Bless Volume 2: Boiling Point



It has become evident that volume 1 had training wheels on- it was a story and style meant to leave a reader in awe and excited about what Yukino Sonoyama could do, what they might be hiding…. and boy were they hiding. Bless volume 2 takes those training wheels off, knocks down the door, and states as if it were its god-given right, “I have arrived”. Oh, the drama- the way Sonoyama twists it into this action-packed story full of rivalry and challenge. The depth of makeup artistry that has pages bursting with exciting and tense dialogue, resulting in standout reveals. The impressive panelling, the lovely perspective and depth they displayed in volume 1. There’s just so much that I’m bursting with excitement to chat about the volume, but I’m here to do my best to contain that and deliver a worthwhile review (aside from begging people to read it).

The question of where to begin, in my eyes, is very simple- accessibility and openness. Aia Udagawa and Jun Sumisaki’s main crux within their story arcs is how they’ve hid away their true selves because of how they’ve been perceived, how they struggle with those emotions. But everyone’s seen those sappy stories that try to pull on your heartstrings, get the waterworks going, etc. etc. Forget that, Bless volume 2 is a one of one, and it knows that, so why waste time doing what the crowd does? Instead, Sonoyama briskly establishes the emotional hangups and struggles that both characters face, and then with the wave of a hand- they’re gone. Completely forgotten, replaced with the beauty of passion and love, all bright and bubbly. I love it and how it fits with the tight pacing of Bless as a series (so far) and its encouraging and positive outlook. In such a fast-paced and strong story, there’s no time to shed tears of sadness, or feel down in the dumps- neither of those are beautiful.

In particular, the use of Sumisaki in Bless volume 2 excels with this. Being the supporting character of our leading pair, she’s a bit of a black box and blank canvas. Udagawa, through his interactions with her, gets to add paint to that canvas. As if hiding behind that blank square, more of her personality and history is uncovered in a way that continues to catapult her character forward. In contrast, Udagawa’s story remains far more grounded and internalized. His difficulties are his own, and remain rather separate to what he does in the moment. It’s a little sneaky, but Sonoyama has done (yet another) excellent job with using Sumisaki as a foil for Udagawa’s development. It’s such a simple idea, but just so great. Sumisaki’s story remains poignant and very strong, which allows Udagawa’s to retain a stronger direction without having to dilute it to include those same decorations.

Getting back on track to accessibility and openness though, the positive spin that Bless volume 2 maintains does a wonderful job of delivering that. Every development remains a good step forward. Rivalries are seen as a fun challenge, heads may butt over things, but they’ll always reconcile. It consistently remains smiles and open arms- whether that’s makeup or modelling. I seriously love it and how they break down perceptions of fashion and makeup so effortlessly. Udagawa has always been center stage right next to Sumisaki, but Sonoyama gets to happily include tidbits like a men’s makeup class, or Udagawa rocking some heels. I also think that their decision to keep it more of a “here then there” experience a good idea, as focusing on it too much would (unfortunately) draw the wrong attention. Either way, it’s there, and I love it (as well as how well the owner of the Mahjong parlour wears heels).

And there’s still so, so much more. One of my favorite pieces from Bless volume 2 is how much it leans into the latter half of the previous volume. It’s an incredibly silly thing to say, but if you take a step back the narrative archetype of this volume is almost hilariously “shounen”. An exclusive group of up and coming people that Udagawa’s been recommended to by his “master” (Oya-san), an intense rivalry with another of his prodigy, competitions and tournaments galore- there’s even hilariously fun gimmicks. I mean, a makeup artist tackling two women at the same time? Why the hell not, right? Obviously though, the sentiment I’m trying to convey isn’t that “shoujo” (Bless runs in shounen sirius, after all) can be “cool” like shounen and other demographics. The point is that gender, identity, demographic, etc. etc. have nothing to do with what can be done with something. Is it cool? Then do it! Is it beautiful? Then make sure you show it off. It’s an incredibly simple tenet to live by, and one that Bless volume 2 personifies.

A concept that’s not just embodied by its story, I should add. Intense and dramatic visuals have remained a constant in Sonoyama’s repertoire through these two volumes, and their incredible thoughtfulness with panelling and blocking is an integral piece to that success. As I mentioned before, their strong sense of perspective is a big piece to their creative toolbox, but this second volume really drives home how much the character tilt exists in their work- to the point that I would like to see more refreshing ideas. Either way, there’s more interesting stuff than that. Sonoyama makes excellent use of perspective in Bless volume 2 with a flashback from Sumisaki detailing her younger days. The innocent and immature excitement of being fashionable and “adult-like” is expressed perfectly with the double spread of a festival turning into a fashion show.

Alongside that, their work within smaller panels can really shine. This small example at the bottom of the page really conveys that quite well. Udagawa is sitting facing the reader so that their frame is less of a focus than Sumisaki’s which is perpendicular to the frame, really driving home the focus on her height. Not only that, but the discussion about her complex has her facing her childhood dreams plastered across the wall, adding to the drama of the sequence. Then you add on top the beaded curtain sitting on the left side, and the text bubbles that populate the right side, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a panel. Impeccable blocking meets thoughtful and creative layout that doesn’t leave the frame heavy or imbalanced in one way or another. And there’s quite a few examples of that throughout Bless volume 2.

So, do you want to read something beautiful? Would you like a manga that’s passionate? Creative? Tense, exciting, fun, informative? Any other number of descriptors? I completely understand that fashion and makeup are a massive hurdle for a lot of male readers, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t let them know they’d be missing out if they didn’t at least try Bless. No manga is flawless, and Yukino Sonoyama isn’t a master of the craft by any stretch of the imagination- but perfection and mastery are hardly what you want out of manga. You want something that grabs you, something that calls out to you and makes it feel like you have to read it. And for that sort of feeling, I think Bless volume 2 hits the nail on the head.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.