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.
As I argued in my video on Fall of 2018 a week or so ago, yuri anime is in a great place. Anime fandom has always been an important space for queer fans, one where gender-deviant expression is normalized far beyond where it is in broader society. The presence of queer works, yuri being a big part of that, has been a boon to young gays for well over 2 decades now. I’m confident in saying that I would not have discovered my identity were anime not around, and that’s something that can be said by tens if not hundreds of thousands around this planet. Yet in all this time, we have not been blessed with what we need. For all the wonderful queer works that exist as manga, few manage to make their way into anime. This isn’t to deny the existence of important, excellent works; Oniisama e, Aoi Hana, Yuri Kuma Arashi, Doukyuusei, Wandering Son, Flip Flappers, all of these are worthwhile watches. And of course, we can’t ignore the key role played by decades of trash. Godawful, intensely problematic works had and have their own roles to play in allowing people to peek at potential identities in a safer and easier to justify way. However, for those who’ve made it beyond that hill of self-discovery, these works are often disappointing, and it can scarcely be denied that young, burgeoning queers deserve some wonderful works as well. Enter Bloom into You.
It’s fairly well known at this point that I am anime youtube’s chief expert on the yuri genre. As the one sitting on that not-so-respected throne, I consider it my sworn duty to educate the world as to what we get every season. Without a doubt, there’s always gay content. However, quite infrequently do we get romantic works as such. This year has had plenty of excellent yuri anime, from Comic Girls to Revue Starlight, but for as inarguable as the queerness is in these works, it is not the focus of any of them. Aside from the admittedly excellent Kase-san OVA and Liz and the Blue Bird, the only straightforward queer female romantic comedy or drama prior to Fall was Citrus. I’m sure Citrus has had a positive impact on the lives of many, as I said, trash can be important, but it is trash, though I won’t relitigate my complaints given that there’s already a 30 minute video where I do so. It’s very fortunate, then, that we got an adaptation of what is, without a doubt, one of the most beloved yuri manga ever penned. Written and drawn by the fantastic Nakatani Nio, the manga which is referred to in Japan as Yagate Kimi ni Naru or Eventually, I Will Become You has risen up the charts, placing on the Weekly Manga “Oricon” lists, something no series in the genre had accomplished beforehand. This sterling feat is no shock given the series’ background.
Nakatani Nio did not, of course, get her start on Bloom into You, though it is her first serialized manga. Like many in the industry, she started out her “career” as a Touhou doujinshi artist, though even with her early, 2010-era works, skill is self-evident. While many of these were considered yuri by her fans, and likely would be classified as such by most of the viewers of this video, she herself didn’t think of them that way. As she says in an interview, “I was hesitant to call my work yuri because I never intended to narrate a love story.” In spite of this, it’s clear that the groundwork for Bloom into You was laid at this point. The way she portrays relationships has hardly shifted; she’s deeply invested in the messy, complicated aspect of our feelings. This, in itself, is important. Much of the reason trashy works continue to be beloved among some sides of queer fandom is the fact that they often, in being problematic, deal with complicated situations, though perhaps not in an ideal manner. Real human feelings are hardly straightforward, something only made more true when you exist within a society that views you as “different” at best and sinful at worst. Queer is, after all, a term that means weird, and to most of us, our feelings on gender, romance, and sex count as such. Nakatani’s intense focus on these was, as a result, bound to be relatable to a great many. Of course, complex emotions have one other benefit; they simply make for a good story. It’s far from guaranteed of course, and a well-learned writer is necessary to bring the potential in a complex story like Bloom to the forefront, but were the actual story not enough for you, the way Nakatani makes use of Koyomi, the resident writer character, should more than establish that this woman understands the craft, a topic we’ll return to with time.
After submitting another messy love-story of sorts to Dengeki Daioh for a contest, one which she happened to win, Nakatani got the chance to debut as a part of the professional mangaka world. Fortunately for her, this came at the perfect time. Dengeki Daioh is a seinen magazine, one published primarily for adult men, and traditionally, non-fetishistic yuri has not had much luck in those publications. However, the genre has been fast expanding, and Bloom’s appearance in Dengeki Daioh marked a major turn of the tides, showcasing that yuri manga could now appear anywhere. Nakatani’s new editor asked her to be the one to introduce a yuri work to this magazine, a timely request given that at the time she wanted to make a work where, unlike her doujinshi, “No matter how you look at it, it’s yuri.”
