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“A lover? A best friend? Which would you choose?”

"Best friends... lovers... at this time, I still... don't know how it ends."
—Taichi Ichinose
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Ao no Flag (青のフラッグ, literally translated as "Blue Flag") is a romance manga by Kaito.

The story follows the third year student Taichi Ichinose, who ends up roped by a classmate, Futaba Kuze to help her out in her attempt to start dating his childhood friend Touma Mita, who is one of the most popular guys in the school. There are two problems though. One: Taichi starts to fall for Futaba even as he attempts to help her get with Touma. Two: Touma already loves someone, and it might not be who either Taichi or Futaba think. A story of good times and bad times ensues.

The manga has been officially translated with a simultaneous Japanese and English release on MANGA Plus. VIZ Media announced their plans to release the manga in the spring of 2020.

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Tropes

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: When Taichi and Touma were about 10, they made a game called battle pencils that had references to other manga on them. One had a reference to My Hero Academia (2014), while other things featured in their childhood included Splatoon (2015) and Mother 3 (2007, but regained popularity from 2009-2014). Ao no Flag, having come out in 2017, takes place in an unspecified time after these series were released.
  • Abusive Parents: Futaba's mother doesn't seem to be a very nice person from what we've seen of her, yelling at her son for not recording her TV show, then putting down Futaba when he said he told her to do it, saying he shouldn't have trusted Futaba to.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: So far this applies to literally everyone who is interested in everyone else. Futaba and Mami are attracted to Touma. Taichi is attracted to Futaba. Touma is attracted to Taichi and Masumi is attracted to Futaba.
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  • Anxiety Dreams: Chapter 10, where Ichinose dreams about his childhood in his 6th grade with Toma, asking Mita about what he wants to be and why he doesn't want to attend university, and a black cat asking Ichinose what he wants to be when he grows up, with the final scene showing Mita in a black suit, and a crumpled sheet of the same question.
  • Art Evolution: A small example. Touma's face is a bit more boyish in the opening chapters. Over time his jaw becomes a bit more pronounced and overall his face is a bit more masculine looking. His eyes were also originally dark and beady. A few chapters in and his irises have become a bright color instead (what color is hard to say since it's black and white).
  • Bait-and-Switch: The final chapter, entirely in first person perspective, opens with what is presumably Taichi writing his last name on the wedding registry at Futaba's wedding. But after the wedding ends, the person ends up meeting up with Taichi, at which point we realize it has been Touma's perspective the whole time, and after getting together, he took Taichi's last name.
  • Be Yourself: Deconstructed and reconstructed in chapter 39, as Masumi and Akiko talk about the former's sexuality. Akiko immediate advice is for Masumi to just be herself, but Masumi answers saying that when you're different, you are putting yourself on a situation where you can lose friends who disagree with you and that is easier to live with others and empathize when you are as similar to the majority as you can, so she can still lose by being herself. Akiko acknowledges this, but reconstructs when she says that people are so different she'll never be able to identify with everyone, and though she may lose some people on the way, even those she loves dearly, choosing the best path for yourself is something necessary.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Mita & Ichinose are longtime friends, and Mita is head and shoulders taller than Ichinose. The same applies to Masumi & Kuze.
  • Broken Aesop: Mami's rant in Chapter 32 about how she hates how people think men and women can never be true friends without romance getting in the way is capped off by how she mentions that her attempt at befriending Taichi was to help her understand how to get closer to Touma. While she genuinely wants to be friends with Taichi, some found it poorly timed, which even she admits.
  • Call-Back: In the final chapter, Taichi finds a poster for the final chapter of the horror movie he watched with Masumi, Touma and Kuze at the beginning of the manga. The tagline for the movie "Friend or Lover" also calls back to his narration in the manga's first chapter.
  • Central Theme: Life is made of choices.
  • Character Filibuster: All of Chapter 32 for Mami, who talks about her hatred of boy/girl friendships never being seen as completely platonic, and her motives for trying to befriend Taichi.
