Grand Blue (ぐらんぶる, Guran Buru, also Grand Blue Dreaming) is a diving manga by author Inoue Kenji (井上堅二) (his best known work is probably Baka to Test) and artist Yoshioka Kimitake (吉岡公威) that is…I suppose also a “gag manga”. I think that’s the best way to put it. In other words, a comedy/sports kind of series…technically. In case it wasn’t obvious: Grand Blue is fucking weird. I’m not even talking about how its first chapter is full of young men drinking heavily and getting naked, it’s a strange manga because it’s not “usual”. While it’s often absurd, it can have some heartfelt moments, and when it gets into diving (it does, I swear) it’s overwhelmingly nice. Does that mean it gets sad and depressing at times? Nooope. It’s pretty much 100% lighthearted. How about romance? I noticed in that first page up there there’s a girl talking about how she’ll start living with her cousin — does that mean romance?
Uhhh… Maybe??? No?????
Just, the best way you can put it is to call Grand Blue a gag manga. And it’s a damn good one at that — definitely one of the best. Some readers say it’s the best ongoing comedy manga out right now, and reception to it is extremely positive. To be honest, the kind of humor in the manga that it mostly focuses on doesn’t actually bust my gut. That is to say, “INSANE over the top reactions”, but I definitely had a hell of a lot of fun with the series. My preferences in humor overall would be Hinamatsuri and Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro; I think they’re better comedies (OPINION). That said, I think it’s likely that if you read it you will like it more than I do. In my case, I particularly like this manga because it’s weird. It is its own beast: a college manga that’s really about a bunch of moronic boys sometimes having a good time but mostly being assholes to each other and rarely being genuinely good friends. I also love the art of the series, particularly for the way girls are drawn. Speaking of, the…let’s just call her the “main heroine” of the series is a stellar character, and not only because she’s within my “tomboy” strike zone. But, more on that in the review proper. Let’s get to it.
The manga really seems normal at first (even when something goofy happens). It starts with Kitahara Iori, an ordinary guy, who is entering college and will be staying with his uncle during the next few years. At the start, we have our protagonist looking kind of gloomy, seeing that the name of his uncle’s shop (a diving equipment rental store) is the name of the manga (Grand Blue), and witnessing a beautiful girl at the nearby water’s edge. You get the impression that this will be a series exploring the sport/hobby of diving into the ocean, and the protagonist might have a romance with that girl. Furthermore, Iori thinks to himself typical things like how he wants a new start, college life will be great, etc., when he opens the doors to Grand Blue and sees this:
Bait and switch? Seen it: it happens and it happens a lot. This is just showing that it’s a usual comedy manga then, right? Iori even reacts appropriately: he questions what the hell is going on, he bluntly denies these people, and he makes it clear that he wants no part in this…whatever it is. Apparently it’s just “club activities” for the local college’s (where he’ll be attending) diving circle, Peek a Boo (henceforth “PaB”). They’re trying to decide who will prepare air tanks. They and Iori’s uncle treat this behavior as perfectly normal and act as if Iori has a screw loose, even when the two seniors of the club chase him outside stark naked. It’s “weird”, but not weird for a comedy manga.
Things calm down and Iori learns just a bit about diving; he also learns that the girl from before was actually his older cousin, Nanaka. He mentions that he went to all-boys schools until now and so he wants to separate from the raucous PaB atmosphere. He firmly declares:
And this is where it gets weird, because two pages later we get the second page from the start of this article: Iori drinking and shouting like a complete and total hooligan.
As it turns out, Iori is not a “normal boy”. Iori is an idiot.
Chisa, the “main heroine”, shows up and sobers our main character up a bit by treating him like human garbage, but this is not a momentary lapse in judgement: from now on Iori’s true colors are revealed. I mean it: he’s an idiot.
Oh, and we also learn that Nanaka wants to fuck her sister (Chisa).
Siscon (or Sister Complex), they call it. Chisa is not aware of this.
Throw in a chance meeting between two destined friends…
And there you have it, welcome to Grand Blue.
After this, the manga just kinda goes nuts and in many strange and unpredictable directions. My first thought was that Iori would make amends with his cousin, Chisa, and then Chisa would like…blush or something, making it obvious that 10 years ago, she had a crush on Iori. No. Actually, Iori just doubles down on being awful by demanding she give him her clothes, or else he’ll let everyone know they’re related (thus sullying her reputation by being associated with the moron who came to school first day half-naked and smelling awful). I also find it amusing that it seems Iori mostly doesn’t mind being half-naked in public, he just wants clothes because without them he’ll get in trouble.
The first proper meeting and subsequent interactions between Iori and this guy with the anime shirt also threw me for a loop. The obvious is that these two will become pals, since they had the same thought that they never would be. Still, this is a “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” scenario for the most part. Their relationship begins with betrayal and continues to this day mostly with pissing contests and backstabbing. Also, there’s no diving.
No. No diving yet.
Drinking, though? Yes. There is lots and lots and lots of drinking. There is so much drinking, my god.
Anyway, volume 1 ends and there has been no diving. Iori got that pretty boy, named Kouhei, to join the club for selfish reasons, but all they actually do is take a little dip in a pool, once, with shenanigans aplenty in-between.
