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In Session: Proudly Different in Japan: Body, Sexuality, and Gender in Manga
3: “I’m Proud I Was Born Me”: Reimagining Gender, Sexuality and Community through Blue Flag
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Stanford University, United States
KAITO’s Ao no furagu (Blue Flag, 2017-2020) began as a quiet, stereotypical story of high school life, but by its conclusion readers and media hailed it as a tool to both understand LGBTQ individuals and to face one’s own prejudice against them. Drawing upon literary empathy theory and serialization theory, I examine how the content, serial format, and online platform of Blue Flag propose new mechanisms for establishing empathy via a fictional narrative. Blue Flag is a webcomic hosted on the website of Japan’s most popular boys’ comics magazine, Weekly Shōnen Jump. In its later volumes Blue Flag increasingly examines gender and sexuality norms via disembodied monologues and character dialogues that combine logic, ethics and experiences. In addressing these topics the work is in dialogue with both the Jump website hosting it and the wider manga ecosystem it inhabits, challenging the predominant misogynistic and heteronormative trends in many other Jump manga and the magazine's sexist professional practices. Readers take up Blue Flag’s intersectional feminist debates on social media and the comments section built into Blue Flag’s webpage. Through linking their lived experiences and personal feelings to the fictional world of the story, these commenters call upon readers to interpret these fictional struggles and debates within the context of the real and to transfer their empathy for fiction characters to real people. Together, Blue Flag and its commenters expound upon manga’s potential to promote greater acceptance and empathy with groups stigmatized by the manga industry and broader society’s patriarchal social norms.