  • Chick Magnet: Touma is one without even trying. It helps that he is the captain of the baseball team, very attractive, and very nice and affable to everyone he meets. Most of his friends are jealous of how easily he attracts them. Shame for all of them that he's not interested in girls.
  • Childhood Friends: Mita and Ichinose were close friends in middle school, which sadly did not accompanied them in high school, but they still refer to each other in a first name basis when they are put in the same class again.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Kuze, after breaking up with Taichi, eventually falls in love with another man and marries him. Masumi eventually discovers her bisexuality and marries a man.
  • Distant Finale: The end of the penultimate chapter and the entire final chapter take place seven years after the end of the main story.
  • End-of-Series Awareness: The final chapter which is from Tachi’s perspective has him and his husband Touma look at the poster of their favorite series coming to an end with the final episode disappointed that their favorite series is about to be over.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: First of all, Taichi assumes that Touma is in love with his sister in law, based on what Touma told Taichi he considered to be the perfect lover in middle school, most of which turned out to be a lie. And in present day, Touma's brother has instructed Taichi to find out why Touma is planning to move out without going to college. Taichi finds a book showing that Touma's sister in law is pregnant, so he assumes Touma is moving out because he can't stand the idea of being in the same house as the baby of his brother and his crush. Touma sets Taichi straight that, no, Touma is not in love with his sister in law, and finds that idea to be just weird. Touma seems to almost tell him the real truth, that Touma is in love with Taichi, but gets interrupted before he can.
  • The Faceless: For reasons that summed up to not as relevant to the story, the faces of Taichi's parents are never seen. Every time his mom shows up, it is always from behind or her eyes are off panel. Same with his dad in the only time he has appeared thus far.
    • Futaba's mother and brother have gotten the same treatment in the first chapter they have appeared in.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Mita and Masumi are portrayed this way, when the author was asked about their Animal Motifs. Mita was drawn as a big friendly dog, while Masumi was drawn as an aloof black cat.
  • First-Episode Twist: In chapter 5/Volume 1, includes the Wham Episode where Masumi reveals that Touma is in love with Taichi.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: During the second to last chapter, while Taichi is trying to rekindle his friendship with Touma after all the awkwardness between them after the latter's secret came out, Touma says that it's awkward for someone to be around a person they loved who doesn't feel the same way. Later in the chapter, two years after they graduate high school, Taichi and Futaba break up, and then 4 years pass before they talk to each other again because of how awkward things are between them.
  • Flower Motifs: Present throughout the manga, especially in the chapter cover pages:
    • The title itself is actually another nickname for blue iris flower. In flower language, they often symbolize hope & faith.
    • Chapter 4 shows a guy holding a yellow tulip in his left hand. While the current meaning of the yellow tulip represents cheerful thoughts and sunshine, the initial meaning of yellow tulip is hopeless love.
    • Chapter 18 has Kuze holding a blue tulip while leaving a purple tulip behind. Blue tulips stand for individuality & uniqueness due to the fact that this specific color of tulip is man-made, while the purple tulip represents royalty.
    • Chapter 22 shows an image of Touma smiling surrounded by yellow mimosas. While mimosas often represent friendship, yellow mimosas most commonly mean "Secret Love".
    • Chapter 29 covered Mami who seems to be injured by a brawl. The flowers surrounding her are lamprocapnos, a Northern China based plant that has many meanings. The appropriate ones in her case are "rejected love" or "being emotionally reactive to the world around you".
    • Chapter 32 has Kuze, Mami & Masumi covering their faces with sunflowers. For this chapter, sunflowers would mean optimism and happiness— after the session with Mami, Kuze is happy with her female identity for the first time in a long time, while Mami cheered up after venting out her frustrations and seeing Shingo looking out for her as a friend.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The fact that Mita is actually interested in Ichinose was heavily foreshadowed.
      • There were plenty of scenes in which Mita was looking aloofly towards Ichinose in the classroom.
      • The fact that Mita has some dark seated issues was foreshadowed back when Ichinose asked Kuze why she fell for Mita, which lead to a story about how Mita started taking care of her tomatoes in the garden after asking himself if tomatoes also get frustrated.
