1 of 1 episodes seen
From Up on Poppy Hill gives us the standard we expect from a Ghibli film: beautiful art, consistent and vibrant animation complementing stories and characters with either a whole lot of heart or charm and sometimes both. However, while Miyazaki makes all the right steps, he has a long way to go to give us something that is clearly his, something that makes us say "That's a Goro film". While every Ghibli movie feels like a distinctly magical journey, this one never quite gets there. Yet where it's headed is nowhere bad at all.
Set in the post-war, pre-Olympics 1960s Japan, From Up on Poppy Hill successfully re-creates a time and place where the protagonists Umi and Shun meet and fall in love. Their hesitant romance does not come without life's complications. They meet for the first time twice; once, as Shun and Umi unknowingly communicate to one another through Umi's maritime flags, and again at school where daringly, Shun makes a bold and stupid move to save the school's clubhouse. There seems to be a shared destiny, as Shun travels on his father's tugboat every morning, seeing raised flags trying to find a lost soul, and as Umi reaches down into a pool to accept his hand as he emerges from a pool. However, they both come to learn that their paths have crossed even before their meeting. While their romance is sweet, shy at times and quiet, there is a secret between their families that forces them both to acknowledge and accept that they should not continue with one another. They cannot help but fall in love anyway.
Miyazaki portrays life's disruptions and joys with gentility. Even though the twists and turns are the subject of ridiculous soap operas, Miyazaki's respectful handling of the feelings and characters involved creates a different experience. What could be seen as trite, ends up as palpable, never overwrought drama. Although the way things neaten up happily by the end seems to be too easy a resolution. The secret involves an actually compelling issue that could have been explored further, but the safest neatest way is the route chosen.
Umi and Shun manage as likeable and sweet characters, though they don't exceed our expectations of them. The other supporting characters give life to the film and they all occupy a space that feels very much like it's theirs. Without them, there'd be no personality in the boarding house, school and town. Despite being worthwhile extras, they aren't memorable side characters (like the old woman from My Neighbour Totoro or the artist in the woods from Kiki's Delivery Service). The film resolves to let them be adequate, not exceptional.
As aforementioned, From Up on Poppy Hill has been Ghibli-stamped and approved for its visual quality. Despite having a montage sequence with still shots (which seems to be very much contrary to Studio Ghibli's reputation for painstaking detail and excellence), the entire film looks spectacular.While it does not boast the stunning scope of the Ghibli epics or the fantastical vision of the others or even the technical genius, it has the quiet, solid sensibilities of movies like Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday. In fact, this film might take you right back to Whisper of the Heart, Kondou Yoshifumi's great masterpiece. (Although Umi and Shun's romance does not hit the highs of Shizuku and Seiji's; perhaps due to Shizuku being such a strong, charismatic and compelling protagonist, while Umi is less powerful and effective as a lead). We remember from Only Yesterday the stagnant beautiful countryside, we remember from Whisper of the Heart the urban sprawl of a modern city, and in From Up on Poppy Hill, we find a Yokohama and its beautiful seaside in the midst of industrial growth and change.
The one place where From Up on Poppy Hill disappoints is its music. Ghibli films tend to boast timelessly powerful scores and soundtracks. The music here tries to invoke a sense of place and time. While this works marvelously in some cases (for instance, the use of Sakamoto Kyu's eternally lovely classic "Ue o Muite Arukou"), it misses in many others. Some tracks just seem to undo the overall atmosphere and the results are noticeable.
Miyazaki's vision is much more focussed for this film as compared to Tales from Earthsea, a project that from even its conception was problematic. From Up on Poppy Hill is more relaxed in tone, and perhaps this was Miyazaki's own stance to his film-making. What I said earlier about the characters can perhaps be said about the film itself: it is adequate, though not exceptional.
From Up on Poppy Hill is a definite must-watch for those disappointed with Miyazaki Goro. The film shows how much he has grown as a filmmaker. This is a satisfying little movie. Maybe his next attempt will give us something a bit more fulfilling. Certainly this taste has left us hungering for more from this director. You're certainly not going to watch this film condemning it for not being like his father's art and you won't watch it and think it's like his father's work either. It doesn't feel like a Hayao film or a Takahata film. It's not trying to be. Goro and Yonebayashi (director of Arrietty) have their work cut out for them to leave their signatures on their movies, but given time, perhaps their vision will become clearer.
