Story & Art by KAITO
Translated by Adrienne Beck
Lettering by Annaliese “Ace” Christman
Design by Jimmy Presler
Edited by Marlene First
Among the many talented mangaka that never found success in Weekly Shonen Jump, KAITO is one of the most memorable. Despite its cancellation after 5 volumes, their 2012 sports manga Cross Manage continues to have a passionate cult following and has been praised by many. After the cancellation of Cross Manage and their follow-up Buddy Strike, it seemed like KAITO couldn’t catch a break, but with their transition to Shonen Jump+, there also came a change in their luck. KAITO’s most recent work Blue Flag departs from their familiar sports series background, but is by far their most ambitious and compelling series to date.
Blue Flag centers on high schooler Taichi Ichinose. While Taichi has a fairly ordinary life, his childhood friend Touma is incredibly popular, causing their relationship to become increasingly distant. When a shy girl named Futaba asks for Taichi’s help in confessing her love to Touma, a complex relationship begins.
Taichi and Futaba’s developing friendship is one of the immediate draws of Blue Flag. Early on, Taichi feels distant from many of his peers. While he has a small group of friends, he rarely interacts with those outside it. Taichi is content in his social status and has no desire to forcibly change it. In this way, Futaba serves as a unique contrast to Taichi. Despite being viewed as shy and awkward, she wants to get closer to a popular guy like Touma. In Taichi’s eyes, Futaba and Taichi are in two untouchable worlds, but Futaba is driven to cross that divide. It creates a unique dynamic that gives their friendship a deeper nuance.
The most interesting aspect of Blue Flag is its exploration of sexuality, particularly through the characters of Touma and Futaba’s friend Masumi. By the end of the first volume, it’s clear that Touma is in love with Taichi, while Masumi loves Futaba. This turns the entire series on its head, while also making Taichi and Futaba’s intentions all the more complex. Despite the burdens they bear, neither Touma or Masumi want to confess their feelings to Taichi and Futaba, but they also want the two of them to be happy. It creates a situation where no one can be satisfied, instead forming a mess of emotions in our main cast. This exploration of love embodies the struggles of youth, and makes Blue Flag feel even more compelling as a result.
KAITO’s artwork has always been impressive, but Blue Flag elevates it to a whole new level. The manga has a soft visual style, fitting the emotional tone of the story itself. This is also reflected in the backgrounds too, as there is a heavy use of white with minimal shading. When KAITO introduces darker colors into the panels, this often coincides with the negative emotions of the characters themselves. This can be seen when Taichi gets frustrated throughout the manga, as shades of black will seep into the background as he falls into despair. KAITO’s facial expressions are also consistently effective. Blue Flag is filled with subtle visual cues, and the reactions of the characters help convey the narrative subtext. Whether it’s Touma’s friendly smile or Futaba’s shy demeanor, their appearances provide depth to their characters that mere words do not convey. Blue Flag is simply beautiful and it’s a pleasure to experience.
Blue Flag is KAITO’s best work to date, serving as a captivating story of adolescence and emotional exploration. It’s cast of characters is simply amazing and the manga is visually stunning from start to finish. This is one manga that you shouldn’t skip out on.