      • In a flashback, when Mita is asked about his type, he first measures Ichinose before stating he likes tall girls, when he says that he likes dark hair(the only part that is true), he is looking very intensely to Ichinose. At the same time, right after describing it, he quickly responds that it's never going to happen.
      • When talking to Kuze, he gives a long description of things in Ichinose he deems as attractive and wonders why he doesn't have a girlfriend yet, but he looks clearly infatuated while describing him.
      • A little later he and Ichinose take a crowded train and he convinces Taichi to lean on him during the ride when too many people are in the train, which is quite romantic and could be seen as a weird suggestion for a guy.
    • Ichinose's own unspoken attraction to Touma has been hinted at throughout the story:
      • As many close-ups as Kuze gets from Taichi's point of view when he recognizes her beauty, Touma has even more of them. He also talks at length about how he understands why people fall for him, which on first glance is a normal guy looking at the popular guy.
      • Kuze and Touma's final one-on-one conversation in the story features the former saying that Taichi is seriously considering the latter's feelings. When Touma objects based on past interactions, she says that "he is now".
      • The manga's tagline "A Lover? A best friend? Which would you choose?" can be seen as an early hint of this as well. It could be read as Taichi wondering about which way he sees Touma.
    • Yorkie outright asks when Taichi and Kuze are going to break up during one of their later conversations. In addition, the gossipy girls in Chapter 42, with some negative exaggeration, basically spell out the endgame dynamic between Touma, Taichi, and Futaba.
    • In the final chapter, the twist that Touma is the P.O.V. character was hinted at twice
      • Although we see someone signing the name Ichinose in the wedding registry, we never see the first name of the person writing.
      • When talking with Kuze, she mentions the P.O.V. character is an inspiration to her, which is what Kuze explicitly refers to Touma as.
  • Genre Shift: An In-Universe example for the Show Within a Show. In chapter 3, the main characters go see Fish Guts, a horror movie. But by the time of the final chapter, its finale is advertised as a romance.
  • Gonk: Ichonose's trio of friends, Omega, Mon, and Yorkie, are drawn with a deliberately different cartoonish style than the rest of the cast and characters. Although it's hinted that they don't look like that all the time, when we see Omega in the Calvary battle.
    • Kensuke's girlfriend that he introduces to the group is also this.
  • Has a Type:
    • According to Ichinose when he asks Mita during childhood, Mita has actually a very specific type: dark-haired, with big boobs, slim, mature, who says things clearly and sporty. Masumi reveals that these are all lies, with the exception of dark-haired, he is actually interested in men, specifically Ichinose.
    • In the Distant Finale, we meet Masumi's eventual husband, who is light haired, nervous, and cutely awkward, much like her first love.
  • Happily Married: Pretty much all the main characters and some supporting characters are shown to be very content with their marriage in the ending montage.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Applies to nearly everyone who’s attracted to each other. Futaba likes Touma who’s gay and likes the straight Taichi who likes Futaba, complicating matters is Masumi who’s a lesbian who has a crush on the straight Futaba. However, by the ending, it's implied Taichi realized he's bisexual as he is married to Touma.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: In chapter 40, a rap battle starring two certain rappers can be seen in a single panel.
  • Last Episode, New Character: Masumi's husband, Mitsuyuki, is only introduced in the very last chapter as part of the Distant Finale.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Chapter 42 features a trio of gossipy girls whose conversation somewhat resembles that of some of the more extreme shippers in the audience; that Touma and Ichinose should get together because they've been together longer, that Futaba is boring and in the way, and even that they don't really care about Ichinose personally but they just want Touma to have him for the latter's happiness. Notably, all of these opinions only worry Futaba and piss Masumi off.
  • Love Epiphany: At a certain point, Kuze is caught between her attraction to Touma and her newfound attraction to Taichi and can't decide who she wants more. When Masumi asks her to imagine Masumi dating Touma and Taichi in turn, Kuze realizes she only feels jealous of the idea of Masumi dating Taichi.
