and every effort paid off requires more effort. But then the show gives you a moment of pure joy as Yatora realises he's made a breakthrough. The colour comes into the scene, he tries to grasp what he's accomplished. While it doesn't have the histrionics of 70's anime dramas like Aim for the Ace or Glass Mask, it shares its energy with them. The chase, the rivalry (even if the hero doesn't want it), and the pain are all there. Yatora is in a race with himself, drowning in stress and doubt. While his supports at home and school are excellent, in the end, he's alone with himself and the canvass. The show also deals with Yuka's terrible homelife and how they feel like they're drowning as they struggle to remain an artist. Yuka is so mysterious in their own life, yet pries into everyone else's business. Yatora and they spark with each other initially before going their separate ways for a time. The episode "Our Blue" is a very deep and personal look at Yatora through Yuka's eyes as we learn both the outward ugliness Yuka deals with and the inward cravenness and listlessness that Yatora doesn't even know he suffers from. I felt such joy for both kids when they emerge from that episode. Life isn't any easier for them but it's more understandable. The episode paints a perfect picture of how conformity and social pressure can crush us when we look like we're fine and grind us down when we struggle to walk, much less run.
Blue Period is a show about art but it's also a show about the people behind the art, how they suffer and succeed as they struggle and race to an uncertain goal line. Seven Arcs have a great story, perfectly executed and animated, and while I'm not certain if there'll be a second season, what we've gotten is just enough. For now, I'll read the manga and wait and see if the paint dries in time for more.
Blue Period is currently streaming on Netflix.