In the meantime, Miyazaki Goro shall walk looking up. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
Teenage Hana is a hardworking girl putting herself through college. During a class, her eyes fall on a man who enthusiastically and diligently takes notes, but he has no textbooks and he disappears before roll is taken. Intrigued, she searches him out and learns that he sits through classes but doesn't attend the school. From what we see, he works with a moving company, delivering goods to houses. He comes to university and bums through classes to learn. Hana works at a laundromat to make ends meet, and meets him when her day is over. We never learn of this man's name, but he becomes Hana's world, and she, his. Then their worlds are joined then broadened with the births of their children.
To call this film a movie about "werewolves" is doing it a mighty injustice. To call it a spirited, charming and heart-rending look about family is more accurate. And while it is always about the "ookami no kodomo", it is carried by Hana's life. Hana does what she can to keep her children safe and alive. She removes them from the urbanised world and carries them deep into a rural village where they are free to develop and understand the other half of them.
The film can be divided into three clear arcs. The first finds Hana in love, developing a relationship. The second follows Hana's struggles to raise her young children who have special needs. The final one sees her settled while her children attempt to find their own places in the world. A recurring theme throughout each arc is that there is a reason to always keep smiling.
Ookami Kodomo is a film of change and self-discovery. Yuki begins the film feral and wild, easily embracing her lupine half while Ame, tearful and timid, is afraid of what it means to be part-wolf. As the years pass, Hana's resolve remains unwavering, but her children grow apart from her as children naturally do. With this growth, they also change. The film changes focus from Hana as the children grow older, giving us their insight and feelings about who they are. Yuki's desire to belong allows her to channel charisma into socialising with peers. Ame's introversion makes him steely and independent. Yuki wants to embrace her humanity while Ame wants to explore the animal. Ame and Yuki yearn for something more, just as their mother knows they would but is afraid to acknowledge.
The story carefully and gently handles the fantasy so that it never overwhelms the film. There are no transformation hijinks or forced comedy or drama. The film treats the wolf children naturally. They seamlessly transform into their wolf-forms and out again. Some of the greatest scenes animated in the movie are these transformations as they move in and out of their dual identities.
The animation for the most part is fluid, with beautiful art painting a lovely countryside and the wilderness. Sometimes the film suffers from poorly chosen CGI effects, repeated animation and disproportionate character models, but this does not take away from the movie's overall beauty. Hana and the children's country home is clearly inspired by the 1988 classic My Neighbour Totoro, even down to Yuki's exuberant exploration of the broken down shed and the wild grass growing everywhere. Adding to the atmosphere of the film is a well-thought out score which knows precisely what type of music fits a mood. Sometimes, especially in the beginning and ending of the film, it can be a little heavy-handed with its emotional outbursts, but largely, it works and it makes itself invaluable to the film's impact. The voice-acting for the movie is one of its strongest aspects. Having child actors to play Yuki and Ame's characters in their toddler stages was a wise choice, as their earnest delivery of their lines makes the characters more genuine and loveable.
Ookami Kodomo's characters are the major reason that any viewer will become easily involved. Hana is one of the most inspirational characters ever to be given life through animation. Her love for her family is apparent. If anything, I'm pretty sure some of this film's audience is going to feel a pang of affection for their own mothers. She dutifully cares for them in ways that are admirable and it is her unbreakable spirit and positive disposition that makes her noteworthy. She is a strong woman and an even stronger mother. The mysterious man who she loves doesn't have the chance to be developed but it is this shroud around him that works to his character's benefit. We care for him through Hana's affections; in one particularly jarring scene, we understand what he means to her and this breaks our heart more than he himself ever would.
Yuki and Ame carry the film in places their mother cannot. While her hopes and fears for them are palpable, it is their experience of hope and of fear that makes these feelings more acute. Yuki's voice takes us through the entire film with its steady narration, and her character grows from precocious and brave child to a young girl who unfortunately knows what it means to be afraid. Ame's behaviour becomes a bit frustrating in the end of the film, but to understand him in the context of an animal, it makes perfect sense. He is a wolf.
The rest of the cast is made up of extremely likeable characters, including the old man who looks after Hana when she moves to the village and Souhei, a boy who crosses paths with Yuki. Even non-speaking, non-human characters like the caged wolf whose pain Ame senses and the wild fox whose freedom Ame respects are indispensable.