  • Love Triangle: Kuze is in love with Mita, but Ichinose is slowly falling in love with her. Things get more complicated as chapter 5 implies that Mita is in love with Ichinose and Masumi might be in love with Kuze, which is outright confirmed in Chapter 11.
  • No Antagonist: In the end, the story had no single antagonistic force to oppose the protagonists. Most of the conflict is caused by Unrequited Love and the usual challenges of growing up and becoming a young adult. The closest thing the story has to antagonists are Mami (who never really does anything antagonistic outside of being mean to Masumi and Taichi before becoming their friend in the second half of the story) and Kensuke (who fights Touma when he hears that Touma is interested in men and regrets it soon after).
  • Oblivious to Love: All of the targets of affection seen above in All Love Is Unrequited seem to be completely oblivious about the one who is interested in them, though Touma seems to be perfectly aware of Futaba's interest of him. However since he is only interested in Taich who he knows won't return his feelings, he has been trying to push Futaba towards Taichi who he knows is crushing on her.
  • P.O.V. Cam:
    • Chapter 48 is a flashback from Touma's perspective, covering a few moments from his childhood with Taichi.
    • The final chapters revolve around this as it focused on Taichi and Touma, who respectively attend Omega's and Kuze's wedding, as a way to reveal what happens to them after they graduate from high school.
  • Reality Ensues: In the penultimate chapter, Taichi and Futaba are happy together, especially after fixing things up with Touma, and they prepare for their lives after highschool together. 2 years later, they break up and even though it wasn't bitter, they don't talk to each other again for 4 more years out of awkwardness until Touma wrangles them together to talk it out. High school couples often don't work out after all...
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Volume 1 extras has a young Ichinose make battle pencils with "United States of Smash" inscribed on one, and "The World" inscribed on another.
    • Yorkie's icon in their messaging app is a Splatoon character. Taichi is also wearing Splatoon merchandise such as t-shirts throughout his childhood.
    • During the Sports Festival fight between Taichi and Yorkie, Taichi cries out "Pick a god and pray", the critic line for Frederick in Fire Emblem Awakening.
    • When mentioning about former senpais that would protect Mami's club from unwanted male attention, they were described as "The Kongo Sisters Join the Battle".
    • There is a very blatant Death Note reference in one chapter for how a guy should treat a girl, complete with an image of Light (The only reason the mangaka could get away with it was a thin bar across his eyes).
    • Taichi's Tshirt collection could have a section all on its own:
      • Taichi spends the entirety of chapter 21 wearing a Creeper t-shirt.
      • One of Taichi's childhood shirts was one from the MOTHER franchise, specifically Mother 3.
  • School Festival: The second volume has the characters prepare for their final one, and Ichinose and Kuze are made assistant captains of their class' ouendan.
  • She's Not My Girlfriend: When Touma starts hanging out with Taichi, Futaba, and Masumi more in their final year at school, everyone starts assuming that Touma and Masumi have started dating, especially after Masumi dumped her old boyfriend. Touma is quick to deny it, though his friends have their doubts.
  • Social Circle Filler: Subverted. Even though Ichinose & Mita become friends again and made a circle with Kuze & Masumi, they still have their own social circle. This is prominent in the volume 3 extras, where the drawings show their time away from the main group— and all of them have the very same people they were with before they formed the main cast.
    • In fact, Ichinose was frustrated for the first school day when talking with Kuze on the phone after dating her. Both wanted to hang out together, but got distracted by their own social circle to even be close to each other when lunch break came.
    • Taken to its logical conclusion when 7 years later, Taichi is unable to come to Futaba's wedding (after the two of them broke up years earlier) because Omega's wedding happened to be the very same day.
  • Straight Gay: Mita and Masumi.
  • Those Two Guys: Touma's two best friends outside Taichi, Kensuke and Shingo. They are always seen together, and seem to be Nice Guys though one is very laid back and the other seems more serious (as shown by their reaction to Taichi opening the puzzle box in Touma's room without permission. Kensuke reprimands Taichi while Shingo simply laughs).
