Bless Volume 1: I Have No Talent



A swirling pool of gender, romance, and self-reflection, Bless is a manga I’ve been following since its conception, praying for an English release. Full of stunning art from manga Yukino Sonoyama, and incredible narrative prowess with marrying a story of self-imagery with fashion through makeup in a way that doesn’t get lost on readers, it’s a force of nature as a story. But perhaps the coolest thing about this series is the fact that it’s in a Shounen magazine. Almost as effortlessly as Bless volume 1 shatters the appeal to gender norms, it does much the same outside its scope as a manga. I think it’s really great to see how it views all aspects of itself as a fragments of each individual, rather than as a more collective or generalized group or community (not that those are bad).

Anyways, to the story. I think, in hindsight, that it feels like quite the whirlwind of a first volume. Jumping from place to place, it feels like its two narrative beats in this volume should have been separated… but their brevity accomplishes something rather special- intensity. The drama, excitement, and sorrow all feel so strong when reading, and that really comes from how much Sonoyama is able to effectively omit without changing the trajectory of the story. Everything outside of makeup is very scarce, but it manages to fulfill the requirements of bare minimum to reasonably support this story.

And that is to cut to the deepest aspect of makeup artists. As much as characters like Jun Sumisaki have their own agency and desire, they are ultimately foils to characters like model turned makeup artist Aia Udagawa. In Bless volume 1, where Sumisaki’s focal point is ‘transformation’ and ‘fresh’, as much as they are parts of her, they are a reflection of Udagawa’s deepest parts of himself. While providing a visual rebirth for Sumisaki, Udagawa is the one creating such themes. He himself is the reflection that he sees in the power he gives Sumisaki- and he’s at the very least aloof enough to understand that. I think perhaps my favorite example of this is the expectation subversion in Udagawa’s makeup battle in the back half of the volume with Yoyogi. Where Yoyogi was cited as being a self-made artist on a shoestring budget, he’s the one that gets to work with the professional model while the boy that’s had everything chose to work with a girl that’s only walked on a single runway.

Let’s talk broader details in Bless volume 1 though. Aia Udagawa is a great half of the two character dynamic between him and Sumisaki. Their representation of two sides of the same coin is really interesting, and has me quite curious to see how their inevitable fallout goes. They already teased it in this first volume, but their proximity and similarity will inevitably be their downfall as characters that end up codependent of one another. Similarly in the form of teasing, Sumisaki’s part time job at a Mahjong parlor is very interesting as it’s all but guaranteed that there’s the relation to a history of modelling and/or makeup with the group behind it. It’s surprisingly interesting to see how much groundwork has been laid in the first volume, purely because you’re not given the time to soak it up when reading at the pace the manga encourages.

Though that’s great for providing a reminder. This is a manga, how are the visuals? In a world, “incredible”. Sonoyama as a first time mangaka is truly transcendent in their craft. Having pretty art is one thing, but having good art is a totally separate concept. Sonoyama deftly proves their ability in both realms, with stunningly full and detailed character and environment art, and subtly impressive work with panelling and layouts.

The best example of their work in the latter category of “good” can certainly be seen with their dimensionality. I’m always a massive sucker for good perspective, which Sonoyama shows off consistently, but I was really take by surprise with how much depth they were able to impart with their characters. Even more staggering is the fact that they accomplish such a feat so effortlessly even without an environment to contextualize that depth. It’s truly startling and incredibly rare talent to see, and is surely part of the reason why Bless was the only manga to move laterally into another print magazine following the dissolution of Shounen Edge.

As much as raw visual prowess is appreciated, it’s really nothing without an outlet that relates to the greater themes in the work. Thankfully, Sonoyama is able to impart a great deal of modern fashion and style into Bless volume 1, and in surprisingly simple areas at times. I think my favorite example comes from Sonoyama’s use of panel trios that finds surprisingly subtle common ground with lipstick. In the first panel, the pair are discussing which shade to pick, in the second are seen pondering their decision, and in the third are shown to be making that decision. It’s a great example of how Sonoyama makes use of those groups of threes to tell a complete story, but also works in a great bit of similarity in this specific case.

For one, they use a poster in the background to create a well rounded trio. Alongside that though, it’s a well-placed image-slash-ad for makeup, relating the middle panel directly to the pair that flank either side. And lastly, they make use of it to break up the visual monotony of the sequence as minute details aren’t necessarily the intent. To that point specifically, it’s actually a two-in-one as it breaks up the trio of panels, but also stops that middle panel itself from becoming monotonous, staving it off by not only placing the ad at a different height but also a different depth.

And it’s just the tip of the iceberg with Bless volume 1. It’s a crazy statement to make, but that’s really what it is. It’s so good that I’ve been able to avoid talking about makeup until this point- but it is a pivotal piece of the manga, so it’s still important to talk about. I’m personally not all that cognizant or perceptive with makeup, so some things may soar comfortably above my head. All the same, the explanations and appeal of makeup in Bless volume 1 remains very strong and well received. It’s a great combination of artistic ability, social trend following and setting, and detailed explanations juxtaposed with simple or curt observations. It doesn’t aim to tackle a specific depth with makeup, but rather a distinct nature of it- that is, its power. And I think given its characters and target audience, the “learn along the way” style that prioritizes learning rather than expression is a very valuable idea. It quickly express the awe and beauty of makeup with Sumisaki’s debut, but then just as swiftly redirects readers towards the more subtle and slighter applications.

So, if I were to say anything about Bless volume 1 it’d be, “A first time mangaka? Ha, no way that’s true”. As much as I express shock with manga like Goze Hotaru, I think Bless finds a way to work itself past even those sorts of responses. Maybe my reception of the former work will change once it reaches a full volume’s length, or maybe it won’t. All I can say is that in this moment, Yukino Sonoyama and Bless volume 1 are just as equal a force in their industry as Aia Udagawa and Jun Sumisaki are in their own. If the comparison wasn’t obvious, that means you should run (not walk) to pick this manga up.

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