And so, Bloom into You began its warpath, acting as one of the vanguards for the genre which has, over the last 3-to-4 years, virtually expanded by a scale of magnitude. The announcement of it getting an anime this year was long-awaited, and served as solace to fans afraid that the wonderful world of lilies was being stained by the adaptation of works such as Netsuzou Trap and Citrus. However, there was some nervousness about the project, and for good reason. The manga is simply fantastic, and unlike many works, this quality is heavily derived from its usage of the medium it’s in. This series was conceptualized as a manga through-and-through, elevated by the fact that Nakatani’s understanding of how comics function is on a level far above that of most other mangaka. Any given chapter is full of expertly-composed pages. Her use of moment-to-moment transitions, a decision that allows a creator to showcase the precise movements and expressions of characters so as to communicate in full their feelings, would take cinematography and animation rarely seen outside the works of KyoAni. Yet, with the assistance of Nakatani’s relatively involved participation in the production, it’s turned into a satisfying work that somehow does manage to convey everything the original did and more. It’s hard to say which is a superior work, yet in spite of being a fairly direct adaptation, neither is invalidated by the other. Even Nakatani herself says, “I think it’s rare for an anime to reflect the original author’s intention to this extent. I would tell them in detail, “This scene was drawn with this intention,” “This character is like this,” so that there shouldn’t be a difference in interpretation between the original work and the anime.” As she adds, “The anime staff was also very careful with it.” I, and I believe the yuri community at large, could not be more pleased with this work. But simply talking about Nakatani does not do it justice. It’s now time to return to where we started, looking at what it is that makes this work so special and what it is that makes it so important.
As with all true masterpieces, Bloom into You is greater than the sum of its parts, and talking about any individual aspects as if those are what truly make the show amazing would do a disservice to how it all comes together. However, it’s nigh-impossible to structure a piece of this size without doing so to some extent, so please forgive me as I break this into multiple sections.
Part 1: How The Anime Adapts the Manga
The excerpt I began this video with, while a particularly important one, is an excellent demonstration of the skill that director Makoto Katou has brought to this series. Of course, directors are far from the only staff involved in anime production, and many people have played important roles in bringing this series to life and allowing it to dance on the small screen, but as the leader of the project and storyboarder of the first three episodes, it’s inarguable that he set the tone for the series.
Katou brought a number of new elements to the work, ones which assist its transference to an audio-visual medium. Take the use of water. It’s far from original as a way to represent both coldness and a feeling of suffocation but it feels so natural as a metaphor for Yuu’s feelings that it’s almost surprising Nakatani didn’t come up with it herself. Take the first shot of the entire series. As Yuu narrates about her interest in fictional romance, dazzled by it, with the image of hand-holding stuck in her eyes — an element which, as you may remember, will return as Touko confesses to her, showcasing the opening of possibilities — she herself is unable to grasp love even as she reaches her hand out. The light of the water’s surface reaches down to her, but she continually sinks, incapable of making her way up-top, where everyone else is. At this point of the story, where Yuu intellectually understands love due to media but is unable to truly grasp it, this imagery is perfect. This water motif continues through the work, especially in Katou’s trio of episodes. It returns later in the episode, as Yuu’s friends talk of love, ready to experience it, something that alienates her from everyone else. It returns in the next episode, as Yuu is truly confronted with the fact that Touko is not like her and in her has found a love that Yuu herself is utterly incapable of finding, as well as when she spends time in her room that night, even showing the light of the surface move away from her as she stares, unable to reach it. Perhaps most strikingly, it returns in episode 3, in a different form. After receiving the planetarium from Touko, her room is once again drenched in blues. She is still sad about her inability to love, and in this instance, the metaphorical blue curtains really do indicate her emotional state. However, coming to appreciate Touko, she is now floating, not drowning, as she lays on her bed.
On its own, this would be a simple, though effective, addition to the work. What makes it such a productive case study in showcasing how the work is adapted, however, is the way its integrated into the broader text. One of the pivotal moments of the series occurs in episode 6, what is the end of the manga’s volume 2, as Yuu has come to the point where she sees it as possible for her to fall in love with Touko. Upon confessing that she values the side of the upperclassman that she doesn’t show to others, she’s promptly told this: (I’d rather die than hear that). This is something that causes Yuu to stumble, to consider that maybe, she can’t fall in love with her. In fact, she literally stumbles here, almost falling into the water. But she is no longer beneath the surface. She’s able to jump forward, on shaky steps, yes, but above the waves, and confront Touko. She doesn’t do so with a confession — she can not yet accept herself as in love with the girl — instead lying and saying she never will fall in love in spite of her desire to do so. Yet, it’s clear that she has moved forward. She can now avoid falling back into the water, because as nervous as she may be, she no longer believes with all her heart that she can’t fall in love. While the meaning of this scene above the river remains unchanged from the manga — though as in most cases, it’s elevated by the audio component that I’ll get to in a bit — a whole new depth is added to the work due to Katou’s careful understanding of the characters and application of a new element. As I’ve always said, an adaptation will most often succeed by copying the original’s core while changing the tangible details where necessary, and that’s something that Bloom into You has, without a doubt, managed to accomplish. It’s funny in retrospect that the other sterling yuri adaptation of the year, Kase-san, also increased its manga’s use of water motifs. Great yuri minds think alike, I suppose.
