This is going to be a weird first/possibly only review for me. Blue Friend (ブルーフレンド) is a short shoujo manga series by Eban Fumi (えばんふみ) that features two completely different and unrelated stories that are given unequal time. The first story is Blue Friend, and takes place over two volumes. The second story is called Blue Friend 2nd Season (ブルーフレンド 2nd Season)…but if you want to buy it, it’s just “volume 3” of Blue Friend. To make matters more confusing, I actually like 2nd Season more than, uh, “the original story”, so this is just going to be weird for all of us. Oh, and this is an odd one in terms of English translation because the group that did it demanded that it only be hosted on their website. Hoo boy.
So, what kind of manga is this…are these(?)? While they are different, both manga tell the stories of kinda yuri (that is, lesbian) romance born of friendship. The first series is essentially a drama, while the second is more of a comedy. The first one is also more about exploring twisted relationships, while the second is…eh, different (it’s sort of a look at culture/society, I guess). Blue Friend 2nd Season is one of my favorite manga. It’s cute and fun and sweet, and weird enough that it threw me off a few times. Blue Friend (original) is interesting, but it’s rather painful and not one of my favorites. So…I’m going to talk about 2nd Season first and Blue Friend second, so I can be sure more readers pay attention to the manga I like more. It’s fine if you read 2nd Season first/only, by the way: again, the two stories have no actual connection.
Shimizu Kanako is starting a new year as a freshman at an all-girls high school. She seems pretty generic: she’s shy and wants friends. Alright. So, she makes some friends.
She gets pretty sick of it, fast.
Blue Friend 2nd Season has a big problem with social norms, and I’m not talking about the upcoming question of homosexuality, actually. There is this…how do I put it? This intricate system of bullshit that spins the wheels of the “world of girls”. Our protagonists are girls, and I’d even call our main character here a fairly girly girl, but she isn’t locked in 100% with “how girls work”, or at least how Japanese high school girls work. How do they work (at least here)? With a lot of passive aggression, strategically employed niceties, and a “fall in line or get out” mentality. It’s stifling and restricting with the benefits being “friends” (read: people you can hang out with/use for your own gain). Kanako can’t stand it.
So, she explodes.
She was not alone as she yelled, however.
This is Kamei Ao, and she doesn’t have the problems Kanako has. She is…honest.
She might be too far along the other spectrum, though. Not only does she value being honest, she has a very standoffish attitude and is unabashedly rude.
When she spots Kanako shouting on the roof, she tells the girl that it’d probably be better to not drag herself through the mud and just be real with her feelings. Kanako isn’t inspired by this or anything, actually; instead she takes offense since Ao is friendless and gloomy and weird, so advice coming from her seems bothersome and worthless.
That said, events transpire and eventually Kanako becomes a little honest herself.
Proceeding from here, the two of them experience steady character development — Kanako growing honest and Ao trying to be less stiff and grumpy. And, of course, they also start becoming friends. Kanako cuts ties with her “friends” and grows a spine, Ao cutely accepts a proposal for friendship, and down the line there’ll be some yuri stuff if you’re wondering about that. You can probably finish the whole story in less than an hour, and it’s both entertaining and sweet. It has some surprising curve balls, too, especially with a specific side character. I kind of wish there was more to the story because of that side character, actually. Without spoiling anything, she ends up seemingly twisted but not actually. I felt sympathy for this character who kind of got caught up in and chewed up by “the world of girls”, and turned out worse for it — but not awful. It’s kind of like…she looks a lot worse than she actually is, and the series ends with no actual resolution to her conundrum, leaving her in a just plain bad and miserable position. It made me oddly sad despite the happy ending our main characters get. But! Well, this ain’t a story that’s about sad things, which is ultimately why I liked it so much. It’s about a good pair of characters growing up in ways I don’t often see, and it’s fun. Read it! You can get it from Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan. Remember, Blue Friend 2nd Season is just Blue Friend volume 3.
So, how about Blue Friend (original)?
The first two volumes of Blue Friend tell the story of main character Kurihara Ayumu and the girl who will become her best friend, Tsukishima Misuzu. They’re middle schoolers this time (although funnily enough, they look older than the main characters of 2nd Season). This one is pretty fucked up, really.
Ayumu is the sporty one, and Misuzu is the one with obvious problems. The thing about this about this manga, though, is that things are not black and white. Misuzu is clearly a character who has some serious issues, since the first time we see Ayumu really interact with her, she completely overreacts over Ayumu taking her cute eraser from her desk to look at it for a moment. She says she hates men, but she actually hates women too — pretty much everyone and she has a major inability to trust others. On one hand, since it’s obvious that she’s been hurt in the past, you feel compelled to accept her worse behavior and want to see her healed. On the other hand, it is made a point that she is irritating, whether or not she wants to be. So, after Ayumu becomes her friend there are many issues to overcome due to Misuzu not really knowing how to be a friend. Primarily, this becomes troublesome due to Misuzu becoming horribly possessive.
The next troubling thing is that Misuzu actually falls in love with Ayumu, and quite quickly. Ayumu may not be into that, however, and this causes a slew of other problems.
Basically, the original Blue Friend is a more complicated examination of friendships, as well as a fairly honest look at mental disorders without being overly sympathetic toward victims, which is daring and rarely done. It’s somewhat tragic, too, but like in 2nd Season the characters go through a number of changes by the end, especially Misuzu.
It’s a fairly powerful story, but I like it less than 2nd Season because it isn’t lighthearted at all (moments of levity are very rare) so it’s not an easy read. I also didn’t feel as attached to the characters since the manga felt primarily concerned with the relationship the characters had than the characters themselves. I guess what I mean to say is that Kanako and Ao felt like they had more life and roundedness to me than Ayumu and Misuzu. If you’re going to read any part of Blue Friend, 2nd Season (volume 3) is probably the safer bet for enjoyment if only because it’s significantly less dour.
Anyways, that’s that. The last thing I’ll say is that if you like yuri: again, both of these stories are rather light on the actual yuri elements. That said, it isn’t really subtext in either case, it’s just that neither manga is really “about” that aspect. Either way good stuff, I’d say.
Thanks for reading. Next time I’ll be going over another manga, but saying what it’s about would probably give it away immediately since there’s only two manga of its kind out and notable right now. So, uh…wait for that.