English: Sweet Blue Flowers
Published: Nov 17, 2004 to Jul 6, 2013
Score: 7.991 (scored by 1690 users)
1 indicates a weighted score
SynopsisFumi and Akira were best friends when they were little, with Akira always looking after the crybaby Fumi, but that all ended when Fumi's family moved away. Several years later, Fumi's family returned, and she and Akira happened to bump into each other on their way to school. They became friends again, quickly slipping back into old patterns. Shortly after, Fumi began dating a cool, attractive upperclassman who, coincidentally enough, had ties to Akira's current school, the prestigious Fujigaya Girls' Academy.
(Source: Lililicious; updated from an early misreading of the school name Fujigaya, called Fujigatani in initial translations of the first chapters)
Related MangaAdaptation: Aoi Hana
It proves difficult to write about something which has been a part of a life; each moment became a memory, every volume, a mark of another year having passed.
Perhaps I'm the worst person to talk about Aoi Hana. Having begun publishing in 2004, it was a manga with which I've grown up. It covers in its almost decade-long lifespan three solid years of the lives of two teenagers, Manjoume Fumi and Okudaira Akira. Or perhaps we can say it shows even more, decades of their lives, ranging from early childhood to early adulthood.
It is this time difference that makes this series hard for me to talk about. I began reading as a teenager myself, feeling the very same as Fumi, the main voice of the series. As she experienced her first loves, first heartbreak and other emotions, I grew kinship with her. But as years wore on, I eventually, inevitably found adulthood, while the characters (formerly voices of my own youth) became people I could observe through my own life experiences. Their mistakes, misgivings and apprehensions which were things once eliciting acute vicarious sympathy and empathy, then brought out of me, "There, there. It will be all right." It became almost painfully nostalgic. Warm, familiar, past.
As Shimura began to detail a year of fiction across years of reality, the experience of Aoi Hana changed. The manga itself changed. Rarely does the narrative and the point-of-view of an artist mature. Art evolves, of course. But the voice of the characters, the way their stories are told hardly changes. Yet with Shimura, it's almost as though you can see over time how her own artistry developed. Sometimes the blackest of panels had more to say with a single, stark white line of text than a full-blown page, busy with drawings and images. Aoi Hana's character designs sometimes suffered from inconsistent, seemingly lazy production, but its overall beauty compensates for any drops in quality. And any time the art layered the complexity of the story... you'll forgive and forget. Genius might be the only appropriate word for whenever Shimura does right by her trade.
Aoi Hana begins as a simple, soft manga about high school life with two best friends. By the end of the series, it's a cryptic, heavy, often-confusing observation of human relationships. This is not a bad thing. As the chapters became shorter, the dialogue became poetry. The art itself turned into a kind of prose propelling everything forward, rich in its unspoken role in storytelling. Shimura's handling of the series in its later stages would undoubtedly frustrate readers. But these pages are meant to be poured over again and again. Panels are designed to consider all the content and infrastructure. Words are meant to be deciphered. Her dialogue becomes as impenetrable and difficult to comprehend as the hardest human emotion, as the most unknown and mysterious feeling.
The beginning seems weak, as does the ending. Where is the start of this? Where is the closure? This was something I'd pondered for many years. Just where would Shimura go with this? There is a formula. Every year, new characters, new school play, new relationships. Life at that age plays out like an equation, anyway. What difference is there? Personal experiences may be the thing. This is what Aoi Hana is all about.
We follow Fumi, named the crybaby of the story and her energetic,"spunky" best friend Akira as they meet years after being separated. What plays out is a friendship that picks up where it left off. And then... something more. The beauty of Aoi Hana resides in the respect it pays to the complexity of our relationships with one another. Love is not taken for granted... even when it's taken for granted. It is a powerful beast of a thing, making everything as beautiful as a fabled blue flower or as ugly as ourselves at our most disappointing. The strength of Aoi Hana is its cast of wonderful characters.