While the film's imperfections are honestly very few, they add up enough to have it stop just short of being a masterpiece. With some tighter editing of the story, cleaner and consistent art and animation, more precise handling of the characters, and a more memorable soundtrack, it easily would have been a masterwork of anime. As it is, it is still essential viewing for anyone interested in a movie that looks at growing up and raising a family. It is a mature, insightful and often painful reflection of how deeply we feel about those we love and inevitably have to let go of. read more
25 of 25 episodes seen
In this world, giants roam the land. These "titans" (as it's been anglicised) prey on human beings. They are brutal, violent and unstoppable. Their arrival is as mysterious as their motives. They do not eat to live. They do not eat anything else. They consume human beings and vomit them out. Humans have become worse than livestock on the food chain. At least sheep or cows are eaten for a reason. There is no discernible purpose for why the titans eat humans. They just do, and living with this fear and confusion behind the giant walls of the last known stronghold is the dwindled population of all of humanity. They've been able to keep the titans out for over a hundred years. Life in a cage, but life nonetheless.
Shingeki no Kyojin begins with the protagonist Eren Jaeger questioning whether this kind of life is worth it. Freedom does not mean breathing boxed in, awaiting death. That's not life and he vows to use whatever power he has to fight the titans. With him is Mikasa, a girl adopted by his family, and his friend Armin. While Eren is strong-willed and rash, Mikasa is calculated and fierce and Armin is thoughtful and soft-hearted; the trio play off one another's strengths and weaknesses in order to survive. And this anime becomes a war for survival.
Eren makes for a dependable protagonist. He carries the series well, despite having some "shounen hero" tendencies but perhaps his enthusiasm is necessary in a world where people drop their swords and flee in the face of danger or who opt to police within the safe walls of the rich inner cities. However, Mikasa is probably the show's great hero. Powerful, naturally gifted and determined, she carries Eren whenever he falls. As he is her only family, she is terribly protective of him. She lives entirely for him, and this may seem to be the only detriment to her character, but her loyalty to him is understandable when you learn of their past. Armin will be nobody's favourite off the bat. Wimpy, small and unable to fight, he has developed his intellect instead. The other characters are well-crafted and have distinct personalities (though they are just as many "Who's that again?" ones as well). Some of the stand-outs are Levi, a very short, extremely experienced and talented captain, Sasha, a girl who seems to gladly choose getting punched in the face by her superiors if it means she can get a potato, Annie, who like Mikasa is very strong and capable, and Jean, a spoiled and cowardly soldier who eventually becomes someone whose growth you can possibly be proud of. It's easy to like them... but maybe it's not entirely wise.
One of Shingeki no Kyojin's characteristics is that nothing and nobody is safe. It is not afraid of itself. It does not shy away from brutalising its audience or characters because honestly, this is a horrible place and time to be alive. It constantly reminds you of human mortality and fragility. Some people might tell you "don't get attached to anyone". Sound advice, but you won't take it. The characters in this series are constructed so well that you will root for them as they pick up their swords and then cry out in disbelieving grief as you see them crushed like a mosquito. Blood and then silence. It's not entirely right to say "nobody is safe" as plot-immortality applies to certain characters and that is quite evident. Although the anime is going to make you doubt yourself.
Gone are the anime physics where someone can go flying into a wall and can get up without a scratch. If someone flies into a wall in this anime, that's it. Game over, man. Game over. This is no anime for children; it is a complete bloodbath. It is not afraid to show you crushed limbs, torn-away faces, stinking, steaming bones, people's necks being snapped like chickens. It doesn't shy away from letting you hear screams of people facing their last moment on earth.
But it's not the violence alone that will sock you hard ones to the stomach -- it's the story itself. The concepts behind what is presented and also actual events will have you reeling. The second arc of this anime more or less will have you screaming "NO, IT CAN'T BE". Because you simply don't want to believe what you're seeing or who it involves. The entire series will have you holding your head wondering what is going on. The characters themselves don't really know, and you share that confusion with them. Shingeki no Kyojin's story is by far one of the most creative and well-crafted in modern anime history. It has the right tone, focus and content. It develops surprisingly at every turn. This is an anime you cannot necessarily lay out a trajectory for in terms of what is going to happen. You take every episode like it is tomorrow -- you ultimately cannot know what can or will happen.
