Yatora Yaguchi has no problem with getting good grades; in fact, he finds his classwork rather boring. But an encounter with his school's Art Club inspires a desire to give painting a try. His enthusiasm eventually leads him to compete for a chance to further pursue art, even if his parents are not enthusiastic (and even though one of his friends needs some personal attention from him as well.)
Yatora thinks that his first art teacher (who supervises the Art Club at school), named Masako Saeki, is being too nice to him, and I was inclined to agree there- I wasn't too impressed with his first major effort, his "Blue Painting" (which gives the series its name), though I admit I liked his later works a little more.
But Yatora's opinion of his own work is consistently negative throughout the whole show, and that gets a little old. Yatora has a bad case of "impostor syndrome"- the feeling that his efforts are always inferior to those of his peers. We're in Yatora's head about 80% of the time, and there was just so much of his feelings of unworthiness that I could take. (When one of his works DOES earn praise, his first impulse is to make his next work an imitation of the successful one. He doesn't get praised for THAT, but then there's always this tension in art between creativity versus the demands of marketing, even when that "marketing" is in the service of pleasing the art judges who will determine, here, if you can further your own training.)
The show's not without its good moments. Yatora, despite being an excellent student in his regular classes, hangs out with some slacker friends who seemingly have no long-range ambitions- but at least one of these buddies really DOES have a career plan, a rather surprising one at that, and his conversation with Yatora late in the show comes complete with some good advice and encouragement for our hero.
At the center of the show is the Japanese tendency to make EVERYTHING a nerve-wracking competition, even in the fine arts: Hence we have shows like Dance Dance Danseur (ballet), A Forest of Piano and Your Lie in April (piano), and now THIS show, in which all are stressing out in a contest to win one of the few available slots in Tokyo University of the Arts- apparently the only art school in Japan with affordable tuition. (Competing to be the top star in some field is bad enough, but it seems even worse to have to engage in cutthroat competition just to continue your training.) Yatora's parents are skeptical about his sudden interest in attending art school, since with his grades he could be pursuing some more lucrative career path. (Allen Art Story #1: IRL, an acquaintance of ours who went to art school ended up working in a grocery store bakery, decorating cakes. He does very imaginative cakes, but it would still seem hard for him to pay back the student loans, even with recent loan forgiveness in the U.S.. On the other hand, I concede that some people do seem to be able to make a living on art, though some have (or had) other gigs as well; I used to live in Santa Fe, where a lot of artists have studios, including Grace Slick (formerly of Jefferson Airplane), who liked to paint, not at all surprisingly, white rabbits.)
OK, back from my digression, and back to the things in the show I liked. The show has some observations on art that I'm absolutely on board with. It's noted that doing art sharpens perception and causes one to notice details one hadn't before. (The context of this is rather touching.) It's also noted that a good painting makes one "feel like you're being sucked in." And a teacher observes that doing art for commission/hire is no disgrace; even Picasso did so. (Though, like some of the cast here, I can't say I ever "got" Picasso, I can appreciate the sentiment, which leads up to Allen Art Story #2: Also while I was in New Mexico, we visited one of the casinos there with friends. One of the friends, noting the statuary created for the place, thought it should have been in a museum. I was sure that the artists felt differently, and were glad to get the money, even if it WAS from a corporation mainly interested in decorating their gaming establishment.)
Returning from this SECOND digression, the absolutely most compelling moments in Blue Period I felt were connected to Yuka (or Ryuji) Ayukawa, a trans girl and school friend of Yatora's whose invitation to the school art club brought Yatora into art in the first place. Yuka's personal life is turbulent, at least partly because her parents won't accept her gender identity (they still call her by her birth name, Ryuji), though her grandmother is much more sympathetic to both her gender identity AND her artistic ambitions. She later on winds up testing Yatora's willingness to "inconvenience" himself for a friend.
I also did like Maru Mori, a sweet-tempered artist in the school art club whose "spiritual" painting helped inspire Yatora's attempts at art. The show, for some reason, finds it amusing for her and Yatora to, time and again, nearly (but not quite) re-encounter each other. On the other hand, there's an ill-tempered little painting prodigy named Yotasuke Takahashi, whose cynicism grated on me almost as much as Yatora's angst.
The Recs this time include one for the visual arts; and another about a very DIFFERENT form of competition, that nevertheless captures some of the personal drama that Blue Period is aiming for.
When we see Yatora painting, we see his broad-brush strokes, but seldom his detail work- and maybe that's a metaphor for some of the problems with the show in general. The show's such a mixed bag, and like I said, it's too often dominated by Yatora's feelings of inadequacy. If Yatora doesn't get into Tokyo University of the Arts, maybe he can unwind by painting "happy little trees." — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Netflix's grab-bag of cautions about anime series usually includes "smoking" whether it's actually in the show or not, but this time it really IS. There's some (absolutely non-explicit) nudity. Mature situations. Netflix says TV-PG.
Version(s) Viewed: Netflix video stream
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Blue Period © 2021 Kodansha, Seven Arcs
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