There are just so many scenes which perfectly capture the manga’s appeal in a totally different way. In episode 2, when Touko kisses Yuu as the train passes by, the sense of intimate eternity that the vehicle’s obstruction provides is demonstrated by having everything but Touko, Yuu, and the train itself fade into white as time truly does freeze for these two kissing people. The series takes many viewpoints, but no matter who it’s highlighting, we live in their world, almost to a solipsistic extent. In the same episode, as Touko tells Yuu that she doesn’t want to date her, the muted colors of the cafe give way to dazzling light. This does not merely reflect Yuu’s feelings of confusion and confused affection, it projects them, expanding them in scale.
Take, on another hand, the intimate scenes. These are numerous, and the anime’s camerawork and animation always serve to emphasize them. For as much as Nakatani focuses on moment-to-moment transitions, you can only convey a prolonged passage of time so much in an inherently still medium. Anime are gifted the chance to extended these moments far beyond the time that your mind will register them as you read the page. In episode 3, as Yuu strokes Touko’s hair, the animation serves to emphasize the sensuality of this scene above what the original was able to communicate. In general, the anime does an excellent job at preserving this aspect of the manga; these teenagers are, well, teenagers, and they act like it. I’ve seen a lot of people claim to get hot and bothered by the end of episode 9, as Touko and Yuu make out, and it’s hard to argue against the fact that it perfectly communicates how it feels to kiss someone you’re attracted to for an extended period of time without feeling gratuitous. It is sexual but not objectifying. At the same time, the animation adds nuances to this that only elevate the emotions at play. Here, Yuu pulls away from the kiss, something she didn’t do previously, indicating that she’s attempting to avoid dealing with the fact that now, she’s fallen in love with Touko. Contrast this with the kiss in episode 12, where she leans in, a moment which is shortly followed by her admitting to herself that yes, she’s in love.
It wouldn’t be hard to describe the direction as both Aoki and Yamada-influenced. Kato is, of course, a protege of Ei Aoki’s and demonstrates much of the tenderness displayed in certain shows of his such as Wandering Son. The first person-shots are a good example, and while there’s been criticism of them, I think it’s very important to communicating the aforementioned solipsism. The manga achieves this through tall, thin panels that isolate its characters, but being bound to a 16:9 aspect ratio, the anime is forced to take things into its own hands in order to deliver the same effect. It’s fortunate that these traits of Aoki’s blend so well with Yamada, another clear influence on Kato’s style here. I had already believed Yamada’s vision would work perfectly with Bloom, given the heavy number of shots focusing on individual parts of the body. The anime increases these, particularly by adding a number of leg shots, which is of course Yamada’s specialty. Similarly, the lighting, something which obviously isn’t present in the manga, has a Yamada-esque quality to it, rather than the Dezaki-style that many others in the industry make use of. The influence of these two directors perfectly matches the tone of the manga, so it’s only natural for it to show up in the adaptation. I hate to harp on a point for too long but the touch that Katou and his crew of storyboarders and episode directors has brought to this show is excellent, to say nothing of the animation staff. Few anime can expect to have source materials this good and few manga can expect such talented hands to adapt them. It’s truly a marvelous scenario.
But of course, that does not simply come down to the storyboards, brilliant though they are. One key element that I have not yet looked at it is writing. The original work, of course, already exists, so the broad aspects of plotting and scriptwork are already handled for the team. However, adapting the writing is no easy feat, so it’s fortunate that the writer is one Jukki Hanada. Part of such works as Love Live, A Place Further than the Universe, and Hibike Euphonium, Hanada’s works spans the gamut of seriousness and comedy. A noted fan of the latter work, Nakatani describes herself as being “a Hanada fan to begin with, so I was able to entrust it to him with peace of mind.” The anime’s pacing, a common cause of complaint for many anime, shows no issues. Each volume of the manga takes up about three episodes. For a work that spends many pages on inaction and subtle movements, this is a slow rate, but it’s important to slowly pondering the feelings of all of its characters, which is, after all, what the series does best. And, due to the decision of the staff and Nakatani herself, it’s been able to end off on a good place, with roughly half the manga to go, so a season 2 would be an easy sell.
