I’m back to more standard anime this week. Well, I think this anime is a bit far from standard, but it’s not a movie or a video game, so that’s standard for me. So today I’ll be reviewing Aoi Hana, or Sweet Blue Flowers. I’m not sure why the English title is Sweet Blue Flowers (Amai Aoi Hana?) since that’s not the what the title says, but I guess whatever the author says goes. Aoi Hana aired from July to September of 2009, and was animated by JC Staff. It wasn’t very popular for I’m sure a myriad of reasons. Actually, upon researching a little bit I learned that this series was written by Shimura Takako, who also wrote the very first anime (well, the manga for it) I reviewed, Hourou Musuko. If you know what that’s about, it should give you a little insight into this series. Apparently she likes focusing on LGBT issues, and this one falls pretty firmly into the L category there. Anyway, I really liked Aoi Hana. I thought it was very different, and had the kind of style and charm I enjoy in this kind of slower-paced anime series (similar to Hourou Musuko, actually). But let’s run through the show a bit more methodically.
Starting with the plot, of course. The manga, as it’s ongoing, obviously covers more than the anime plot. The plot for the anime is centered around two characters, Manjoume Fumi and Okudaira Akira. Two girls who were best friends as children, but had moved away from each other. At the beginning of the anime, however, they move back to live closer together and quickly rekindle their friendship. At its core, the story is about these two girls and their lives and relationships as they go to high school. They go to two different high schools; Akira goes to Fujigaya Girl’s Academy, and Fumi goes to Matsuoka Girl’s High School, but they still find time to meet up and go out often. At the beginning of the series, we see Fumi heartbroken over a lost love. It turns out the woman she loved, her cousin Hanashiro Chizu, was getting married (to a man) and would for obvious reasons never return Fumi’s feelings. While she gets over this loss in fairly short order, the rest of the series becomes mostly around the relationship between Fumi and Akira, and their resulting school life together. I don’t want to give the mistaken impression that this is somehow Fumi’s story about facing societal oppression due to her sexual orientation… Far from it. While she doesn’t tell everyone she meets about her sexual tendencies, no one really dislikes her for it. Instead, it’s more of a slower-paced show about Fumi and Akira’s life as they go through life in high school, and Fumi happens to be lesbian during that. Of course besides that there are several other minor plot lines going on. In Fujigaya Girl’s Academy, Akira is part of the Drama Club and a major portion of the show is devoted to the showing they’re planning of Wuthering Heights (similar to the big play done in Hourou Musuko of the reversed Romeo and Juliet). I’ll be honest, while I read a lot (I mostly read trash I guess, not literature classics) I had no idea what Wuthering Heights was. To that end, I’m not entirely sure if there was some deeper meaning to have the club do a presentation of Wuthering Heights insofar as there being some thematic similarities between the play and what was going on in the plot at the time. It certainly seemed (what with the emphasis given to the play) that there was something of that nature going on, but I cannot for the life of me put my finger down on it. That would be my failure as a reviewer in this case, but that’s just how it is. It was a lot easier in Hourou Musuko since that was a story about crossdressing… and they picked a crossdressed play. I guess Aoi Hana is just a little bit more subtle (maybe). Anyway, the whole Wuthering Heights thing takes up a lot of show time, and of course Fumi is roped helping out. Along the way Fumi goes out with another girl for a while, and there are some other minor plot lines that coalesce as the series carries on. The way I’ve made it seem makes it sound like a conglomerated mess of plot lines that all don’t really seem too important, and while the pace of the show is slower and therefore a little more laid-back in terms of plot, there are a fair number of dramatic moments in the show. To be frank, the show is paced fairly well (with a few minor hiccups here and there) and the dramatic moments hit when they should. I think that under the constraints of an eleven episode series, JC Staff did fairly well in its adaptation.
