Art is a theme often present in Japanese comics. In fact, many authors have trained as students in artistic schools and universities, and there is no better way to pay homage to the topic except through the medium that for many has represented the final goal of a path full of satisfactions and sacrifices. The examples are numerous.
Let's think about the beautiful Draw! – Kakukaku Shikajika by Akiko Higashimura, published in Italy by J-Pop, autobiographical work in 5 volumes where the author (also known for Kuragehime) tells us gracefully and ironically about the journey to fulfill her dream of becoming a mangaka, focusing on the relationship with the strict teacher of the art course. Or, going back in time, to the pleasant Art of Kei Okubo (who came to us thanks to Panini Comics), which tells the story of a young painter in Renaissance Florence, inspired by the truly existent figure of Artemisia Gentileschi, determined to assert herself by challenging all the conventions and morals of the time. We remind you that Arte will soon be the protagonist of an animated adaptation that will be aired during the spring season.
One of the last manga to come onto the market that addresses the topic is Blue Period winner of the Manga Taisho 2020. Still unpublished in our country, let's discover in this preview the merits of an award-winning work, surprising and worthy of attention by our local publishing.
The craft of the artist
Blue Period is a manga written and designed by Tsubasa Yamaguchi, author known mainly for the comic adaptation of the short film She and her cat by Makoto Shinkai (published in Italy by Dynit in the series Showcase), serialized in the magazine Afternoon of Kodansha from 2017 and still in progress with 7 assets. Due to the target audience of the magazine, home to numerous masterpieces for adult readers of Japanese comics (such as Vinland Saga or The Immortal) Blue Period it's a seinen manga of slice of life / school life. He was nominated for the 2019 and 2020 editions of the Manga Taisho prize, winning it in the second case, the Kodansha Manga Award 2019 and the 24th edition of the Osamu Tezuka cultural prize.
Blue Period tells the story of Yataro Yaguchi, a student in the second year of high school with great talent in his studies but also a little bully: he smokes, wears earrings, always keeps his hair scruffy and loves to follow the football matches of the Japanese national team with his friends. And above all, he doesn't seem to have clear ideas about his future. One day, however, due to an accidental event, comes into contact with the world of art and he discovers he has a vocation for it even if he does not possess any previous talent. Determined to embark on this field, he enrolled in his school's art club and decided to prepare for the very difficult entrance exam to one of the most prestigious, but cheap artistic universities in Tokyo.
The title of the manga clearly recalls the homonymous artistic phase, called the Blue Period (1901-1904), by Picasso, during which the famous Spanish painter produced many paintings in shades of blue, occasionally shaded with green and other colors. And it is indeed with the blue that the protagonist of the manga creates his first real painting in which, after yet another evening of fun with friends, he instinctively pours his impressions of a morning Shibuya (Tokyo district) for the first time fascinating and full of contrasts. A drawing that receives the appreciation of his classmates and his art teacher, and that pushes him definitively to launch into a world unknown to him but wonderful.
A splendid tribute
Compared to Draw!, Blue Period it has a more canonical, textbook version: the incipit is the typical one, seen and seen, of many shonen from the setting and similar premises, where the protagonist starts from scratch and affirms itself, slowly improving, in a certain field. We confess that in fact, without being aware of the target of the magazine where it is serialized, a more adult audience that has allowed the author to insert unthinkable elements in a manga for children (such as the protagonist who smokes), we would have easily exchanged Blue Period for a shonen. Despite this, the manga, in its first chapters, proves itself a really interesting and worthy job, mainly in an aspect often missing or underestimated that differentiates Blue Period from similar productions but aimed at a younger audience: credibility. There is in fact nothing exaggerated, nothing forced or over the top in the narration of the formation of the protagonist as a budding artist, there are no bombastic workouts or unnecessary explanations that would not disfigure in a combat manga of Weekly Shonen Jump.
It's all very realistic and coherent, and the manga tells well the path full of difficulties, commitment and sacrifices that all budding artists are facing in order to establish themselves in a competitive sector full of obstacles. It all happens with one smooth and never heavy narrative style, even if there are some more didactic parts where the text becomes more dense, which however are few and are not absolutely boring.
Indeed, they allow the author to better contextualize the events and developments of the plot, at the same time paying homage to the world of art and revealing its background in the current era. The characters are all well characterized, especially the truly convincing protagonist, and there is some stereotype (such as a classmate for example) crossdresser) which however is not out of place or an end in itself, but functional to the story.
The visual aspect of the manga is excellent, very creative and virtuous especially in the beautiful covers of the volumes (made with watercolors) and in the presence of multiple tables of great impact. For everything else it is a design perfectly at the service of history, effective in the representation of individual characters and in their expressive rendering, but at the same time very personal and recognizable. The numerous paintings in the manga are all made by other artists, dutifully mentioned.