However, what I’d really like to focus on as I close out this section is the show’s use of sound. Really, it’s brilliant. First, the staff understand that this is a work where music should not constantly be playing. Silence says more than a thousand words in this show; it reflects our intuitive understanding that relationships and their associated feelings can be awkward, that lengthy monologues and dialogues are not always the ideal way to discover our feelings. Sometimes, simply sitting and thinking is what we really need. Still, when the show does need to make use of music, it does a great job, as Oshima Michiru’s soundtrack perfectly underscores the many moments of struggle and jubilation that our leads are put through.
Similarly, it’s important to recognize how much the voice acting adds to the experience. What in manga can only be conveyed through the drawn expression, or perhaps, to a light degree, the choice of typeface, can be expressed in full through real voices. Take Touko, whose actress, Kotobuki Minako, adds just the right amount of strain to her voice whenever her character shows Yuu her vulnerability, doing a far better job than anything else could at emphasizing that yes, this is a scared, damaged girl who’s finally found a person who she’s needed for years and is afraid of breaking this tenuous connection. The level of detached self-hate in her voice in episode 6 and 12 is deeply disturbing but oh-so-perfect and she excels at putting a subtle bite in Touko’s voice. And Yuu’s actress, Takada Yuuki, stands out similarly well. I was initially worried, only having known her as Aoba in New Game, when I had always imagined Yuu as someone more along the lines of Tomoyo Kurosawa. Yet Takada excels, painting Yuu as an energetic and kind girl who’s somewhat lacking in confidence, as someone who often doesn’t know which way to go, while still being able to plow full speed ahead when she makes her decisions, showing a level of determination that characters like Touko couldn’t even hope to demonstrate. All of this is in the manga, and yet it’s made so much stronger in the anime. All things told, that’s what true about this adaptation in general. Every aspect of audio-visual language is used to elevate the material from one medium into another. And now that we’ve discussed how this anime conveys the manga’s core, let’s start diving into what that core is, while continuing to look at how the anime uniquely communicates it.
Part 2: Shoujo and Theater
Bloom into You is a work that understands the lineage it’s a part of. Yuri is, after all, a genre which comes from shoujo. Not just shoujo manga, though it is true that the first works appeared in magazines aimed at that demographic. No, the genre’s roots lay in shoujo shousetsu, girls’ prose fiction, most notably that written by esteemed queer icon Yoshiya Nobuko. Even dating back to that point, there were strong ties between shoujo and theater. Yoshiya’s writing is itself very showy and due to the common focus on queer characters — though in that time it was seen as natural for girls to care greatly for other girls — it make sense to portray the theater, where performance is everything. The first yuri manga ever serialized, Shiroi Heya no Futari, features a play — specifically, Romeo and Juliet — as a central part of its narrative.
Bloom into You understands this. However, it’s also critical and unwilling to take the history of shoujo at face value. The negative endings so common to works of yuri past, including Shiroi Heya, are not something it’s interested in. To Bloom, these girls’ feelings are not just a phase. It’s fairly normalized in yuri at this point to criticize the idea that girls will inevitably fall away from their sapphic inclinations as they age. As I commented in my video on Citrus, it’s almost so common as to be superfluous, so in itself, Bloom’s decision to do so is pedestrian yet understandable. However, while it would certainly be acceptable to simply throw away the shoujo trappings that it criticizes, it instead incorporates them into its own thesis, merging them with a focus on the theatric in order to pull out the reality of performance these Class S works contain, a process necessary to properly articulating queer life in a general sense. It’s this that I’d like to examine.
It’s first important to note that there is value in Class S works. When a writer like Yoshiya Nobuko has the girls she writes about break up, this is not due to some personal belief on her part that girls should go out and marry men. She vehemently detested this idea, never doing so herself and, in fact, spending the last 50 years of her life with her girlfriend. No, this occurs in these works because it reflects the lived experiences common to the times. Yoshiya, in her fame and wealth, was able to escape the shackles of marriage, but most girls and women could not do so. It’s only natural, then, that yuri works would move away from the consistent depiction of departures when society changed enough for women to end up together happily. This is, without a doubt, a good thing, but it needs to be put into the proper historical context to be understood. Any criticism of Class S that discards these facts will always be a limp one which ignores the material conditions of a time in favor of petty moralism. Queer people today deserve media that reflects their lives, the good and the bad, and that was true in the past as well, but the Overton Window has shifted, so it’s only natural that the horizons painted by yuri works have in turn.
