Archive for the Aoi Hana/ Sweet Blue Flowers Category


Yuri Manga: Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 2 (English)

January 8th, 2018

A good translation of a manga can be a little bit like magic. You pick up a book and without effort you are able to read this story created in a different country, in a different time or place. It’s an extraordinary feeling. The Viz Media edition of Takako Shimura’s Sweet Blue Flowers is a little bit like magic.

In Volume 1, we met Manjoume Fumi and Okudaira Akira, two childhood friends reunited as teens, and their school friends. 

In Volume 2, Fumi is coming off a relationship with Sugimoto, an older girl who hadn’t been honest with her and she’s feeling a bit bitter about it. Even worse, Sugimoto keeps trying to salvage it, but is doing a crappy job of it. Fumi’s had it with her ex, and lets her know that in no uncertain terms. 

Akira is surrounded by people who are falling in love and isn’t sure at all how she feels about it. When she asks Fumi, Fumi admits that Akira was her first love and again Akira has no idea what to do with the information. It’s almost as vexing as one of her friends going out with her annoying older brother. And when she overhears something she didn’t want to know about her friend Kyoko’s family, she has no idea what to do with that, either.

Back at school, the girls are all second-years now, with new students coming in. We meet Ryoko Ueda who kind of reminds Akira of Fumi and Haruka Ono, who is clearly (to us) bearing the burden of a (to us) fairly obvious secret of her own. Side stories indicate that there’s more complexity to relationships than just what we see here in the main story.

This volume moves quickly and slowly at the same time. Scenes are slow and leisurely – drama club practice, sleeping over a friend’s house – but time is whizzing by. One second Mogi sort of likes Akira’s brother, then next they are dating and we never actually saw them together much at all. Good translation can be magic, but it can’t fill holes left by a serialized manga schedule. ^_^;  Shimura’s super strong on developing characters, but putting in all the details of the story has never been her best skill.

This volume comprises Volume 3 and Volume 4 of the original Japanese edition. This is an excellent English release and I think we can expect it to maintain this high quality.

Art – 8
Characters – 8
Story – 7
Lesbian – 4
Service – 1

Overall – 8

Volume 3 of the English edition will be available in March, so you have plenty of time to pre-order. ^_^ If you haven’t already picked up this “new classic” of Yuri, I definitely recommend it, for having a depth of early 20th century  literary history and still being grounded in the present.

 

 

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Yuri Manga: Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 (English)

October 4th, 2017

Third time’s the charm. In 2012, JManga did a digital-only translation. Towards the end of 2014, Digital Manga Publishing also tried putting Shimura Takako-sensei’s new classic Yuri manga out as a digital publication. Now, in 2017 we have what is very likely to be the definitive English-language translation for the series, in omnibus format. Thanks to Jocelyne Allen, Jen Gruningen and the folks at Viz, I think we’re at peak Aoi Hana here in the west.

Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 introduces us to Manjome Fumi and her old childhood friend, Okudaira Akira. They had been very close as children, but when Fumi moved, they fell out of touch. Now, as they both head to different high-end girls’ schools, they’ve met again. 

I was reminded as I read this book that although the opening and the ending are – in my opinion – very weak, the rest of the story is excellent. It’s got surprising depth and breadth. Characters that surround Fumi and Akira are as well-developed as they and as interesting. 

In the first half of this Volume 1 – the original Volume 1 that was, Fumi is charmed, then asked out by an upperclassman at her all-girl’s school. Sugimoto is not her first girlfriend, but may well be the first by her own volition. Their time together is brief, as it becomes very clear that Sugimoto carries a whole host of issues with her and Fumi recognizes that she’s worth paying full attention to.  By the second half of the volume, Fumi has learned a lot about herself, among them that Sugimoto is the third person she’s loved.

The school play gives a chance for the cast of both schools to mix and emotions to be be heightened. Wuthering Heights is an unsurprising allegory for the tensions and passions of the cast to swirl and come together and part, like a storm. 

But by the end of the volume we have Akira and Fumi still friends. Fumi has, in a very rare act in Yuri manga, comes out to Akira. It’s a tempestuous time in their lives, but they both know who each other were – and are – and are there for each other. 

This still, after all these years, stands out as one of Shimura’s most tightly put-together stories. Other series have sort of swirled and eddied around the same material without changing, but we can see the changes to Akira and Fumi and their friends in pretty steady progression, as they encounter, deal with and grow from challenging situations.

This is a series that has many (if not all) the hallmarks of a “S”-era story and in my Very Brief History of Yuri I call it and Maria-sama ga Miteru “S for a new generation.” We can, like Fumi, enjoy the atmosphere of an old girl’s school. We can enjoy the drama that comes along with the hot-house environment. And we get the added advantage of characters with society – friends and families, brothers and parents and teachers who are male and female and a modern sensibility, in which gay people exist, and have lives. This is all so critical to my enjoyment of a manga. We have this series in omnibus form (available in print and digital format) and it, like several other series available right now, will be on my short-list of books that embody the classic concepts of the genre of “Yuri.” 

