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Manga / Blue Flag

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Which should be more important: your friend or your lover?
Your best friend or your lover. You can only rescue one. It's the age-old dilemma. "What would you do?" they ask. Me? Well... I don't have either, so it makes no difference to me.
Taichi's opening narration
Up until his third year of high school, Taichi Ichinose has only had to deal with the usual stressors: exams, cliques, expectations. Now he has to add right hand man to this list when the perpetually clumsy and shy Futaba Kuze asks him for help wooing Toma Mita, their school's resident popular kid.

Futaba has harbored a crush on Toma for some time, and she's now finally ready to take the first step to becoming his girlfriend. Problem is she doesn't know where to even begin: Toma's good looks, outgoing personality, and athletic prowess attract plenty of attention from girls, but Toma has never taken a girlfriend. As such, she doesn't know what Toma's preferences are. Since Taichi and Toma are friends, Taichi is in the perfect position to know what Toma likes. And, fortunately for Futaba, Toma told Taichi exactly what those traits are. Despite not really liking Futaba, Taichi accepts her request.

What the both of them don't know is that their efforts are doomed to fail before they can even begin. Toma is already in love with Taichi; the description he gave Taichi about what he likes in a girl was just a smoke screen. The only one who can see through the smoke is the aloof Masumi Itachi, who is also in love with her own best friend, Futaba.

As the school year unfolds, misunderstandings abound, secrets are uncovered, and relationships will be tested. Only one thing's for sure: by the time they're holding their diplomas, nothing between these four teens will be the same.

Blue Flag (青のフラッグ, Ao no Furaggu) is a shonen romance manga by KAITO. It was serialized in Shonen Jump+ from February 2017 to April 2020, ending with a total of eight volumes. VIZ Media released the series in English.