So, how does Bloom into You — a work which, I must remind you, runs in a seinen magazine — handle the topic of shoujo manga, the good and the bad? Well first, let’s look at the role of shoujo in the story. To Yuu, shoujo manga represent a false ideal. Having gazed at them for too long, her views on love have been skewed to the point that she can not, until much later in the story, recognize herself as feeling the emotion. Of course, much of this comes down to her personal nature, as someone who’s almost certainly demiromantic, but it’s inarguable that shoujo manga, in portraying sparkly worlds of beating hearts, have warped her fundamental sense of what romance is supposed to be.
This obviously paints a pretty poor portrait of shoujo romances. However, I don’t want to deceive you into believing that Nakatani simply despises the genre. Yuu is hurt by the idealized image they’ve helped build in her but that does not mean that they have no value and as I said, some of the effect is due to Yuu’s own nature. The best demonstration of what I mean by this is in episode 1. Touko helps guide Yuu to the student council room, and as she stops and stands there, we see Touko surrounded by flowers, a classic symbol of romance in shoujo manga. Notably, however, they are not the traditional flower frames. Rather, these are diegetic flowers, existing in the actual world. This work has taken a lot from shoujo, and it’s willing to admit that, yet it also strives to stay grounded. A similar occurrence happens in episode 7. Resident third wheel Sayaka remembers back to when she first dated a girl. Occupying at a girls’ school and being between senpai and kouhai, it’s very much the typical Class S relationship. In itself, having Sayaka be frustrated by her upperclasman’s insistence that “we should grow up and move past this phase” would be enough to rebut things. Yet this was an important time for Sayaka and if she hadn’t dated the girl who Sayaka’s voice actress refers to as nasty-senpai, she wouldn’t have been able to truly accept her lesbianism upon seeing Touko for the first time, a moment which is itself quite tinged by shoujo trappings. Even the OP, drenched in flowers galore, has them hanging from the ceilings or strewn across the ground. Flowers, as a signifier of shoujo culture, are present all over the series and yet they do not overwhelm the actual frame. It’s important to recall that just because we’re critical of something does not mean we must entirely avoid it. Problematic works can have value to people, and Bloom into You acknowledges that in drawing from deeply flawed sources that still contain some kernel of poignance.
The theatrical elements of the series, of course, are not hard to spot. The show’s drama feels fitting for the stage itself, and this is no shock given what a strong grasp Nakatani has of how theater works. The play she writes within this play is, first of all, a fantastic work on its own, something I would gladly pay to watch were it made flesh. Even the first rendition was fantastic, but her understanding that a story needs to have the characters make decisions based on what actively happens during its run rather than in its past, shows a deep understanding of the craft of writing. Furthermore, the manner in which the script reflects Touko’s situation is genius. Part of what makes theater work so well in queer works is the nature of performance. In being someone else, an actor is free to express themselves openly without fear of reprisal. In Shiroi Heya, the main characters can kiss without getting in trouble due to their lead roles. In Wandering Son, the protagonists get the chance to defy their prescribed gender presentation. Bloom, however, depicts the opposite of this. Touko is not getting the chance to be someone else, she is forced into explaining herself, and in doing so, has to seriously confront the self-destructive attitude that’s gotten her to where she is in the aftermath of her sister’s death. This play makes her confront the fact that the mask she wears, as shown brilliantly in the OP, is simply a part of her true face, and that we as people are defined by our actions, whether those actions are read off a script or not. She may rather die than hear that people truly like her, but this is a drama, so a figurative death’s not out of the question. The play’s the thing, as they say, and while only Yuu and perhaps Sayaka are aware of how true to life Touko’s role is, it will, in this case, push our Queen to catch her own conscience.