Fumi and Akira could be studied from start to finish. Akira especially ends up being one of the most complex characters in the series even though she seems to be the most straightforward. The later volumes slowly gives us more of her side of things. Very soon, what began as a story from mostly Fumi's perspective, closes with Akira's. This is really about these two girls, women, children -- every part of them. We're given glimpses, at times, as to what they think or feel though you may find yourself reaching out, clawing for more when we're left as mystified by events or actions just as they are. Fumi's development perhaps seems the most obvious and rewarding. She grows from an insecure 16 year old to a mature woman in her twenties, who, sweetly, can be undone with innocent words of a 6 year old. Akira is our champion, the direct voice of simple justice, though this makes her the most naive person in the entire series at the start. Adolescence leaves her as her change into a woman is less pronounced and noticeable but present all the same.
The manga does not shy away from recognising that love and sex are part of adolescence and adulthood. The response to each marks a different stage for the characters, main and supporting. For Fumi, it's about finding balance. Akira's own sexual development as a girl growing into woman is done powerfully, with simple images or pieces of text.
Both these girls do well as they grow up. It may take you several readings to notice just when Fumi stops crying over nothing or when Akira lets go of her childish things, but when it happens, there is nothing more rewarding or amazing. These are two magnificent leads, characters you want to hang out with or crush into tight, tight hugs.
The supporting cast is vast and without keeping up, can be overwhelming. Some of the major players are the Sugimoto sisters, women ranging in ages, attitudes, tastes and philosophies. There is also the trio from Matsuoka, Fumi's friends Mogi, Yassan and Pon-chan, fantastic comic relief at times and also truly good schoolmates and companions. Later on we get Haruka, a feisty underclassman whose sister, Orie, is in a relationship with another woman, Hinako, a teacher at her and Akira's school. Sounds like a lot to remember, doesn't it? Throw in Ueda, who is the greatest side character in the entire series, funny, quiet and supremely mature, you have a cast consisting of lovely and lovingly-rendered characters. Some have argued that these side characters are useless and distracting, but they are far from that. Each one of them does something for the series, even in unnoticeable ways.
Hinako and Orie for instance offer hope. They are in a relationship that has lasted beyond high school sighs and touches and has become a fulfilling, long-lasting life for two people. This is something Fumi needs to see, as a girl whose heart was made to love somebody. This is something that Haruka has to experience, as life doesn't turn out the way it normally does. Sometimes you find out from yellowing letters in a shoebox that your sister is gay. What can you do other than, years later, accept that there might be an offbeat wedding some day? Even Fumi's cousin, Chizu, is written so well that a seemingly monstrous act of betrayal ends up being heart-breaking commentary about living to fulfil other people's expectations.
But having said all this about the supporting cast, there is one person that needs special attention as she exists between the roles of protagonist and supporting character. This is Kyouko, a girl whose private desperation to be something better than herself exists in fascinating contrast of her refined public demeanour. She's a classic beauty and has the admiration of everyone around her for being more mature and worldly. Kyouko's past and personal life beg to differ. She tries to find answers without ever daring to face the questions, but her brilliance is her own self-reflection. She's a smart girl -- she knows she can assess her personality and pinpoint the flaws. She just chooses sometimes to ignore them or to give in to them. To read of characters who innately know they are capable of being better than their worst, who are able to know themselves, is an utmost pleasure.
And that's what Shimura gives us. Terribly, brilliantly complicated characters. Words and pictures to mull over. With tea, no tea, sometimes with a hand in your hair, sometimes with pages being flipped backwards instead of forwards, during chilly nights or warm ones, like the ones the girls undoubtedly sleep through in Kamakura.
Kamakura is alive in this manga. The series opens and closes with this town, and as it provides a physical setting, it gives the entire series more context than just a landscape could offer. A beautiful seaside town, nothing out of the ordinary or terrible. The drama is as noisy as the place itself -- not at all. It is all life and beauty every day even in the midst of confusion, anger and pain.
And isn't that right?
It was with a heavy heart I said goodbye to these characters and this story. The ending itself might seem to be a let-down because... where is it? A lot of people are going to be left surely disappointed, with no answers to their questions: What becomes of Fumi and Akira? Everyone else's story gets wrapped up. What could Shimura be thinking, ending with the beginning?
Why didn't their story end?
Isn't it clear?
It doesn't. read more
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