  • We Used to Be Friends: A strange case with Touma and Taichi. They never became hostile towards each other, but as Touma grew popular and surrounded by people, men eager to be his friend and women eager to date him, several of which were implied to dislike Taichi, the two simply drifted apart as time went on and Taichi started feeling unworthy of Touma's friendship. The manga follows the story from the point they start to rekindle their old friendship, which Touma has been heavily implied to have always wanted to hold on to.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Chapter 5, after a very heartwarming episode of Kuze wanting to be friends with Ichinose, the next scene showed Mita & Masumi, with Masumi revealing that a line that subverts the usual romance story, especially in a shonen.
    • Chapter 12, while trying to save a cat from running into the road and getting killed, we see Taichi about to get hit by a car. Then Touma pushes him out of the way and gets hit by said car. Touma's future in sports is pretty much over, which sets off the chain of events for everything to go crashing down.
    • Chapter 41— Touma confesses to Taichi, after just having fended himself off from Kensuke for outing himself. There's no going back now.
    • The two final chapters reveal that Futaba and Taichi break up after high school, with Futaba getting married to someone else later. It then shows that Masumi has since married a man after figuring out she's attracted to both men and women. Taichi and Touma have since married each other.
  • Wham Line:
    • Chapter 5, Masumi: Black hair is the only thing that fits the bill, right? Because the person you really like is [inaudible, but shocked Mita enough to react harshly against her]....I didn't tell him. But it's true isn't it? You're the same as me.
    • Chapter 27, Taichi: Futaba and I, we started dating.
    • Chapter 41— "I love you. I'm sorry."
  • Wham Shot: In the final chapter, the panel where Taichi shows up, revealing that the P.O.V. character is actually Touma, and meaning that he has changed his last name to Taichi's. There's also a later shot of Taichi's hand with a wedding band in it, showing the two have gotten married.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Masumi gives Taichi one early on for trying to get Futaba and Touma together even though he really likes Futaba himself, and thus will at least subconsciously hope for the relationship to fail. That on top of the fact that he knows Futaba isn't Touma's type based on what Touma had previously told him was his type.
    • Shingo gives Touma one during the Fireworks Festival for stringing Mami along by never explicitly rejecting her, leading her to think she maybe has a chance with him and thus becoming bitter towards Taichi, Futaba, and Masumi who recently started hanging out with him a lot more, which eventually leads to her refusing to come to events that they are at.
    • Shingo later gives this to Mami at their beginning of the second term, calling her to stop bothering Taichi by appealing to his interests, especially when Taichi needs to deal with university exams and it's apparent that Taichi and Futaba started dating. She quickly blows him off before he could continue further.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The final chapter includes a short montage to show what everyone is doing, though it mostly concerns what is the situation of the 4 main characters 7 years after high school
    • Touma and Taichi: The two have gotten together and married, with Touma now going by Touma Ichinose.
    • Masumi: She has since found out she is attracted to both men and women. She has married a man named Mitsuyuki after dating multiple people, and she seems to be truly in love with him.
    • Kuze: She has married a man (the last one of the group to get married), and is slowly rebuilding a friendship with Taichi.
    • Omega: He has gotten married to a woman on the same day as Kuze.
    • Mon: He has become a skilled baker and made Omega's wedding cake.
    • Yorkie: He seems to have become a streamer.
    • Seya and Akiko: Their family has since grown a lot, and they now have three kids.
    • Mami: Has started a career in beauty and is seen doing make up.
    • Shingo and Kensuke: The two continue being friends, and they're seem playing with Shingo's child with what seems to be his wife.
  • Whole Episode Flashback:
    • Chapter 16 shows how Taichi and Touma eventually drifted apart.
    • Chapter 33 mostly concerns Mami's time before the main story, explaining why she's so protective of her male/female platonic relationships and elaborating on her points in Chapter 32.
    • Chapter 48 explores Touma throughout his childhood and maturity, which also peeked into his family situation before and after his parents died.

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