Reunited as teenagers after spending their middle school years apart, Fumi and Akira don’t recognize each other at first, especially since the latter has far surpassed her friend in height (to latter’s dismay)—but everything else remains nearly the same: Akira is spunky and self-confident, Fumi is more gentle and prone to crying, and though they attend different high schools, the two pick up where they left off with their intimate and dynamic friendship. But even as they settle into a familiar relationship, the things around them have changed. Their cares are more complicated now, especially as Fumi attracts the interest of the athletic Yasuko, for whom Akira’s new friend, Kyoko, possesses an unrequited love.
Takako Shimura, on whose manga this anime is adapted, is a master of evoking a tone of gentleness, nostalgia, and adolescence through her soft character designs, watercolor-style shading and coloring, and the way in which her plots swing back and forth between childishness and cruelty in youthful relationships. The Sweet Blue Flowers anime reflects this tone as well as any of her adapted works, and like the other two that have transitioned into animation—Wandering Son (Hourou Musuko) and the recently-released Happy-Go-Lucky-Days—this primarily yuri romance work also carries strong LGBT themes as it traces its characters’ maturity. In fact, the four major characters are all high-school aged girls, three of whom have or are pursuing same-sex relationships. Only a few boys are even present in the series, and the two most major ones are delegated to supporting roles that are more akin to plot devices than being truly fleshed out.
Not that the absence of boys is a problem. The character development centered on the four major characters is compelling enough, animated in tender and authentic journeys through adolescence, sometimes quietly conveyed through quick glances and gentle weeping, and sometimes more loudly by characters’ erratic behavior and big events and large gatherings. Much like the other Shimura adaptations, Sweet Blue Flowers conveys youth as simple and complex, innocent and brutal. The girls are sprouting into who they will be—but growth takes time and isn’t always smooth.
The series also lacks a more traditional arc structure, one featuring escalation toward a climax, followed by resolution. The story mostly just flows along, like life itself. Unexpectedly, a relatively formless narrative actually contributes toward an anticipation of what each new episode will hold. Anything can happen in any given episode, and particularly regarding Fumi’s relationship with Yasuko and all that it entails (as well as how other characters impact it). The same can be said of Fumi’s strange, developing “friendship” with Kyoko, and in seeing whether she and Akira would remain as just friends, or if the two would develop romantic feelings for one another. Alas, that question is never fully answered, awaiting fulfillment during a second season that would never come, and along with it, I assume, a more developed storyline for Akira. It could be said that though she’s as much the protagonist as Fumi, Akira functions almost solely as a confidante in these 11 episodes for and on behalf of Fumi and Kyoko. Some narration provides insight into her thoughts, but not much, and thus of the four girls, she’s the one viewers know least about. Most unfortunate, as this slowing-moving anime has the space to create fuller narratives.
But even with that shortcoming, the series is worth viewing, particularly through Nozomi’s Blu-Ray release, which adds considerable vibrancy to the animation. The difference from standard definition is significant—if you’ve found the tone of Sweet Blue Flowers to be a little too tranquil, the BD version is an appreciably more engaging watch, and indeed, the best way to view this authentic, moving, and beautifully animated series, one that’s a little lesser in artistry and story than either Wandering Son or Happy-Go-Lucky-Days, but remains an excellent and gentle foray into the beauty and pain of adolescence.
Sweet Blue Flowers (Aoi Hana) BD can be purchased through Right Stuf, which provided a copy for review.