Visually, it boasts some finely animated fight scenes, especially when the soldiers use their gear to go "flying" through the city. This gear is pretty inventive and can be likened to Spider-Man's web-slinging. The soldiers train to be agile and precise using this gear as it catapults them through the air. The best users of this know how to manoeuvre throughout a city block, across a titan's back or across the sky as though it were their first nature. The animation makes sure to keep you on your toes during action scenes, angling shots to keep momentum or knowing just how close to do a close-up for the best effect. The dark lines and general colourlessness of the art style keeps with the tone of the overall series. However, you can see where budgetary shortcuts were had, and while nothing to deter from the series, it is not quite perfect. Music-wise, the sound builds on the horror and the dramatic tension, and while some tracks are certainly recognisable as you watch on, they aren't entirely memorable.
Shingeki no Kyojin is all about experiencing it. You can have time later to think about what's happening or to theorise, but there is no time for that in the midst of watching. There are only held breaths, churning stomachs, wide eyes and feelings of absolute horror. There are times when humanity seems to be getting somewhere, where you think, okay, there's a chance now. Hope. It exists somewhere, as small as it might be, hidden in the depths of crushing losses and corpses and city rubble. It's there, and that's what Eren and his friends will give their lives to find. read more
36 of 36 chapters read
We want to be noticed. Some more than others. Whether it's desiring to be a national sensation or wishing that the girl at the laundromat would remember a shared handshake, that recognition does something. Keep that in mind during a reading of Octave.
Existing somewhere in the cracks of Tokyo's urban oblivion is Miyashita Yukino, a teenager who has dropped out of high school and works as an office assistant at a talent agency. There's probably nothing more that can cement you as a faceless nothing than having menial grunt work in a big, big city. But it stings a lot more when there was a time you used to be somebody. For Yukino's past reminds her of that faint glow of somewhat-stardom. At sixteen she made a pop album with some other girls (basically one of those many girl-bands that Japan churns out and they matter for a year or two and then they're ground into obscurity). The band wasn't particularly successful and so they were dismantled. Having known what it's like to have everyone's attention and becoming an absolute nobody is enough to mess with anyone, far less an eighteen-year-old living on her own with a rather jaded world view. But loneliness, as Akiyama Haru sharply details in her work, can bring people together.
Despite lacking in visual impressiveness, Octave takes readers on a very real journey of palpable, recognisable emotions. In one of those "of all the laundromats in all of Tokyo" coincidences, Yukino happens to meet a woman who will change her life. It's not a stretch to say that she actually helps Yukino HAVE a life, one outside of the memory of past failures. Yukino meets a present and a future. This woman is Setsuko: older, rational and very cool. She sees in Yukino someone who wants just a bit of attention, and she gives it to her. What starts off as a one-night stand becomes a very hard lesson in life and love. Sometimes things just get fucked up -- there's no soft or pretty way to put that. But what matters is how much you're willing to pay some mind and put aside some pride in order to make things work. Octave might give you the lesson of a lifetime when it comes to relationships.
During the course of this manga, we follow Yukino's highs and very low lows over the next year and some. This is not about her rise out of the ashes or rise to back to stardom. Octave doesn't do that to us or Yukino. It's about making her realise that life is worthwhile even when all you can afford is a ramen dinner. That it's worth more to have one person love you than have a filled-out stadium of adoring fans. It's understanding that you need to take care of yourself. Octave is about self-acceptance just as much as it is about accepting others. Yukino's growth is slow, often infuriating. But when she's able to smile at the idea of tomorrow, that's when you know, with relief and even with pride, yes -- she's done it. She's grown up.
Yukino's development takes centre stage, but Setsuko's evolution from just the object of affection to an extremely strong, complex character deserves a spotlight. Setsuko starts off reliably as the "cool older woman" who seems to have everything together and knows what she wants. And in a way, yes, she is always that. But she's not just that. She can be wounded as much as anyone else.With very little to care about and certainly nobody to think twice about, Setsuko got by making music and just going through the days. That changes when she meets Yukino. She experiences everything she doesn't want to; worry, betrayal, fear and heartbreak. But in that same breath, she also experiences what it's like to turn to your side and see a smile meant only for you.
The rest of cast is made up of Setsuko's kind-hearted but strange twin brother, a quiet, nice chef, and women who are big parts of Yukino's past and present life. These characters do well for support, and give us more perspective into the leads and their personalities. They don't take up much of the story, but without them, there'd be no Octave as this series is entirely about human interaction. We're often lost in Yukino's thoughts, and it's important to observe that most of the story is told from her understanding of the world. It's absolutely biased and flawed. Men appear to be monstrous at times, but that's not commentary on them; it's more so a very telling piece of information about the way Yukino perceives them. Because there are good men as there are bad ones, and good women as there aren't as well. We occasionally get the point of view of other characters, and this supplements how much of this manga is a reflective presentation of Yukino's experiences.