Yet, the importance of queer performance is not ignored. Sayaka’s role, as Touko’s former girlfriend, may not be quite as hard to play, yet it still creates a situation of both deep happiness at getting to act the part she’s afraid to express as well as intense fear over her inability to play this role in real life. Yet there’s a progression here from the yuri theater of times past. Sayaka is not acting as Touko’s boyfriend, no, they both remain girls within the play. To bring things back to the earlier point, material conditions have changed, and you can get away with portraying your lead role as a serious lesbian now without repercussion. Class S was an important movement and period within Japanese history for queer girls, so it’s fortunate that Bloom writes off the attitudes and systems that made it hard to prosper at the time, and not the ways in which people attempted to express their true selves in those oppressive conditions. Ultimately, Bloom puts forth a pretty straightforward thesis on this front: Shoujo, as with theater, is an important realm for expressing feelings and coming to terms with love, so while we can’t ignore their problems, we can not write them off either, as they can prove greatly useful. These characters could not exist without the history of shoujo works, so let’s remember that as we move on to discussing them in particular.
Part 3: Characterization
Koito Yuu, as the main character, is the axis around which the entire series revolves. The title, Bloom into You, refers most evidently to two ideas. The first of these is Touko’s attempt to become her late sister. The second, and the one I’d like to focus on right here, is Yuu learning more about herself, becoming a person she’s happy to be.
It would be impossible to discuss Yuu without diving into the topic of aromanticism, though as I am not the best resource on this, I recommend you search out sources from aro people, such as my good friend Mathwiz. Regardless, this has certainly been a topic of discourse and that’s no shock. Asexuality and aromanticism are certainly underrepresented and it’s fairly inarguable that Yuu, at the beginning, is incapable of falling in love. Of course, given that this is and has been marketed as a yuri romance from the beginning, it’s fair to say that anyone who expected her not to do so was building up some false hopes, but it’s understandable why they would do that and I sympathize. Even then, her being aromantic isn’t ruled out, and remains likely, given that it, as with most things, is a spectrum. Like I said, feelings are messy, and it’s plenty obvious that Yuu is not the sort of person who can easily or regularly fall in love, even if she’s capable of doing so eventually. She may not be Maki, but she isn’t Sayaka either.
It’s made clear throughout the series that Yuu is not the kind of person who easily makes decisions. Aside from the question of romance, the indecision in regards to which leaves her stunted and incapable of movement for most of the show’s run, she simply has not historically been the active participant in most her choices, instead going with the flow. She played softball in middle school because her friend asked her to, and joined the student council because a teacher roped her into it. This isn’t to say she doesn’t enjoy what she does. She did care about the softball, but she did not get invested in it the same way her teammates did. Touko’s appearance, however, offers her something new. While initially drawn to the upperclassman due to the potential connection between their feelings, Yuu remains invested even after finding out that the girl has fallen in love with her. She has hope that she could come to love her and from the beginning feels some sort of affection for her, if not a romantic one. It’s episode three that really makes this clear. Touko wins the student council election because, well, she’s nearly perfect, though of course Yuu is aware of her weak side. She doesn’t choose to stick with her simply because that soft, needy aspect of her personality is cute and deserving of support, though. She also remains by her side due to what she says in her speech: Touko is not defined by the aspects of herself that she hides, she’s also made up of those that she shows to the world. Her dependability is real and it’s this, combined with the desire to help her and perhaps fall in love with her over time, that spurs Yuu to remain in the Student Council, by Touko’s side. This is important, as it’s the show’s first signal that Touko’s understanding, wherein her ideal sister-imitation is her good but fake side, while her needy-weaker self is the bad but real side, is a flawed conception of the truth, as Yuu is able to see both of these as part of Touko’s whole being.
An important aspect of Yuu’s character is the development of how she understands queerness. Early on in the story, a number of comments will be made about two girls dating and her reaction to these changes over time. When her friends express frustration that Yuu’s beloved senpai is female, Yuu defends herself as believing Touko is cool but she shows no negative reaction to the heteronormative implications that lie there. This is what one might call a microaggression, but Yuu, not yet conscious of her dormant interest in girls, is not aware that it targets her identity. She herself expresses surprise when Sayaka tells her that girls have confessed to Touko, something that’s followed up at the end as Yuu doubts Touko’s clearly romantic confession was romantic, merely because they’re both girls. This is a direct confrontation with the cliche so common in the yuri genre, one which often comes up more as a way to assure the reader this is yuri than to serve any actual purpose to the narrative or add to the richness of the characters. Here, fortunately, it has an actual purpose. It’s funny, of course, that Sayaka, the only one who already conscious of the fact that she’s a lesbian is the person to jokingly tell Yuu this, and it indicates Nakatani’s understanding that heteronormativity will force even queer people themselves to adopt a subtle outward homophobia in order to disguise their internal being. She may have said that, “I didn’t want it to become an obstacle simply because it was between girls. Regardless of what’s present in reality, I didn’t want the difficulties of the love between girls in the first place. I didn’t want to put it into the center of their story,” but it’s constantly made clear in the story that these are problems. They’re simply not the most important ones to the characters right now, especially not to Yuu and Touko.
