Blue Period Review: The Broad Strokes

Studio: Seven Arcs

Director: Koji Masunari

Streaming on: Netflix

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, as the poem goes, and I’ve always felt that strongly. I thought growing up I had two potential artistic callings; obviously one was writing, but I’ve wanted to be good at drawing for my entire life. The reason I chose to pursue writing is actually kind of silly; I didn’t realize how bad I was starting out, so I didn’t get discouraged.

When I would draw or paint, it’s so readily apparent that I was terrible. When appreciating the Pieta or the Mona Lisa, you don’t need to know anything about paint mixing, shading, or composition. With writing, you generally need to train yourself to pick up on what’s bad. You have to know how to look for messy plots, inconsistent characterization, and cringe-inducing dialogue. An eleven-year-old weeblet didn’t grasp how terrible I was, and enjoyed writing enough to keep doing it.

Alas, every once in awhile I wonder if I could pick up art, and I try it for as long as it takes me to draw hair before throwing my pencil aside in disgust. Maybe what I needed was an introduction to the finer points of art, perhaps through the story of someone discovering the joy of creating art.

Today, we’re talking about Blue Period, the hotly-anticipated seinen manga adaptation, and one of the first anime to break out of Netflix jail in years. Is it remarkable in any other way? Only one way to find out.

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Yatora Yaguchi is the envy of his classmates. He’s a top student, popular, and spends all his nights out drinking with his friends. He has it all without putting in an ounce of effort, or so it seems. In truth, he works himself ragged to get good grades despite not being especially intelligent. He puts up an easygoing persona, but it masks the stress and anxiety he eases by chain smoking.

The fact that he’s living a lie doesn’t seem to bother him until he stops for a moment and gets a good look at Shibuya in the early hours of the morning, and something he can’t identify stirs. He sets it aside when his friends don’t catch his meaning, but he can’t shake the powerful emotion that comes by seeing the neighborhood in those sunrise shades of blue. When he’s asked to paint a landscape in his blow-off art class, an idea forms, and for the first time in his life, Yatora tells everyone what he’s honestly feeling. Or rather, he shows them.

While his skills are unrefined, his raw art style strikes a chord with his teacher and classmates alike. He’s reluctant to pursue art any further, on account of his family being unable to pursue an expensive art school. Luckily for him, then, that the Tokyo Art Institute is a public university with affordable tuition. Unluckily for him, he’s a novice artist attempting to enter one of the most competitive schools in the country.

Yatora’s now in a desperate struggle to catch up to and surpass his his peers in the middle of his second year, all while having to convince his parents to spring for an art cram school.

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This is an art anime, so I should probably talk about the art, right? Don’t tell me what to do. The best thing that Blue Period has going for it is its writing. Yaguchi is likable, relatable, and the immediate supporting cast around him has a lot of promise. Most people can sympathize with being forced to participate in a dreary academic and social system, and he’s got enough of that anime protagonist grit and work ethic to win me over.

By the third episode, they’ve already introduced a handful of compelling rivals and friends to keep Yatora company on his journey as a burgeoning artist. The tension in the story is primarily derived from his inexperience as an artist, and the little time he has to become proficient. I mean, giving your protagonist a tall task and not enough time to do it is basic storytelling, but it’s also an effective way to get me to root for him.

And the introduction of Takahashi, an art prodigy, only builds the intrigue. Yatora is struggling to compete with people who have been working hard a lot longer than he has, but now he has to go head-to-head with a bona fide genius. Again, hard work versus natural talent isn’t revolutionary, but the reason people keep going back to it is because it works. The story actually reminds me a lot of Bakuman, which I swear I will get around to writing about as soon as I can finish the Death Note manga and talk about both of them.

Overall, Blue Period is smartly written, although it doesn’t do much that’s new or innovative. If you’re interested in a story that highlights why and how people paint, sketch, or sculpt, it’s a good choice. However, it’s not the best.

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And now we get to the art. Ugh, I was wishing it wouldn’t come to this. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to praise. The character designs are adequate, and the actual art the characters create is phenomenally done. Any sketches or paintings on display are wonderful. It would have tripped up the show immediately if the cast were allegedly competent artists and the art didn’t reflect that.

It’s just that the animation is terrible. Sure, I like how the characters look, but the details are immediately thrown away in almost every scene. The movement is even worse; it’s unbearably choppy and stiff. It’s not a complete wash, as they usually have one good or two really good shots per episode, but that’s it, the budget’s gone. The moments where Blue Period looks good are overwhelmed by every other scene being mediocre or downright atrocious.

These characters are written so vibrantly, and yet they move lifelessly. The animation they do get is wasted when it looks like that. It’s a shame because there’s no fault in the production outside the terrible animation. There’s some interesting direction and shot composition, the music is superb and ramps up the power of emotional scenes. I don’t know if the studio was short on time or talent, but it shows.

As such, it’s yet another manga adaptation where you’re better off just reading the original. The excellent music and voice acting might be missed, but it’s better to lose that than the graphical fidelity. I hate to rag on Blue Period, simply because Netflix believed in it strongly enough to give it a weekly release. I really don’t want to be negative towards that progress, but there’s already a superior manga adaptation getting the same treatment. Don’t worry, though, I’ll talk about that soon.

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Blue Period has a compelling premise, likable characters, and succeeds in nearly every technical aspect, but I can’t say I like it. I might be able to appreciate its good traits if there wasn’t an obviously superior way to experience this story. I’m not a trained artist, but I already told you, you don’t have to be to see that the art is terrible.

It’d be one thing if it was an original anime, or a light novel adaptation where there were no better alternatives to see this story visually. But in the end, Blue Period has a manga with fantastic art and all that great writing I talked about. I don’t have to wince through every stiff motionless scene that’s supposed to be dynamic.

As such, it isn’t a complete failure, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend you watch it or not. Blue Period scrapes by with an Entertaining Fine, and a hearty side serving of read the manga.

And while we’re nearly done with my picks for Fall 2021, we have one more to go. Demon Slayer is sitting out this season, as I’m going to review the actually new content in winter. It would have been a good chance to review the Mugen Train Arc, but I know it’s good, you know it’s good, so I’ll see you for the Entertainment District Arc.

If you want notifications for when that goes live, follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress or Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku for the added bonus of commentary on all the anime I’m watching. Until next time, thanks for reading.

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