「全然焼けてねえ」 (Zenzen yake tenē)
“I’m Not Burned At All”

Two episodes in, and Blue Period is delivering exactly as expected – as in, setting a marker that any other show in the fall schedule is going to have a very tough time matching. Looking over things is the question of how many episodes we’re going to get, but with no announcement this late in the game I’m assuming it’s a one-cour (which will present some challenges). And there’s just that little part of me that’s salty that this isn’t getting an ultra-premium adaptation from Wit or Bones – given the theme, the potential for visual splendor is basically limitless.

Any way you slice it, though, in the big picture those are niggles. The anime has an incredible canvas here – or to flip analogies, incredible raw ingredients to cook with. This material is just so deep, so sensitive, and so emotionally accurate. I’ve read enough of the manga to know that but even if I hadn’t, it would be obvious from these first two episodes. I’ve also read enough of it to know that the anime is tweaking some things in terms of the ordering of events (among other things) but manga readers will know that this series needed that in order to work as an anime. It’s getting all the big stuff right so far, and that trumps everything else.

One of the things we’re asked to take on faith is that Yatora-kun is a natural when it comes to art, but I don’t think there’s any suspension of disbelief there – some people are. The thing is he’s also a grinder – he works hard. He always has – the whole yankee thing was basically an eminence front. It’s just that now he’s working at something he loves rather than simply doing what he thinks he has to for his parents’ sake. And as Saeki-sensei pointed out in the premiere, the kids that are doing that have a big advantage over everyone else. It’s easy to bust your ass when you give a damn about why you’re busting it.

In fact Yatora cranks out 30 sketches during the new year break, when most of his clubmates were bitching about their assignment of a fraction of that. He’s still very green at this point, but Saeki gently nudges him in the right direction (the pencil trick was clever). Yatora is convinced that her praise for him is a token of his weakness, but in fact he’s displaying real ability as an artist. This struggle to believe in himself is a major part of Yatora’s character arc, and indeed a major part of most real kids’ character arcs at this stage of their lives. He’s extremely lucky he figured out what his bliss was early enough to follow it – a lot of people don’t.

The really striking thing about Blue Period is how natural and effortless the flow is. “Authenticity” is a word I used last week and it really applies. I think the casting of mostly unknowns plays into that – it’s always a gamble, but these actors seem mostly very good and the fact that they’re not instantly recognizable really helps the show stay in the moment. Each of the art club members has a distinctiveness to them, though it’s Mori-sempai and Yuka (who this week takes mostly to wearing the girls uni on top and boys on the bottom) who really stand out. I adored Mori from the moment she appeared in the manga and it’s no different in the anime – she’s a sempai for the ages. She manages to correct Yatora while seemingly praising him in a way that’s, well- artful.

While it doesn’t dominate screen-time, though, in many ways it’s Yatora’s interaction with his parents that’s the key to this episode. His father is worryingly absent, but his mother very much a presence. Ultimately it’s they he has to convince if he really wants to pursue this dream. And she’s skeptical, as any mom would be – he’s a kid who’s never shown any deep commitment to anything, even as he’s been dutiful where he needs to be. Slowly, though, she comes to see how serious he is about this – and that he’s gifted. This is reality, though – when you don’t have money a parent has to worry whether their child is choosing a path where he can support himself. And art school is a hard sell in that department.

What ultimately moves the needle isn’t the sketch of her that Yatoru gives his mother. It’s his explanation of what doing it – and what doing art generally – has meant for his sense of perception. As any Shinkai Makoto fan knows, art can capture the essence of something more deeply than any photograph – the act of observing his mother caused Yatora to see details that he would never have been aware of otherwise. And for this woman, who toils (as so many Japanese women do) in the home mostly by herself, being truly seen in this way – especially by the person she probably loves more than anyone in the world – is an extremely powerful (and vindicating) experience. As for Dad, we’ll have to wait and see.