Moving on to the characters. I’ll just cover the two most important ones to this series. Starting, of course, with Manjoume Fumi. If anyone can be considered the main character, it would be her (though I would say the story is just as much about Akira). As a child, she was shy and a crybaby, and as a result Akira took on a more protective role with her. Even though she grew up away from Akira, Fumi retains a lot of those characteristics. While she is a bit stronger-willed (there was a tangible moment of character development after she got over her crush with her cousin) her character is the kind that has to rely on someone else to function. While in the beginning that is her cousin, eventually that becomes Akira again (and her girlfriend, Yasuko). It’s a little difficult to approach Fumi’s character just in the context of the anime, since I also read the manga and her manga self has gone through a lot of development since the events of the anime, but I think it’s important to state that while her anime character is one of reliance on others, she does develop into a more self-reliant character later on. Of course, it’s also difficult to explain Fumi’s character without explaining that of her best friend, Okudaira Akira. I think if anyone can be called comic relief in Aoi Hana, it’s Akira. It’s not that she’s not a serious character, or that she should be pigeonholed into the personality of “loud idiot”, but she offers an incredible contrast to Fumi. Whereas Fumi is ridiculously tall, shy, subdued, and unassuming, Akira is almost a total opposite. She’s tiny, she’s loud, she’s outgoing… In short, she’s a bright contrast to Fumi’s character. Because of that, her interactions with others can be a little funny (particularly those with her teasing older brother), but I think the funny is more “holy crap something to detract from Fumi’s quiet” rather than being truly funny. If I had to put it succinctly, it seems to contrast with the show’s nature. Anyway, Akira is a very loyal friend to Fumi, and is constantly trying to live up to their earlier dynamic where Akira was the protector and Fumi was the protected. In that way Akira seems to be a character stuck in the past, believing that her relationship with Fumi is the exact same as when they were kids. And to a degree, she’d be right, but one of the major plot lines to Aoi Hana is the changing of that relationship, and I think Akira’s reactions to that change are the most interesting to watch since she’s clearly the least prepared.
There are a few comparisons to Hourou Musuko in this review, so if you’re a bit lost on that front, at least look at the pictures. I think the pictures comment is particularly apt as I discuss the art in Aoi Hana, as it’s very similar. It has that same washed out water color-y/pastel-y feel that Hourou Musuko did, which I’m a huge fan of. Obviously I’m not an art person so I could be wrong about how I described it, but that’s the feel I get from it. The colors are quite pleasing to the eye and the style in which the backgrounds are done is just great. I’d like to take a quick second here to talk about the character designs before I move on though. Especially Fumi’s character design. Well, to put it quickly, I love it. I’ve always been a fan of the whole glasses thing, of course, but I think Fumi’s character design (along with her character, of course) is absolutely adorable and definitely part of the reason I enjoyed the show as much as I did. Not to say there aren’t other merits to this show, but Fumi certainly helped. Akira’s character design is fairly cute as well, I suppose, but Fumi is where it’s at~
As this is more of a drama/romance/slice-of-life series, the animation budget is obviously not high-tier or anything of the sort. I didn’t have any glaring issues watching it and neither should you. There aren’t really any moments in the show that need to be animated incredibly well to get its point across. While obviously a greater animation budget can lead to different ways to portray scenes, generally for the better (for example, Nichijou), it’s not as if anything is lost in a series like this if the animation isn’t quite up to par with other series (not in the genre, of course), but it’s more of a loss of potential. Other than that, I can’t say much more. Aoi Hana does what it does in a watchable fashion.
And lastly, the music. The music is great and fitting. The score is done by Haketa Takefumi (whom I’ve never heard of, though I don’t profess any more than a passing familiarity with Japanese anime/game composers) and I think offers a great complement to the series. Most of the tracks are flute/acoustic guitar/piano pieces that are generally softer. The pieces fit the pace and mood of Aoi Hana quite well and I’m fond of a lot of the tracks (to the point where I can remember some of the tracks). Doing a little research, I found that Haketa Takefumi has also done the music for Mahotsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto, which I forgot I watched. I’ll probably review that and its sequel (Natsu no Sora) in the near future, once I can pull up images for them. BGM aside, the opening and ending themes are averaged to be… Alright. I’m not a big fan of the opening theme, music and video. It’s “Aoi Hana” by Kukikodan… Whom I’ve also never heard of, not that that’s supposed to mean anything. While the song fits the series in much the same way the BGM does, I just don’t think it sounds that great. And the accompanying video doesn’t really showcase the anime as well as it could have (though it does fit a bit better for the manga, funnily enough). The ending theme on the other hand is much better. It’s “Centifolia” by Ceui. I’d like to say I’ve never heard of Ceui, because I hadn’t when I watched Aoi Hana, but from what I recall Ceui did some work for Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon. Anyway, I like the song; I think it fits just as well as any piece of music in the series. Moreover, I think the accompanying video is adorable and unlike the opening theme’s video, fits a lot better into the series. I will mention that I have no idea what Centifolia means, though a quick lookup on Wikipedia gives me something to do with a rose, so… Flower motif, I suppose?
Studio: J.C. Staff
Director: Ken’ichi Kasai
Character design: Masayuki Onchi
Music: Takefumi Haketa
Original creator: Takako Shimura (manga)
Original run: July 2, 2009 – September 10, 2009
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