Are hot janitors a Thing? After reading Dengeki Daisy and Skyblue Shore, which both feature handsome yet tortured twentysomething janitors, I am now convinced that anyone who wants to find cute men in Japan needs to start staking out custodial closets in local high schools. Skyblue Shore is a fun shoujo manga, with some hints of darkness that keep it from being overly sweet.
Skyblue Shore Volume 1 by Nanpei Yamada
Tomo used to visit the beach daily as a little girl. One day she met a boy who gave her an agate that he found while beach combing. While she went back to the beach daily, she never saw him again. Years later, Tomo’s grown older and she’s left her love of the beach behind. She’s on her way to school when someone starts feeling her up on the bus. A tall, dark and handsome man notices what’s going on and throws the groper off the bus, yelling that no one is going to touch one of his students. He leaves behind a keychain that has the same type of agate that Tomo keeps as a souvenir. This is a fairly formulaic beginning to a manga. Stories about children who reconnect as teenagers are common but even while Skyblue Shore evokes plenty of shoujo cliches, it does so in a refreshing way. The teenage Tomo is a fairly typical shoujo heroine. She’s pretty, popular, and enthusiastic but considers herself average. What makes her stand out a bit from her character type is her tendency to exhibit a strong nurturing streak due to the fact that she’s had to take care of her flighty mother. Tomo stumbles across a sullen boy who has a hairtie that exhibits the same construction techniques as the mysterious stranger’s broken keychain. Ten offers to fix her keychain and she trails him back to a shack on the roof of the school. She barges in and finds an apartment furnished with things from the beach, with elaborate driftwood assemblages. Ten, is of course, the boy who gave Tomo the agate when they were children. While he figures out who she is fairly quickly, she doesn’t connect Ten with her long-lost friend. His older brother Riku is the junior janitor at the school who has a habit of defending high school girls from perverts.
The pairing of an enthusiastic girl and sullen boy can be found plenty of times in shoujo manga. But I enjoyed seeing the relationship between this particular couple in Skyblue Shore. Ten starts taking Tomo beachcombing, and she’s delighted to rediscover one of her favorite childhood pastimes. She exhibits the same degree of excitement about being on the beach that she had as a little girl, but what happened to change Ten from being a happy little boy to a prickly teenager who hides behind his hair? Tomo spends more time with Riku, and promptly develops a hopeless crush on him despite his tendency to treat her like a little sister. Ten clearly cares about Tomo too, so the classic love triangle is all set up. Tomo starts appearing by Ten’s side after school, asking if he’s found any treasures at the beach. When Ten tells Riku that he’s taken on Tomo as his apprentice beachcomber, he says “I think…she’s been waiting a long time for me.”
I enjoyed all the details about the sea that Yamada included. Ten shows Tomo how to bleach sand dollars, and you can practically smell the salty air when the characters go down to the beach. Yamada’s character designs are clean and attractive, and I like the way she varied the body types of the brothers. Riku is clearly more mature, with more of a weighty, adult look while it is clear that Ten and Tomo haven’t finished growing yet.
Skyblue Shore Volume 2 by Nanpei Yamada
Skyblue Shore might initially seem like a charming, slice of life shoujo series that is only differentiated from other similar manga by the beach setting. Where it starts to stand out is the theme of past psychological trauma and potential insanity that is interwoven with all of the nice scenes of Tomo and Ten hunting for agates. A dark female character with unhealthy ties to Riku is introduced in the person of Michiru, who only sporadically attends school. When she comes back she definitely doesn’t approve of Tomo and Riku’s friendship. Tomo observes some close encounters between Riku and Michiru, and is dismayed. While Riku doesn’t cross any lines, it is obvious that they have a shared history and Michiru seems very emotionally damaged. Ten can see straight through Michiru and warns Tomo to be careful of who she makes friends with. Riku shares the fact that he and Ten lost their sister to the sea when Tomo almost drowns. She comforts him, and he asks her to be a good friend to Ten and Michiru. She starts to treat Michiru like a bit of a project, trying to bring her out of her shell and getting her to socialize with some of the other students. When Michiru stops coming to school, Tomo gets her to come by using the only threat she can. She says “Unless you drag your lazy carcass to school, I’m going to claim Riku for myself!”
Riku and Ten are clearly emotionally damaged by their loss, even though Riku might seem to do a better job of appearing normal. It doesn’t seem quite fair for Tomo to be put in the position of emotional caretaker for her group of friends. The blend of slice-of-life stories inter cut with past revelations of tragedy reminded me a little bit of Oyayubihime Infinity without the fantasy elements. Skyblue Shore is only six volumes long, and I’m curious to see if the characters actually manage to work through their various emotional issues and achieve some form of happiness.
Review copies provided by the publisher.