The power of art is something that definitely comes through here, as it needs to for Blue Period to work as a story. I have no talent and no intrinsic understanding of the visual arts, but I do get this – the need to express oneself, and the desire to see the essential truth in one’s universe. As Mori-san notes, painting probably started out as a sort of prayer. And in the sketch she gives Yatora in their exchange, she communicates her desire to see him continue to believe in himself and the path in life he’s chosen to follow. We should all be so lucky as to have a sempai like that, a passion to pursue, and the talent to give it our best shot.

6 Comments

  1. I majored in studio art (minored in art history) and I have loved this show for it’s brutal portrayal of the reception and attitudes others typically give art students:
    “My kid could paint that” ; “You could do so much better” ; “What, do you think you will get rich and famous?” ; ‘I know a lot of waiters with art degrees” ; ect ect.

    This episode’s time spent on snapshots of the in-classroom experience rings pretty true but was probably more interesting to those without 1st hand experience.

    My challenge in this show is the MC.

    Most dedicated art students are like Mori: been drawing since we could hold pre-school crayons. I did know some late-comers: empty nesters and retirees seeking to learn about that vague thing they didn’t understand at all. High school art and beginning level classes at a liberal arts college are mostly kids looking for an “easy A” for required electives.

    It seems the timeline is quite crunched and the anime has not been good at showing how long has passed but it looks like the MC flipped a switch: he went from sneering at art to dedicating himself to art school within… days? He feels bad because his work doesn’t show the same level of skill as the senior who’s been drawing for roughly 15 years?

    I find it hard to sympathize.
    I will find it hard to buy in if he ends up snagging a very elite school spot. “Natural talent” is an illusion; it’s roughly 90% dedication and practice. Natural aptitude exists but it rarely to never surpasses dedication and practice.

    I could accept this character’s arc if it involves him striving for it with the ups and downs, while watching and rooting for his fellow classmates striving for the same. The story will be more …. realistic if he fails in this goal but still displays and accepts how much the striving helped him grow and how an education in art is personally rewarding in ways which can be beneficial even in other schooling and work.

    An art education isn’t going to land a graduate into a 6-fig job like an engineering degree can. In fact, it’s unlikely to land a job in art.

    But it’s worth it for those who are interes… er, obsessed. The MC has clearly become obsessed which makes the goal worth it. But I’ll be disappointed if this show flips from a fairly realistic portrayal of art students and how they are treated to one in which the MC can grind past 195 students with more education, experience, and focus.

    Danny
    1. I’m totally there with you, couldn’t agree more, but like Yato I too had that flip of switch and the people around me inspired me to start drawing and take art seriously (been going strong 15 years now), many of the things Yato is going through right now, I too experienced them, and like you said art is all about grinding your way through it. But I see Yato’s sudden interest as something he compartmentalized because so far he lived his life in order to please others. His friends, he went out with them, stayed up late, and watched soccer games, all in order to please them and fit in, his parents when he studied and actually got good grades. And now he finds art, and it’s the one thing he can have to himself, but he finds it’s going to be hard, and that challenge is what keeps him going, that self-pressure of not being good enough. I feel he’s the type of person who didn’t have anything, no goals, just the daily grind. And now he found something and is pushing himself to achieve it, because before he didn’t have a single dream to speak of. It’s my interpretation at least. 🙂

      1. This is an interesting debate between the two of you for me. As I said I have zero talent for art and never did, so it’s hard for me to say whether that part of the experience is genuine or not. More generally though I think the series really nails adolescence and the dynamics of creative discovery and families.

  2. I understand you have your particular tastes and that’s fine, but I really wish you would stop shitting on every other show airing in nearly every post you make. You don’t need to start out every post saying how “this show is so far above everything else airing” yada yada. It has long gotten old and you word it as fact which it absolutely is not. Go ahead and gush about the show all you want, but there is no reason to attack everything else.

    Avalon00

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