In chapter 1 of the Bloom into You manga, as protagonist Yuu turns down the boy who asked her out at the end of middle school, careful paneling keeps older student Touko out of frame, aside from a somewhat solemn shot of her glancing at Yuu. Instead of showcasing the upperclassman, attention is paid to Yuu’s body language as she tenses up while rejecting him before calming down after he accepts it, shown on the next page so as to provide a sense of catharsis upon flipping. This leads into an uneasy page composition wherein we as viewers are only able to see Touko’s grasping arm, while Yuu expresses concern at the face which is hidden from us. Suddenly, this face is made visible as she asks the pivotal question, implying her own interest. Yuu, attempting to avoid her comprehension of Touko’s question, grows increasingly uncomfortable, and once again her facial expression is hidden. This continues until she brings Yuu to her face, forcibly confessing and denying her the chance to avoid engaging with the situation. This expert sequence is something that could only be done in a manga, one made by an expert of the craft at that. It was one of many that I thought the anime would fail to live up to. However, the voice acting of the anime’s version fully communicates Yuu’s tension, relief, and then plunging back into anxiety. The excellent cut of Yuu pulling her arm back only for Touko to yank it forwards works together with the ripple that the motion creates, the aforementioned voice acting, and the stellar music to not only communicate the manga’s core in this scene, but to elevate it. In effect, it transfers the original’s beautiful charm while adding its own understanding of these characters. This scene’s conclusion, of Yuu seeing their clasped hands in Touko’s eye, is not present in the manga, and demonstrates this expertly. It’s rare to see an anime so clearly understand its source. It’s far rarer for that to lead to one of the most important queer works in the entire medium. But this start may have been a bit abrupt. Allow me take a step back before we begin in earnest, as the backstory here really is quite important.
Unlike the other shows I’ve discussed, I did not watch Shirobako in the order I’m talking about it. No, I watched it for the first time as it aired, loving the hell out of it but without the series having any great effect on me as an individual. What’s important is the time that I rewatched it, that having been only last year.
It was time to find a community. My friends, great though they were, were not enough after discovering the treasure map marked “My Gender”. I was far from ready to come out to them but entering my senior year of high school, I was not happy simply maintaining a distance from any and all trans communities. It’s fortunate, then, that this period coincided with anime’s Fall 2016 lineup. The cast of great shows that season was generally impressive, but it was 3-gatsu, Yuri on Ice, and of course, Flip Flappers that pushed me to find new anime communities in search of a group that could serve as a second Orange chat to me.
I think it’s time to look at the feature of my life that’s been hanging over this series like a cloud of thick smoke. I’ve been dying to open my mouth and tell this tale for well over 2 years, before I even had this channel, back when I was a no-name blogger. It is time, of course, to discuss my gender.
As I described in the last video, I was in need of some optimism in my life, something Aria helped to bring. As a result, I moved past the political stage I’d been in since middle-school; a naive sort of quasi-libertarianism far more focused on dissatisfaction with the way things were than establishing a real plan of action or even a coherent ideological theory. After all, I only knew about politics through a mix of the plainly biased education system, the no-better mass-media, and some googling that couldn’t even be called surface-level. I subscribed to the idea I now see as absurd; that those with consistent ideological frameworks are inherently dogmatic and restrictive, clearly basing their politics on illogical propositions, while I, a genius, thought about things with facts and reason.
The last few series certainly helped me make a lot of progress but I was still something of a cynical person as I reached the end of my freshman year. I might’ve made friends at long last but that wasn’t enough to change my attitude towards the world from positive to negative on its own. With Durarara behind me, my feelings of being oppressed due to my otakudom were fading, as was my inherent distrust of the individuals around me, yet I remained bitter to the world at large. Sure, most people have some kind of good in them, that wasn’t hard to accept. But, if that was the case, how come the world itself was so ugly? Why did I still feel compelled to spend all of my time in my room, locked away from the world, watching anime and playing games?
Wow, I really didn’t talk much about my friendship progress in the last video, did I? Well, things were going pretty good. Post-Hidamari, I was beginning to allow people to grow close to me again as I entered the start of 2014. However, I still had one primary element that prevented me from truly creating any intimate friendships: a fear of oppression. Now, it might sound absurd to think that I was scared that people would shun me for being an otaku, given how overwhelmingly popular anime is. Hell, many of my friends were still hyped up on the Attack on Titan train in my freshman year. Still, the shame of liking Pokemon in certain parts of elementary and middle school continued to haunt me. I was part of what I saw as an oppressed subculture, an image only supported by the time I spent on 4chan, and it would take an active force to change that.
Honestly, I think it is. I mean first of all, let’s account for the fact that there’s been almost no solid adaptations of yuri manga in the entire history of this vast medium. I can narrow down the number of anime that both a. are good and b. Adapt beloved yuri manga to a list that fits on one hand. In fact, I’m pretty sure Aoi Hana and Sasameki Koto are the only ones that match that description, two anime that neither delivered satisfying conclusions nor saw much success, a fact that certainly did not help any of their sisters-in-arms at joining the proverbial anime battlefield. And while other anime with yuri elements did air in those seasons, it’d be hard to line them up next to those of 2018’s Fall and think they really come out on top.
Remember the kinds of fantasy books you read as a kid? The ones with incredibly intricate lore that’s ultimately structured to make the protagonist as cool as possible? The type where self-inserting into the main character, and feeling powerful because of it, is clearly the intended reaction, but where the systems at play are complex enough that you could easily make your own OC? For many, books like Harry Potter or Hunger Games fulfilled those needs and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy them myself. But once I reached high-school age, my strongest power fantasy came in the form of Nanoha.
I don’t think I need to explain why I was drawn to Hidamari Sketch; the reasons are the exact same as those that led me to watch K-On and Yuru Yuri. The principal difference between my consumption of those two series and this one was one of time: I watched the former shows during summer break, where I spent a full three months without interacting with a single physical person outside my family. By the time I sat down and bathed in the sunshine, I was already months into my freshman year of high school, with all the upsides and downsides that came with.