「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.