This series provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: When Taichi and Toma 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 (2006, but regained popularity from 2009-2014). Blue Flag, having come out in 2017, takes place in an unspecified time after these series were released.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: At the beginning of the series, Masumi is quietly crushing on Futaba who has a crush on Toma who has been pinning after Taichi who develops feelings for Futaba while helping her woo Toma. Then there's Kensuke's crush on Mami who can only think of Kensuke as a friend and is herself crushing on Toma.
  • Anxiety Dreams: Chapter 10 opens with Taichi dreaming about him and Toma when they were in the 6th grade and had to write down on a form what they wanted to be when they grow up. Toma already knows what he wanted while Taichi is undecided. When Taichi asks Toma why he doesn't want to go to university, Toma is his teenage self while Taichi is still a kid. A black cat then takes Toma's place, reminding Taichi that he did, at one point, know what he wanted to be. The dream ends with a glimpse of Toma as a child in a suit and a crumpled up form. This dream stems from Taichi's anxiety's regarding his own post-high school plans, mainly a lack of any, and his recent discovery that Toma decided to forgo university despite his initial dream of wanting to become a professional baseball player.
  • Art Evolution: The art style generally remains the same throughout the manga, but Toma's face has some subtle changes in how it's drawn. In the opening chapters, it's a bit more boyish. Over time, his jaw becomes a bit more pronounced and his face overall a bit more masculine looking. His eyes were also originally dark and beady. A few chapters later, his irises are drawn as a lighter color.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The final chapter is entirely in first person perspective and opens with someone writing "Ichinose" on the wedding registry at Futaba's wedding. Ichinose is Taichi's last name, so the audience immediately assumes the POV character is Taichi. However, after the wedding ends, the POV character ends up meeting up with Taichi. At that point, it's clear that the POV character is actually Toma, who took on Taichi's last name after they got married.
  • Be Yourself: Discussed by Masumi and Akiko in Chapter 39 when discussing Masumi's sexuality. Akiko's immediate advice is for Masumi to just be herself. Masumi points out that when you're different, you're putting yourself in a situation where you can lose friends who disagree with you and that it's easier to live with others when you're as similar to the majority as you can be, so she can still lose by being herself. Akiko acknowledges this, expanding upon her initial advice by saying that people are so different anyway that she'll never be able to identify with everyone, and though she may lose some people along the way, even those she loves dearly, choosing the best path for yourself at is sometimes necessary.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Even as kids, Toma's been taller than Taichi, an attribute that became more pronounced once they hit puberty. By the time they're seniors in high school, Toma is at least a full head taller than Taichi. A gender-inverted example can be found between Futaba and Masumi, with later being a full head taller than the former.
  • Big Sister Bully: Futaba's older sister doesn't seem to be a very nice person, yelling at her brother for not recording her TV show, then putting down Futaba when he said he told her to do it, saying he shouldn't have entrusted that task to Futaba.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: Taichi develops a crush on Futaba while helping her to become Toma's girlfriend. What neither of them realize is that Toma is already in love with Taichi and has been for years. A particular conversation with Masumi helps Futaba realize that she doesn't want to be with Toma, she'd rather be him instead, and she can't stand the thought of Taichi dating anyone. This leads to Taichi and Futaba eventually becoming a couple. Not long after that, a series of events lead to Toma being outed to the whole school and Toma himself explicitly telling Taichi that he loves him. This confession causes Taichi to reevaluate both of his relationships and which one is more important to him.
  • Bowdlerise: The Vietnamese printing of Volume 7 altered the cover art for Chapter 46. In the original, Mami, Sayaka, and Shoko are depicted wearing lingerie and posing suggestively. The Vietnamese version has them wearing negligee dresses that either almost completely cover the lingerie or add on to what they were already wearing.
  • Call-Back: In the final chapter, Taichi finds a poster for the final chapter of the horror movie he watched with Masumi, Toma and Futaba 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: Toma 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.
  • Childhood Friends: Toma and Taichi were close friends in middle school, which sadly did not accompany them in high school, but they still refer to each other on a first name basis when they are put in the same class again.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Futaba, 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 Taichi’s perspective, has him and his husband Toma look at the poster of their favorite movie series's final installment, and expressing disappointment that it's almost over.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: First of all, Taichi assumes that Toma is in love with his sister-in-law, based on what Toma told Taichi he considered to be the perfect lover in middle school, most of which turned out to be a lie. And in the present day, Toma's brother has instructed Taichi to find out why Toma is planning to move out without going to college. Taichi finds a book showing that Toma's sister-in-law is pregnant, so he assumes Toma 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. Toma sets Taichi straight that, no, he is not in love with his sister-in-law, and finds that idea to just be weird. Toma seems to almost tell him the real truth, 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 during the only time he has appeared thus far.
    • Futaba's mother and brother got the same treatment in the first chapter they appeared in.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Toma and Masumi are portrayed this way, when the author was asked about their Animal Motifs. Toma was drawn as a big friendly dog, while Masumi was drawn as an aloof black cat.
  • First-Episode Twist: In Chapter 5/Volume 1, which includes the Wham Episode where Masumi reveals that Toma is in love with Taichi.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: During the second to last chapter, while Taichi is trying to rekindle his friendship with Toma after all the awkwardness between them after the latter's secret came out, Toma 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 four 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 and 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 Futaba 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 Toma 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 Futaba, Mami, and Masumi covering their faces with sunflowers. For this chapter, sunflowers would mean optimism and happiness — after the session with Mami, Futaba 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 Toma is actually interested in Taichi is heavily foreshadowed throught the first five chapters.
      • There were plenty of scenes in which Toma was looking aloofly towards Taichi in the classroom.
      • The fact that Toma has some dark seated issues]] was foreshadowed back when Taichi asked Futaba why she fell for Toma, which led to a story about how Toma started taking care of her tomatoes in the garden after asking himself if tomatoes also get frustrated.
      • In a flashback, when Toma is asked about his type, he first measures Taichi 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 at Taichi. At the same time, right after describing it, he quickly responds that it's never going to happen.
      • When talking to Futaba, he gives a long description of things in Taichi 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 Taichi take a crowded train and he convinces Taichi to lean on him during the ride when too many people are on the train, which is quite romantic and could be seen as a weird suggestion for a guy.
    • Taichi's own unspoken attraction to Toma has been hinted at throughout the story:
      • As many close-ups as Futaba gets from Taichi's point-of-view when he recognizes her beauty, Toma has even more of them. He also talks at length about how he understands why people fall for him, which at first glance is a normal guy looking at the popular guy.