Over time, however, Yuu comes to react differently to this. In episode 2, her insistence that they’re both girls comes across less as an unchecked assumption and more as a desperate attempt to avoid facing the truth, one of many that she employs throughout the show’s run. In episode 3, when she’s come to accept Touko’s feelings as romantic, while denying to her family that they’re dating, she expresses discomfort after her dad jokes that he wouldn’t be able to deal with that. Even at this point, where Yuu has no real belief she’ll ever fall in love with the girl, she’s come to accept queerness as genuine and not strange, so this time, the microaggression is one that’s able to hit her. For a while, this is entirely based on her worrying over Touko. When Maki confesses that he saw them, she’s visited by a dark image of what that could mean for Touko’s reputation, not even considering what it means for herself.
It’s clear however that Yuu grows more cautious in her relationship with Touko as she inches closer to admitting her own romantic feelings. In the beginning, she basically lets Touko do whatever she wants, inviting her to her room with not a hint in her mind that something untoward could occur, merely because the library where they’ve been studying is full. She certainly does care about studying with Touko in particular at this point, counter to her frenzied denial of that fact, yet she was not aware of the implications of inviting a girl who’s into you into your room until it’s pointed out to her. In episode 12, however, she invites Touko specifically because she wants to spend more time with her that day, making no excuses at all, fully aware of what may result and almost disappointed when nothing horny occurs. Yet in this case, she’s more nervous of being caught, as the presence of the door that could easily be opened behind them looms large in the storyboards. She has grown more nervous of being caught, because at this stage it would be so much harder to deny that her feelings for Touko are romantic. Shout over it though she might, she knows she’s in love. Her story is not yet done, and I can only hope that a second season arrives so the rest of her wonderful material can be animated, but she has accepted her feelings. It’s only natural then, that having come to understand herself better, having broken the promise that she made to Touko, she must attempt to force Touko to open her eyes in front of the mirror and see that what she saw as a hideous reflection was just the result of cracks.
It’s more than understandable that Nanami Touko is as broken as she is. Losing a family member is never easy, and before her sister, Mio, passed away, she was a fairly average kid. Looking up to your siblings and using them as a guiding force can be a totally healthy process, but lacking an active identity on her own, Touko strove to become her sister, though only the side of her that she knew. She only wants people to love her Mio imitation, not the entirety of herself, even demanding that Yuu never fall in love with her because she’s aware of the whole picture. Simultaneously, she sees love as a motion that demands a lack of change. She loves Yuu because the girl will never fall in love with her, and believes she would stop were that to change. This is, of course, a deeply unhealthy mindset, one that could easily lead to a very abusive relationship. After all, self-hatred is a from of self-abuse, and Touko uses Yuu to offload her self-hatred, confident — for a time at least — that the younger girl will never come to love this despicable her. That probably sets warning bells off in the heads of many viewers and I know that some see Touko’s behavior as intensely off-putting.
Fortunately, Touko still has a moral core that keeps her grounded. She consistently asks for Yuu’s consent before engaging in any activities, backing off when she recognizes that the girl is uncomfortable. This isn’t a relationship that could last as it is, but if anyone’s being hurt by it, it’s Touko herself. Yuu serves as a crutch that she refuses to get rid of. She won’t let herself stand on her own two feet again because doing so is deathly terrifying. What if everyone hates the real her? The her that she forcibly abandoned? Even if they said they love her, even if she could believe that for a moment, she can’t come to love herself. Yuu may be the series’ axis, but Touko provides it real weight. After all, according to Nakatani herself she, “was created first, Yuu was born as her partner. For me, I wanted to draw a girl that would be unmanageable, so I made Touko the heroine. For me, Yuu has the image of a hero who would help that unmanageable girl. That being said, I think of the characters as if they were born as individual people. It is at most a discussion of “At first it was like that.” Yuu is forced to serve the driving role of the series, in spite of the hard time she has of making decisions, because like her character in the play, Touko’s choices are all based on the past. It takes action from Yuu to cause her to make decisions due to what’s happened in the narrative, and we know from Yuu and Koyomi how necessary that is to make a good story.