Volume 1 does end with Iori being interested in diving, however. He himself had to join PaB essentially by force, he can’t swim, and he never really thought about diving. Chisa, on the other hand, really fucking loves diving. So, seeing that Iori might be having trouble getting interested in this hobby she finds lovely, she suggests that her older sister bring him over to the local aquarium, where he sees this:
There’s an “underwater” dome at the aquarium where you can see what it would be like to dive. Iori is immediately fascinated, but Nanaka tells him this is nothing: this is still a step away from the real thing, so he should probably give diving an earnest shot.
And then? Next chapter, they do it: they dive.
Against all odds this is actually a rare “interests” manga where you can seriously feel the author’s love of the subject, without them overindulging in it such that you just think they looked up how things worked on Wikipedia and filled the rest of the pages with cute girls. Two other examples would be Bakuon!! and Danberu nan kiro moteru?, and Grand Blue joins them well. This manga honestly did make me think about diving. Did you know? You don’t even actually need to know how to swim for it. It seems like a genuinely amazing thing, and you get that impression well from both the art and the writing. A feeling of true and honest adoration is conveyed, and it’s understandable. The previously unreliable and seemingly awful senpai in PaB turn out to treat diving completely seriously (and not in a “serious humor” kind of way), concepts are explained well, and we get some genuinely beautiful scenery. Although Grand Blue rarely actually features diving, it’s a diving manga for sure. Also, it makes sense that they don’t always go diving, because it costs quite a bit of money.
But really, you should probably be reading Grand Blue primarily for the laughs, bros being bros, and bros being dicks to one another. I don’t actually feel like the first volume of Grand Blue sells it absolutely well, though (it’s a bit too unfocused). Please read until the end of volume 2 to determine whether or not the series is for you. Why, you ask? Because volume 2 features the first arc in this series (I know, it’s hard to believe but this series has arcs) and it’s…really fucking good, in my opinion.
I won’t spoil what happens but I will say this: the series reveals in this arc what “good” aspects Iori has, and they actually turn out to be his “bad” aspects. I said it earlier, didn’t I? Iori is an idiot. Iori is an idiot, a fool, a jester; thus, he will willingly demean himself for others’ sakes. You know “nice” characters in series? Iori isn’t one of them (actually, he’s often a real bastard), but when he does nice things he goes way above and way beyond.
Most of the series is just about him being stupid, perverted, or having really bad, horny “friends” who want to kill him because he hangs out with hot girls. There’s fanservice, but not a whole lot (what’s there is good), there is a whole lot of absurd hijinks, and there’s some sweet and pleasant character moments between guys and girls confirming friendship.
Before I end this I should talk about Chisa more. Mostly, Chisa is there to stare at Iori like she’s going to kill him, or to actually try to kill him. When that’s not happening, she’s being obsessed in a really adorable way about diving. When that’s not happening, she’s being like a sister to Iori, who is as a brother to her. They don’t seem to be attracted to one another, although Iori thinks she has a nice ass.
It’s not as if he perves on her. He is attracted to her older sister (and so, his older cousin) Nanaka, but he doesn’t perve on her either and feels like she’s just a sister as well (to put it another way, she’s got an erotic body, but he’d probably never entertain thoughts of going out with her). Generally, I wouldn’t even call Iori a “pervert”, not any more than any young male, although he does some really dumb things in the name of his dick. It’s nice how mostly everyone’s pretty normalized to the “perversions” that most other series would have a conniption over. Refreshing? I suppose a bit.
But back to Chisa, she at first almost seems like she’s specifically interested in getting Iori to go diving, perhaps as a reason to get closer to him, but in reality she just wants peers to enjoy diving with her (Iori is her age, after all). As more characters join PaB, she watches them closely and tries to make sure they’re comfortable with diving, and will want to give it a shot. Seriously, she loves diving and just wants that hobby shared. So…it’s not a romance?
I really don’t know.
The manga struggles this way and that over whether or not Iori and Chisa will start going out. Because of sexual tension? No, it’s not that — there’s no tension, but there are specific situations, character perceptions, and how Chisa is obviously the closest thing this manga has to a main heroine (in the sense of a prominent and significant female character; she’s also heavily featured in cover pages and is the most notable character on the cover of volume 1) to consider. I said it at the start: Grand Blue is weird. Frankly, I don’t know what to think. As it stands, I honestly believe it could go either way, but Iori and Chisa make it more than clear themselves that they aren’t looking for a sexual and/or romantic relationship together. So, you know what? Try not to get too hung up on it. Remember: this is a
diving ma drinki diving manga.
And again: aside from diving, come to Grand Blue for the gags.
I highly recommend that you read Grand Blue, it has easily become one of my favorites. Bearing a good sense of relaxation and closeness throughout the cast, filled with hot girls, and thoroughly funny: this is a special manga. Of course, it’s not only special for these things, but because it is unique. I really can’t think of another manga exactly like Grand Blue. Read it.
You may purchase this series from Bookwalker (guide) CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan. Please do! Although the scanlation is behind by about two volumes, be aware that translations for all of the chapters, including the raws, exist and are online…somewhere. So, I can’t imagine it will be TOO long until the scanlation itself is caught up. The latest chapters have been just as great as others: look forward to them.
I was late again with this review…! BUT, THIS TIME, I should be able to finish my next review on time. I really should. My next review is on a manga that has quickly become a beloved series of mine. Actually, it pretty much immediately became one just when I read the concept and saw the promo image. It’s a real goodie.
Okay! See you then, and thanks for reading.