While the melodrama might be enough to make you want to slap Yukino to her senses, it's nice to remind readers that this is an eighteen-year-old with very little knowledge of the world to draw on. She'll make terrible, stupid mistakes. But the ending beauty of this is watching her own up to these and ask for forgiveness and try to move on.
It's easy to wallow in misery. It's hell and a half to try to accept your life. And Yukino comes to know, through a lot of things, that she can only be happy through that acceptance. Now isn't that a grown-up thing to do? read more
14 of 14 episodes seen
This is one of the issues that comes up in Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu (2009). Assuming you didn't just throw a remote at the TV/mouse at the monitor in frustration and said "To hell with this shit."
Retrospect is quite a thing, especially when fans are left to compare a follow-up series to an original that was an undeniable cultural explosion. The first run of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu pretty much shook the anime scene so strongly that even today, smatterings of people can still be found at cons dancing to "Hare Hare Yukai". A pretty influential series, especially considering that it basically cemented the dry, sarcastic everyman as a staple lead for self-reflective otaku-centric anime for years afterwards and that Haruhi-ism actually is a thing.
But that aside, it seemed pretty much a guaranteed hit for Kyoto Animation, doing a sequel to a juggernaut in the midst of several critical and commercial darlings (Clannad and ~After Story~, K-ON). Franchising seems like the best thing to do, and how could you possibly go wrong with Haruhi? Oh ho ho.
What you end up getting is a series that, also in retrospect, seems a lot better than what the fan outcry was at the time it was airing. This "second season" should not be viewed as an entity onto itself. The episodes fall into place when you consider its role in the entire Haruhi chronology. It all makes perfect sense when you think of it as a whole. Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu showed off its brilliance the first time by experimenting and mastering plot. 2006 saw the first series air out of order, yet the entire narrative functioned perfectly. It challenged its viewers the first time around. This time it might seem like a trial. The Endless Eight arc as it is known is perhaps the best way to drip-torture someone without water.
It's summer, the last two weeks of vacation, and Kyon, Yuki, Mikuru and Koizumi are trapped in Haruhi's infinite time loop. Think less Groundhog Day, more deja vu. The characters have no idea what's happening to them save for Yuki (for obvious reasons). And so we, and they, are presented the same events ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
It's the same thing over and over. And over. Again and again. And again and again and again.
The episodes aren't entirely copy and paste of one another. Clothes change, maybe one time you'll see them at a store, another at the poolside. But the vacation is burned permanently into our minds and possibly their DNA at this point: pool, shopping, festival, bug-catching, part-time job. Every summer cliche in the book, really. So here is the reason for the outrage: what kind of cheap trick is this? There might be two camps about this situation. Either Kyoto Animation is laughing maniacally that they got away with this or (even beyond their control) the studio dared to show something deeper to its audience. In any case, what other franchise could do something like this? This is Nintendo-Revolution-surprise-Wii levels of throwing an audience and dedicated fanbase for a loop.
And so, if it's the latter and not some cheap cop-out, where is any depth in these pool-filled episodes of repetitious service? The aforementioned questions of time and existence and ignorance.
It's astounding to consider what a nightmare it is to have no tomorrow... and how much worse it is to not even KNOW that. Knowledge is what we crave, always. It's a terrible way to exist when one doesn't know. What about Yuki, for whom time "passes normally"? What is it like to observe eternity before you? Not bad questions or propositions, although they come at the expense of tearing your hair out.
The episodes outside Endless Eight come as relief. Some of these cover the troubled and joyless production of the supremely funny "Asahina Mikuru's Adventure" (which is easily one of the best and most creative episodes of anime ever produced). The high point of these episodes is what they propose: everyone is not what they seem. Wait, wasn't that in the first series? Yes. But here's the kicker: everyone is not what they seem... to Kyon. For instance, think for a moment that Mikuru's unbearable blubbering is act she's putting on to fool him. Really consider it. Huh.
But that leads to the most important questions people seem more inclined to ask: is this worth it? It depends.