Saeki Sayaka is the last of the trio, and much like Nakatani, I’ll be forced to neglect her a tad. Firstly, because I already said much of what I have to say about what she means for the story’s commentary on queerness. In actively acknowledging that she’s someone who only falls in love with girls, she takes a step that many characters in anime don’t take. Some may be annoyed that she does not actively call herself a lesbian, but while self-identified lesbians certainly exist prominently in Japan, the culture surrounding queer identity is different there and an imposition of Western standards is hardly a fair one, especially given the way in which lesbian has been tainted as a male-focused porn term. Sayaka certainly understands herself to be attracted to girls by nature, something she confirms upon talking to adult lesbian Miyako. Which, I must say, is quite important in itself. Young queers require elders to get through life well, and that’s something which isn’t oft-represented in yuri anime and manga. Miyako is well aware of this, sympathizing with the girl and relaying how when she was that age, she too felt as if she was in some way perverted or strange, something she was able to move beyond with time and love. Sayaka’s situation is an unfortunate one and conditioned as we yuri fans are to root for the gay underdog, it’s only natural to cheer for her before her inevitable failure. What I can only hope is that Sayaka comes out of this with a fuller understanding of herself, akin to what Touko and Yuu will reach. Sayaka is a somewhat petty and cruel girl who’s easily made jealous and constantly frustrated by the chance that her best friend will leave her grasp. Yet she’s also a scared 16-year-old who’s struggling to deal with the fact that she’s in love with someone right next to her who she can’t bear to confess to, on top of being queer in a society which disapproves of that. She may be nasty herself at times but are any of our characters entirely blameless?
What makes this series work so well as a drama is the fact that almost every situation that occurs is driven by how the characters’ personalities interact with one another. The only sudden entrance that changes everything here is the appearance of the coach, who tells Touko what Mio behaved like around him, and that’s a far cry from a contrived love rival appearing from nowhere to frustrate the plot, alongside the viewers. Every character is rich, containing positive and negative attributes, ones that clash and also spur them forwards. As a result, the story does what Nakatani believes any good narrative should do: it moves as as result of the decisions of its characters over the course of it. In doing so, it takes an approach that ignores much of the world, focusing on the feelings of a select few instead, so it’s fortunate that Nakatani understands how to create captivating personas out of people we meet for no more than five minutes, ensuring the series never becomes ungrounded. What a work.
Part Final: An Eternal (Queer) Anime
Bloom into You is one of the most expertly crafted dramas every born from this medium. From its skill at transferring its source into anime in a way seen a couple times a year at most, to the manner in which it engages with the history of queerness in shoujo and theater to create both a brilliant critical response and loving send-up, to the way it centers the emotions of its characters in the procession of events, understanding that the best way to keep the viewers interested in a soft, emotive drama is not through a comedy of errors or the appearance of sudden obstacles but the fleshing out of personality clashes inherent to any relationship.
Yet there’s ever more to discuss. As I alluded to earlier, the manner in which it deals with aromanticism should be considered in more depth by someone with greater qualifications to do so. The way Yuu and Maki are counterposed is something particularly worthy of analysis. Similarly, further attention should be paid to the the writing of its theater elements, though again, that is something for a writer with more expertise than me to discuss.
I myself would like to spend more time speaking on how the series deals with the bitterness common in so many romantic relationships. Ecstatic as I am with the one I’m currently in, events that transpired towards the start caused emotions that could certainly be called complex and I believe this is true for a great many people. Being queer puts you in a vulnerable position, so even the happiest and most fulfilling relationships can very easily have sore points. Exploring this is important, not just as representation or for the sake of educating both cishet audiences and younger queers, but because it simply makes better stories that more accurately reflect the world. Comparing this to a work like Citrus, which tries similar things but frequently fails in the process, would be a useful comparison, as would be one with a manga like Nettaigyo wa Yuki ni Kogareru, created by a similarly talented artist who’s even more concerned with the solipsism inherent in focusing on your own budding romantic feelings. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have time to conduct these comparisons today.
[On camera] However, even without addressing those aspects, I’d like to think that I’ve covered the series in enough detail to provide a building point for future analyses. Discourse between writers generates far more worthwhile material than cloistering ourselves off and I always hope that my pieces can inspire responses, be they positive or negative, to my points. When I look at an anime landscape that’s full of important queer works, ones that helped me to come to terms with the fact that I’m a trans lesbian, I’m happy to know that this year, among other works, Bloom into You was added to the general queer canon. Hopefully, it can be completed. This series will eternally live not just as an important anime but as an important part of queer fiction. I’m very happy to have experienced that firsthand. And please fair viewers, be sure to ask Seven Seas to bring over the Sayaka novel in their surveys, it’s very important.