Review of Blue Blazes (2014)

Moving picture

Seen in 2017.

The college life of Honō Moyuru, a passionate but narcissistic art student. He finds himself caught between potential love interests, but more importantly (in his own mind), he’s shocked by the superior talent of a classmate, Anno Hideaki. Anno is making friends: Yamaga Hiroyuki, who would go on to direct Honneamise (1987) but cannot draw and knows nothing about nerd culture, and Akai Takami, a relatively sensible lad who’d later make Petite Princess Yucie (2002) based on his own hit video game. In Honō’s mind, he competes fiercely with these future founders of Gainax, while the trio meets Okada Toshio and the popularization of nerd culture enters a new phase.

Drama. Based on an autobiographical comic by Shimamoto Kazuhiko. IMDb uses the title Blue Flame for this series, but fans usually call it by the idiom Blue Blazes to correspond to the original pun. Honō is the main character’s family name, meaning “flame”, and his given name Moyuru means “combustible”, hence the composite meaning is both “blue Honō” (i.e. Honō’s despondency) and “high heat” (i.e. blazing temperament).

The manga-inspired direction of this series is double-edged. In some scenes, particularly where Honō and Tsuda watch Cyborg 009, extreme internal monologue and matching facial expression contrast comically against everybody else’s normality, but much of the time the verbose internal monologue merely harms the pacing, and the visual design—Tonko’s weird hair, Honō always wearing the same sweater—keeps credibility lower than it ought to be. The main entertainment value lies in watching nerds destined for greatness in the year and a half leading up to “Daicon III” (1981), loving Adachi Mitsuru before Touch and Miyazaki for Cagliostro (1979) when Tomino’s Space Runaway Ideon (1980) was the latest and greatest. The sense of better things to come goes well with the comedy, and the love stories end as they should; Tsuda’s is poignant. The genre-crossing comic that Honō creates in the latter half is similar to Shimamoto’s 1983 original for Blazing Transfer Student (1991).

This is not The Notenki Memoirs (2002) but Yasuda Ken does a great job as the unkempt, overly earnest Anno who communicates through Ultraman stunts and forces a stranger to watch Mobile Suit Gundam (1979). Satō Jirō is over the top, and very good, as hard-living comics editor Mad Holy, whose involuntary inemuri is a sign of true dedication. Muro Tsuyoshi over-applies his schtick from The Hero Yoshihiko and the Demon King’s Castle (2011) as Yamaga, surprisingly caricatured as uninitiated, inartistic and interested only in a meal ticket.

References here: Fang of the Sun Dougram (1981), Blazing Transfer Student (1991), “Cassette Girl” (2015), A Silent Voice (2016).

moving picture Japanese production fiction series