So the manga for Bloom Into You concluded last fall, and thus now is the perfect time to really look over it and really examine what makes it work. I am aware that I’ve been a bit of a broken record on how great it is, but bear with me just a little longer, because I’d like to go over the key aspects that make it as truly incredible as it is.
Foremost, obviously, is the relationship between Yuu and Touko, their character arcs, and how these two interact. Yuu is the primary POV character, so let’s start there. Lot of people early on thought she was asexual, something later shown to be wrong, but this initial impression is clearly meant to be taken as such and to color a reader’s view of all her scenes through that being a possibility. Though the term itself is never used, Yuu and some others do speculate (and in h er case, despair) that she might indeed be asexual/aromantic. A big part of her arc centers around learning, acknowledging, and accepting that while she does indeed love Touko, she doesn’t feel or express it the way she had expected to, and coming to terms both with her own feelings and how they will affect everything around her. Added on to this is her genuine concern for Touko and her determination to help her understand and confront her own issues. As far as character arcs go, hers are fairly simple, but they’re exactly what’s needed to fit her role in the story as a relatively stable POV character and as a complement to other characters’ conflicts. Which brings us to the most complex aspect of the story by far.
If you asked me to list out the characters who I find the most in compelling in all of fiction, Touko Nanami would be right at the top, just under Beatrice herself. What makes Touko so interesting is that beneath her cool and charismatic facade, she’s actually a complex bundle of flaws and self loathing, and that inner layer makes for one of the most truly human characters I’ve ever seen. Her primary flaws are a hatred of herself combined with deep admiration for her older sister, a dependency on emotional support and affection, a fear of stagnation, and a resultant fear of love and relationships. These all combine to make for a really complex character who fits in perfectly with the central ideas of the story. Her self-loathing and deep-seated insecurity towards the kind of person she really is are the real core of every conflict she’s a part of, because when they’re combined with her misunderstanding of love as a force of stagnation, it results in an incredibly tense and indeed toxic situation where what she wants in the early part of the story amounts to someone who she can be affectionate towards and demand emotional support from without taking on the responsibilities or complications that come from having that person reciprocate her feelings the way they would in a traditional romantic relationship. She falls for Yuu specifically because Yuu is the one person in the world who she believes would fit these criteria, something that causes Yuu herself no small amount of stress as she finds that she isn’t able to hold up her end of the deal, and is indeed falling in love for the first time in her life. This situation results in 2 primary conflicts: the council play, and Yuu trying to convey her actual feelings.
The council play begins as the ultimate manifestation of Touko’s unhealthy views of herself and her older sister, essentially her attempt to do the one thing her sister couldn’t and earn some kind of Pyrrhic victory by doing so. Because Touko hates herself and idolizes her older sister, her entire outward persona has become a direct mirror of everything she believed her sister to be. This is a central theme of the story, with the original title of the story even translating to “Soon, I Will Become You” as a nod to this. Further credit to the anime adaptation for the genius idea of punctuating the opening credits with a shot of Yuu and Touko replaced by intertwined flowering vines and masks instead of faces. The vines represent how intertwined their lives become due to the love between them and the bonds they form, and the masks are a pitch perfect visual representation of the story’s theme. For indeed, Bloom Into You is about the masks we all wear, the idea of persona, and the different ways we present ourselves to the different people in our lives. And this is where the council play comes in, because while Touko plans for it to be the ultimate moment where she “becomes” her persona, two things end up happening that undermine this. Firstly, upon learning about this, Yuu decides that she wants to use the play as a chance to show Touko the error of her ways, and because she’s friends with the script writer, she gets a chance to help craft a message for the play (which, incidentally, uses the concept of an amnesiac questioning who they really were as a way to comment on the same themes of persona and evolving image) as one fundamentally critical of how Touko sees herself, and one that (so she hopes) will show her the error of her ways. Secondly, and just as importantly, while the student council is working on putting the play together, Touko, someone who idolized her older sister as a seemingly perfect individual, is confronted with the reality of who her sister really was, how she had sides to her that cast her in a much less ideal light. And that friction between who Touko thought her sister was and who her sister actually was is the source of a major identity crisis for her, because if her sister wasn’t the ideal she had always seen her as, what does that make her, someone trying to imitate that perceived excellence? This is a brilliant means of forcing introspection, as people like Yuu, her teachers, and her parents had constantly been trying to imply, hint, suggest, or push her into outgrowing her flawed perspective, and she dug in her heels every single time. There’s actually a very good lesson being conveyed here, particularly in one scene where Yuu suggests that people around Touko might be happier if she dropped her persona and accepted her real self, and Touko responds “I would rather die than hear that”. While this is obviously upsetting to Yuu, as it throws a wrench into every gain she had tried to make, it becomes far more interesting when you learn more about why Touko is the way she is, and suddenly her line makes perfect sense. Fundamentally, Touko believes that the “real her” is a horrible person, and it’s clear that she is upset and distressed by letting it show through, so for Yuu, the person she loves most in the world, to suggest she should live her entire life like that is clearly painful for her to process. While Yuu perceives it as a threat, as a way to say “stop trying to change my mind”, Touko doesn’t even seem to understand it in terms of how everyone else around her thinks. She isn’t able to really process that someone like Yuu is able to love those aspects of her, because to her those aspects are abjectly horrible, so she perceives “Maybe some people even prefer the real you” as an attack, something dragging her down to something she couldn’t bear to be, and as a result the intended message didn’t land . However, when she’s confronted with the reality that the person she’s idolized for so long as someone she’d wanted to be was actually a flawed person, she breaks because it runs so contrary to what she’s believed for so long, and the dissonance is something she can’t fully handle. In that moment, if she can’t be her “real self”, and she can’t be her persona, then she is left with the same question as the character she plays on the stage: what will she become, what is she really?