      • Futaba and 's final one-on-one conversation in the story features the former saying that Taichi is seriously considering the latter's feelings. When Toma 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 Toma.
    • Yokki outright asks when Taichi and Futaba 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 Toma, Taichi, and Futaba.
    • In the final chapter, the twist that Toma is the P.O.V. character was hinted at multiple times.
      • 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 Futaba, she mentions the P.O.V. character is an inspiration to her, which is what Futaba explicitly refers to Toma as.
      • The angle of the drawings suggests that the P.O.V. character is looking down at characters, including Masumi and her husband, who are standing in their scenes. Numerous references throughout the manga highlight Taichi's shortness and Toma's height, including an earlier chapter, similarly angled, from Toma's point of view.
      • The final chapter heavily parallels chapter 48. In both, events are seen from Toma's eyes where we only ever hear what other people around him say not what he says, we see his hands but not his face, and in both chapters Taichi and Toma reach out to hold hands with each other.
  • 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: Ichinose's trio of friends, Omega, Mon, and Yokki, 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 Taichi when he asks Toma during childhood, Toma actually has 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 Taichi.
    • 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.
  • Happy Ending Override: In the penultimate chapter, Taichi and Futaba are happy together, especially after fixing things up with Toma, and they prepare for their lives after high school together. Two 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 Toma wrangles them together to talk it out. High school couples usually don't work out after all...
  • Hard Truth Aesop:
    • Chapter 39 has that you have to be yourself regardless of what others think of you, even if they are your family or closest friends. If they learn what you are and despise you for it, you cannot change them, you can only live for yourself.
    • Society as a whole will treat relationships with men and women differently, platonic or otherwise, and no amount of individual remedy can change that.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Applies to nearly everyone who’s attracted to each other. Futaba likes Toma who is gay and likes Taichi who likes Futaba. Complicating matters is Masumi 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 Toma.
  • 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 Toma and Taichi 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 Taichi personally but they just want Toma 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, Futaba is caught between her attraction to Toma and her newfound attraction to Taichi and can't decide who she wants more. When Masumi asks her to imagine Masumi dating Toma and Taichi in turn, Futaba realizes she only feels jealous of the idea of Masumi dating Taichi.
  • Love Triangle: Futaba is in love with Toma, but Taichi is slowly falling in love with her. Things get more complicated as Chapter 5 implies that Toma is in love with Taichi and Masumi might be in love with Futaba, 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 Toma when he hears that Toma 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 Toma seems to be perfectly aware of Futaba's interest of him. However since he is only interested in Taichi, who he knows won't return his feelings, he has been trying to push Futaba towards Taichi who [[IWantMYBelovedToBeHappy he knows is crushing on her.
  • P.O.V. Cam:
    • Chapter 48 is a flashback from Toma's perspective, covering a few moments from his childhood with Taichi.
    • The final chapters revolve around this as it focused on Taichi and Toma, who respectively attend Omega's and Futaba's wedding, as a way to reveal what happens to them after they graduate from high school.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Volume 1 extras has a young Taichi make battle pencils with "United States of Smash" inscribed on one, and "The World" inscribed on another.
    • Yokki'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 Yokki, 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 Taichi and Futaba are made assistant captains of their class' ouendan.
  • She's Not My Girlfriend: When Toma starts hanging out with Taichi, Futaba, and Masumi more in their final year at school, everyone starts assuming that Toma and Masumi have started dating, especially after Masumi dumped her old boyfriend. Toma is quick to deny it, though his friends have their doubts.
  • Social Circle Filler: Subverted. Even though Taichi and Toma become friends again and make a circle with Futaba and Masumi, they still have their own social circles. 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, Taichi was frustrated for the first school day when talking with Futaba on the phone after they began dating. 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 seven 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 on the very same day.
  • Straight Gay: Toma is gay and isn't portrayed with any stereotypically gay traits. He's just a regular teenager with his own idiosyncrasies, faults, and strengths who just so happens to be pining after Taichi.
  • Those Two Guys: Toma's two best friends outside of Taichi are Kensuke and Shingo. They are usually seen together and are Nice Guys, though one is very laid back and the other seems more serious. This is highlighted by their reaction to Taichi opening the puzzle box in Toma's room without permission: Kensuke reprimands Taichi while Shingo simply laughs.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Taichi and Toma are a downplayed example; as Toma's popularity grew, the two simply drifted apart as time went on and Taichi started feeling unworthy of Toma's friendship. The manga follows the story from the point where they start to rekindle their old friendship.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Chapter 5: After a very heartwarming episode of Futaba wanting to be friends with Taichi, the next scene shows Toma and Masumi, with Masumi revealing that she knows about Toma's crush on Taichi and that she is in a similiar situation with Futaba.
    • 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 Toma pushes him out of the way and gets hit by said car. Toma's future in sports is pretty much over, which sets off the chain of events for everything to go crashing down.
    • Chapter 41, Toma 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 Toma 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 Toma 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 Toma, 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 on it, showing the two have gotten married.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Masumi confronts Taichi early on for trying to get Futaba and Toma 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 Toma's type based on what Toma had previously told him was his type.
    • Shingo calls out Toma during the Fireworks Festival for stringing Mami along by never explicitly rejecting her, leading her to think she may have a chance with him and thus becoming bitter towards Taichi, Futaba, and Masumi who recently started hanging out with Toma a lot more, which eventually leads to Mami refusing to come to events that they are at.
    • Shingo later gives Mami a hard time at the beginning of the second term, telling 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 have started dating. She quickly blows him off before he can continue further.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The final chapter takes place about seven or so years after everyone's graduated. It mainly focuses on where the main four are during that point of their lives, but there is also a page of panels showing/hinting at the future's of other characters: Toma attends Futaba's wedding, Taichi being unable to thanks to Omega's own wedding taking place on the same day. Also in attendance is Masumi with her husband, Mitsuyuki, who is exceedingly grateful that- of all the men and women Masumi could have settled down with- she chose him. Toma himself is married to Taichi, taking on Taichi's last name. As for other characters, Mon is a skilled baker who made Omega's wedding cake, Yokki seems to have become a streamer, Seya and Akiko had two more children since their first, Mami is a professional cosmetologist, and Shingo and Kensuke are still friends even after settling down themselves.
  • Whole Episode Flashback:
    • Chapter 16 shows how Taichi and Toma 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 the previous chapter.
    • Chapter 48 explores Toma throughout his childhood and maturity, also peeking into his family situation before and after his parents died.

Alternative Title(s): Ao No Flag