Aoi Hana, or Sweet Blue Flowers as it is translated on the cover, by Shimura Takako, is both cute and sweet – and I liked it quite a bit. Which is pretty surprising, as it is both genuinely cute and sweet.
In essence, this manga is the story of four schoolgirls: Fumi, Akira, Yasuko and Kyouko and their various loves and friendships. It is not loli uber-cute or gaggingly sweet, nor is it highly melodramatic. It’s actually more vaguely realistic, with an emphasis on the usual conventions and tropes of schoolgirl yuri – crushes on best friends, sempai, etc. The tone is quiet, the relationships realistic-ish.
Fumi comes back to the town she grew up in, for the first time since grammar school. She meets, without realizing it, her childhood friend Akira – a pleasantly energetic and cheerful girl. When they were much younger, Akira had been Fumi’s protector, keeping her out of harm of bullies and saving her from the unpleasant emotional consequences of common pre-school blunders like bathroom accidents. Fumi is now a tall, attractive young woman, but still shy and retired. Without realizing who each other is, they meet on a train when Akira saves Fumi from a pervert. (Although why Japanese women don’t simply break train pervert’s fingers at the bottom joint, I’ll never really understand…it’d be easy to ID the guy with the broken finger. But I once again digress.) Fumi and Akira are reunited as friends when their mothers get together and the light dawns upon them. This time around, they are going to separate girls’ schools.
Fumi learns that her cousin is getting married, but seems appalled rather than pleased…. We learn later that they were having a physical relationship and Fumi had no idea she was engaged.
Kyouko is Akira’s classmate at school. It’s club time and the two decide to join acting club together. Kyouko has a secret – she is in love with an upperclassman at Fumi’s school. Fumi, unbeknownst to anyone is also developing a massive crush on this upperclassman, Yasuko. Fumi joins the club Yasuko is in – not really caring that it’s theater, just to be near the older girl. When Fumi’s school theater club decides to visit Akira’s school – to take in the wonderful rarified air of this oh-so-glamorous place – Fumi happens to wander down a hall where Kyouko confesses her feelings to Yasuko….and is rejected.
Koyuko runs off, but as Yasuko leaves she sees Fumi crouching down trying to be invisible. Yasuko asks Fumi to go with her outside – and hits on her with subtlelty and charm. Fumi’s a goner. Yasuko asks her out and she agrees.
In the meantime Kyouko’s brother asks for help trying to set up an “aicon” – an arranged group date-thing. Akira wants to go, but her brother screws it up, causing mild emotional damage. Luckily Akira has pretty high hit points, so she survives.
In the meantime, Yasuko takes Fumi out on a date. Their relationship might actually have to win for one of the most real and normal I’ve seen in anime and manga. They do everything in the right order. Hold hands, kiss, etc. Not all at once and not after a gap of a gazillion years. Fumi is completely totally gaga over Yasuko and so far, at least, Yasuko hasn’t been a scuzzball. In fact, she’s been very sweet and romantic, which is good, ’cause Fumi’s fairly fragile. They share their first kiss in the library stacks – I approve. :-)
The *drama* of the latter part of the book is hardly even that. Yasuko asks Fumi if she can walk to school with her, but Fumi has already given that promise to Akira. An awkward meeting between the three makes Fumi feel that she has to tell Yasuko, quite overly-seriously, that she can’t walk with her. Yasuko laughs and wonders when she got involved in a grammar school conversation, but she’s fine with the whole thing. Fumi isn’t *quite* done, yet, and tells Akira about her relationship with Yasuko. Yasuko’s mightly impressed that Fumi came out to Akira, but still thinks the drama was a bit silly.
Akira isn’t upset, but she’s not really sure *what* to think. She asks Kyouko what she’d say, hypothetically speaking, if Akira told her that she was in love with a girl. Kyouko is still smarting from Yasuko’s rejection, but she smiles and responds with the same question. Akira thinks about it and decides she couldn’t care less who her friends are in love with, as long as they are happy.
Kyouko runs into Fumi and asks her if she’s in love with Yasuko. Fumi, blushing and stuttering admits she is. Kyouko tells her that Yasuko’s wonderful – and Akira’s a really nice girl, then wanders off mysteriously.
That night Yasuko calls Fumi. They share the usual sweet nothings, telling each other that they love one another (it was very “aww” inspiring). Before she gets off the phone Yasuko asks about Fumi’s first love. Fumi thinks briefly of the cousin she was playing around with at the beginning of the book, but realizes that her first true love was back in grammar school, when she fell in love with Akira.
To Be Continued, the end of Volume 1 says.
Really, this was just a very pleasant yuri manga. No fanservice, no fetish (except for the schoolgirl thing, but the uniforms are really dull and uninterestng and not at all unreasonably fetishy.) It’s just a nice, semi-realistic tale of first loves and friendship among girls. I imagine it will remain almost completely unknown as a result.
Art – 7
Characters – 8
Story – 7
Yuri – 8
Service – 1
Overall – 8
If you are looking for something that isn’t lowest common denominator Yuri – you’ve found it with Aoi Hana. I’m definitely looking forward to the next volume.