The second conflict of the story is Yuu coming to terms with her feelings and trying to help Touko reach a point where she can understand and accept them despite her initial insistence on that not happening. As a result, this really runs parallel to Touko’s growth as a character, as Yuu starts to figure out that she either does love Touko or wants to as early as when Maki (an asexual classmate) questions if that really isn’t what she’d already been doing, and by the time the council play that forms the crux of the story’s events is into serious production, she already understands to some degree that she actually has fallen in love. And the degree to which she and Touko react to that impending possibility changes drastically as other events of the story progress. Yuu first hints at it around the time she discovers the truth about Touko imitating her sister, at which point Touko is entirely oblivious and shuts down any attempts at making her understand that reality. However, it is very clear that, while she may not be consciously aware of it, she knows on some level that it’s happening. So, at her lowest point, when she is left entirely unsure of who she will become, Touko actually does extend her feelings into threatening Yuu for the first time, in one of the most memorable lines of the series: “Don’t fall in love with me, okay? After all, I hate myself, and how can I love someone who loves something I hate? I want to stay in love with you.”, with the implication being “but I can’t if you ever love me back”. This clears up shortly after during the aquarium sequence, where she truly comes to terms with the question being posed for the first time, and begins to find her answer. “Even if everything else about me is fake, I know that my love for you is my own”, as she says. And this is the moment where she truly begins to change and discover who she really is, by beginning with what she knows for a certainty to be true and working her way out from there. So when the council play comes, she is able to finally understand the meaning of it and grow into who she truly is. However, this is not the end, for Yuu is still haunted by the specter of her own feelings and ultimately is driven to confess the truth, that she broke her promise and did indeed fall in love with Touko. And what follows is arguably the best “misunderstanding caused by poor communication” story I have ever seen. Touko, in shock, can only respond with “I’m sorry”, which Yuu perceives as her acting on her previous threat, bursts into tears, and runs off. So, the real question to be asked is, what did Touko actually mean by this? Well, in general, Touko has been wrapped up a lot in her own personal growth, and basically viewed Yuu the same way that we the audience did, someone who didn’t feel romantic attraction in any circumstance, something Yuu herself did nothing to discourage. As a result, Touko never really processed the real predatory and destructive nature of her behavior early in the series, because she clearly assumed that these kinds of consequences would never actually happen. So when she’s confronted with the reality of how much her own selfish desires had torn up the person she loved most in the world, all she could express was “I’m sorry”, and I think that if she had expanded the sentence a little in that moment, what she was really thinking would’ve been “I’m sorry for hurting you”.
At this point the two are split apart, and it is only by consulting the people who can see through their facades that they can truly make up. Yuu acts like she can just shut out her feelings and make herself ace by choice, and Maki points out how she’s just lying to herself because she can’t handle the reality of how she feels and that she needs to step up to face her problems directly. Whereas Touko has to deal with her best friend Sayaka confessing to her, and thus grappling with her love for Yuu and why it feels so different from the love that she does feel for Sayaka, and thus being convinced that she can’t let something like that go to waste over a misunderstanding. It’s a beautiful ending to both of their character arcs.
Hopefully this has shed some light on why the primary story of Bloom Into You is so compelling. This won’t be the end of my talking about the series, as I have several other pieces planned, including a character study for Sayaka, an analysis of the play itself and how it connects to the themes, and a few others. But, for now, this should serve as a pretty good rundown of how the series makes drama so compelling, and why its earned its crown with so many fans.