Is it entertaining? Not in the slightest. Is it even good? Who even knows? To say it's horrendous is as right as saying that it's brilliant. It's not either one of those things yet it's not passable or average. What is this anime, then? It's Haruhi. read more
11 of 11 episodes seen
This is the wealth presented in Aoi Hana, an anime adaptation of Shimura Takako's utterly genius manga series. The development of the manga is akin to watching a book read itself, learning and discovering things, and then reflecting that in its own progress. The anime does not get to reach this stage, as unfortunately it did not get the audience or attention it needed for another season. But to pass this series up is to deny yourself a great piece of literature in motion.
Manjoume Fumi moves back to her first hometown after ten years. Can you even call it her hometown? Wouldn't the place where she spent most of her life be considered "home"? It seems relative. Home for her is where her heart resides, where her mind wanders, where her bones grow. And it seems that that place has always been Kamakura. At home, there is Okudaira Akira, a best friend and first love.
Aoi Hana covers a few volumes of the manga series; the anime manages to capture the early stirrings of many things to come. It tries to come full circle right where some may say the manga is actually "beginning". Does it work? It really does.
With J.C. Staff's beautiful, clean artwork and a gentle acoustic-driven score, we are taken into the quiet town of Kamakura where even quieter dramas unfold. The minute troubles of everyday life tick away during the days, and the big problems end up as landmark moments in lives as they tend to do. The anime primarily focuses on the rekindled friendship between Fumi and Akira, and it extends to the interactions that these two have with others, including relatives, friends and lovers. Fumi goes to school at Matsuoka while Akira attends Fujigaya; the story unfolds giving us humorous, sweet, bitter moments of teenage lives.
Friendship seems natural and easy. It helps when Fumi is nothing but a sweet, gentle, though firmly resolved young woman. It's easy to love Akira's earnest soul. Here we have a series that suspends our expectations for the protagonists. Do they fall in love? Is this even about their love? In every way, yes. It's always been. Is there romance between them? That's for you to decide, as Aoi Hana respects Fumi and Akira's friendship and overall relationship enough to develop naturally, be it as best friends or as something other.
Throughout the anime, we meet other people whose presence give this show the warmth and life. This is a world populated with good people. That is one of the most important things to note about the characters in this series. Whereas other dramas will proceed to insert the most despicable villains, Aoi Hana has truly decent folk. Their intentions may be selfish, awful, manipulative and downright hurtful at times, and yet we can't ever fail to recognise that their hearts are good. Their flaws, as painful as they may be to themselves and others, can't ever take that away.
Two of the most complicated souls in this anime are Sugimoto Yasuko and Ikumi Kyouko. Sugimoto is a charming upperclassman that Fumi eventually dates; Kyouko is Akira's classmate. While it seems that they come into the story because of our protagonists, their tales are strong enough on their own. There is a parallel running between the two and the Wuthering Heights play which they perform; everything is embers, burning low, hiding somewhere in between polite smiles or bratty scowls. Who are these two girls who understand one another better than anyone else? What is this hopeless love that surrounds them both? Unrequited and mocked, one-sided and unfortunate. And yet there is love.
That is not to say these two overshadow Fumi and Akira in terms of the best characters that the anime offers. Everyone is rendered with respect and careful attention. Even the comic trio, Yassan, Pon-chan and Mogi, are downright lovable. Kyouko's cousin Kou is another individual who appears for brief segments in the series, but his small smiles tell us so much; he accepts his losses with dignity and strong shoulders.
And then we always go back to Fumi and Akira. Fumi, in spite of her crybaby ways, shows promise that someday she'll become a person whose tears show strength, not weakness. Akira's understanding of the people around her reveal that life is just budding for this girl; she has not yet begun maturing and in a way, this makes her the perfect ear and observer for messy situations. There is just a fierce magnificence about her as she takes care of things or sees how they work. If maturity means masking everything, then perhaps Akira's way of life should be given some consideration.
By the end of Aoi Hana, what you will have witnessed is one of the greatest contributions to yuri as well as the genres of slice of life and drama. It has intelligent characters with great depth, a solid story with strong development and not to mention, there's that rather pretty art framing everything. The concern at the end of it is not who gets together or what situations are resolved. At the end of it, we're left to chase after the meaning of a blue flower.
Sometimes love isn't enough. Other times it's more than you ever expect. Sometimes it disappoints us. And then there are moments when it doesn't let us down. But for now, it's a quiet little beat, drumming to a once-forgotten, now-remembered rhythm. Something carried in the wind, caught and preserved between the pages of an old photo album. read more
52 of 52 chapters read
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