While the first two volumes of Bloom Into You were focused on setting the scene and establishing Yuu and Touko’s rather one-sided relationship, this third volume turns its focus to Touko’s best friend, Sayaka, building up her character while providing a little bit of social commentary.
While the aim is to set up a love triangle between the three, this volume has some important points to make as it shows Sayaka trying to understand and come to terms with her feelings for Touko and being a lesbian in a culture where such relationships have commonly been passed off as ‘just a phase’.
This is explored through the discovery of Yuu’s homeroom teacher Riko being in a same-sex relationship with Miyako Kodama, the owner of a café the girls like to visit. It’s pleasantly surprising how this relationship is portrayed as completely normal and that at least one of the pair is super-frank about it – when pressed by Sayaka, Miyako basically states “yeah, we’re going out, what of it?” – which I think was a superb way of handling it. While I won’t ignore the struggles of LGBT people in the West, Japan still socially lags behind its western counterparts when it comes to these issues, which does extend to the printed medium. Unfortunately, yuri as a genre has built itself up on using unrealistic or abusive relationships to create that entertainment and shock factor, so it is definitely refreshing and pleasing to see a normal, healthy same-sex relationship here.
This is then given an interesting contrast with both the views of Sayaka’s former partner, who breaks things off because she thinks as older teenagers, girls shouldn’t be doing that sort of thing, as well as Yuu and Touko’s relationship. The latter of which I can’t consider as being normal or healthy in the way Touko keeps pushing herself onto Yuu; something that Yuu is clearly uncomfortable with, but finds herself not being able to say no to. It’s still made clear to the reader that Yuu is developing some feelings for Touko, but it’s obviously something that she doesn’t yet understand.
Whether Sayaka has noticed this or not remains to be seen, but with Touko pushing her affections onto Yuu, she definitely feels jealous over the pair. These feelings could quickly set up Sayaka as an antagonist and someone who is trying to get in the way of Yuu and Touko’s relationship, but with a modest backing down and an admission that she doesn’t want to spoil their current friendship, Sayaka becomes a viable option for you as the reader to cheer on, particularly as she has a more mature and patient attitude compared to Yuu’s uncertainty about how she feels about Touko and where she thinks their relationship stands.
I do like the way the story is building up so far, and while it’s not exactly fireworks, there is some conflict between Yuu and Sayaka, which ends up getting in the way of the student council’s preparations for the inter-club sports day relay. While the latter half of this volume felt like it dragged on for a little bit too long, particularly reading this in one sitting, I did like how it put down a lot of questions for both the characters and the reader, as a heart-to-heart between the two rivals sows seeds of doubt in Yuu’s mind about her relationship with Touko. Are they just friends? Or maybe something more? And does she even like her in that way? I’m sure all of these will be answered in due time, and with Touko warning Yuu not to fall in love with her, I’m expecting this to really take off if, or when, she does in a later part of the story.
From reading the first three volumes of the series, I can say that Nakatani really has a flair for creating characters as the vast majority are well-developed and do not feel wasted: each one has a specific purpose in the story. Out of the boys on the student council, Doujima still doesn’t have a lot going for him yet, but Seiji definitely seems an interesting character as he’s posed to be an observer, similar to the reader, who is watching Yuu and Touko’s developing relationship with great interest. Koyomi, the girl in Yuu’s class who is writing the script for the student council’s culture festival play has also captured my attention and although she’s not part of the student council, she really starts fitting in well to what is quickly becoming not just a group of schoolmates, but a solid group of friends.
The artwork for this volume is consistent with the previous two, with the same cutesy, attractive but not too unrealistic characters and well-drawn backgrounds. I really appreciate Nakatani’s strong attention to detail, as simple objects and slightly obscured brands are clearly recognisable. I can specifically tell you that Yuu’s mobile phone is an Xperia Z1 for example, and it’s certainly not hard to notice what fast food chain Yuu and Sayaka visit for their heart-to-heart moment.
With the third volume, Bloom Into You continues to be a highly entertaining and refreshing yuri manga with a more grounded and realistic take on relationships in general, while showing that the genre can take same-sex relationships seriously when it tries. With great character work and well-executed story, this has hooked me in for the long run and I can’t wait to read what happens next.