Interestingly, since the author attempted (unsuccessfully) to visit Yoshiya Nobuko’s home, the grandmother of Yuri gets both a mention in the notes and is attributed as the women who pioneered Yuri in Japanese literature. This is true, but she’s even more important than the note accounted for, because she not only pioneered Yuri, but also a great deal of what we think of as shoujo literature and manga. Yoshiya Nobuko-sensei was the richest woman in Japan in her lifetime. She’s an inspiration and a hero of mine. (Here’s my report of visiting Yoshiya-sensei’s home, from 2013.)

This edition came with a lovely assortment of postcards from the Aoi Hana Meets the Enoshima Electric Railway collaboration event from 2012 (an event reported in excellent detail by Guest Reviewer Bruce P – with pictures!). The book itself is exceedingly well put-together, with those cover flaps that take the place of a dustcover, but allow readers to see all of the cover and flap art. Color pages are included – including the cover of the second volume as a interior color page. Even the font choice matched the original well. And the translation and adaptation are excellent. I really do think this is a “definitive” edition. We’re not likely to get better. There’s very little room for it to be better. 

This is the version we all wanted. There’s no excuse not to buy it and support the author and folks at the publishing companies that brought it to us! Volume 2 will be out in December, 2017.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Characters – 8
Story – 7
Yuri – 7
Service – 1

Overall – 8

Today’s review was brought to you by the kindness and generosity of Okazu Superhero and occasional Guest Reviewer, Eric P.! Thank you Eric, once more, for all your many years of support! 

If you enjoy our Guest Reviews here on Okazu, I hope you’ll help support the Guest Reviewers – the Okazu Patreon is a mere $34/month away from being able to pay our writers. Every dollar will get us closer to that goal. If you’re a regular reader here and have enjoyed Eric’s reviews, I hope you’ll consider supporting Okazu on Patreon so we can pay him for his work! 

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Yuri Anime: Aoi Hana Blu-ray Box Set (青い花 Blu-ray BOX)

January 21st, 2014

Last week, my computer died. Blue Screens of Death and repeated systems failures…it was so nostalgic. I hadn’t had a computer do that since, oh, 2003 or so. I’m pretty sure what finally broke the camel’s back was this BD set. ^_^ The BD software I had came with the computer. It was ass from the get-go and when I put this Blu-ray in, I think it died trying to play it. One OS reinstallation later, and a new bit of BD software and we’re good to go. I learned something important while my computer was dying. When your computer is crashing, you really learn what is important to you. Thankfully, I keep pretty good backups. Let this be a reminder to you to back your computer up. ^_^

The Aoi Hana Blu-ray Box Set (青い花 Blu-ray BOX) is absolutely for super-fans of the series or obsessive videophiles. It has nearly no extras of any kind, just a small pamphlet with character bios and art from the individual disc covers (most of which we received in the pamphlet released as an extra with the English-language box set from RightStuf. )

What you do get is beautiful visuals made even more beautiful. The quality of the light through the leaves as A-chan walks to school, or the way the sun filters through windows is, honestly, mesmerizing.

No new video content is included and as this is a Japanese release only, there are no subtitles. But, after watching the anime so many times and reading and re-reading the first volume, I was able to understand the words without difficulty. It’s not particularly complex dialogue, you have to admit.

Let me take a moment and talk up iDeer. When I was rebuilding my hard drive, I looked for a slim media player that would play DVD/BD and data files. iDeer has a trial, so I was able to take it for a spin. Not only did it play my American BDs and Japanese BDs well, it had no trouble with DVDs or .avis.  They’re having a sale right now and I’m totally behind paying for what I use, so I coughed up a mere $50 for the “lifetime” (hahahahah!) updates. So far, it’s been about a million times better than any previous DVD/BD player software I’ve had. Faster, no cloggy home screens, easy to understand menus. I hate wasting time with tech when all I want to do is watch a thing. If you like futzing, this might be too easy for you. ^_^

So, other than the small technicality that trying to play this set originally killed my computer (which was totally the fault of the software, not the disk) this box set was fantastic. Gorgeous in every way and a lovely addition to my collection.

Ratings:

Art – 10 That’s why you’d get it
Story – 10
Characters – 10
Yuri – 8
Service – 3

Overall – 10

Everything else remains as it has always been, with the addition of the extra lovely art.

Thanks to James W. for making this review possible!

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Yuri Manga: Aoi Hana, Volume 8 (青い花)

October 29th, 2013

And here we are, at the final volume of Aoi Hana (青い花). Wow, have we come a long way.

High school graduation approaches, but before it arrives, the girls of Fujigaya head to London for a class trip. Unbeknownst to Fumi, Akira and Kyouko catch up with Sugimoto-sempai who now lives there with Kawasaki-sempai.

Then graduation comes, and Fumi and Akira are forced to have the conversation that has been building between them for some time. Is there, in fact, a “them” to discuss?

In the meantime, Yamashina-sensei finds that a confidence shared off the record has become general knowledge. The students learn that her lover is female after all.  And in the end, nothing changes. But, it seems likely that she’ll feel less inclined to be honest with the next student who asks. And you just know the rumors will continue.

Graduation passes, and so does time. Everyone is drawn together once again, this time by a happy occasion – Kyoko’s and Kou’s wedding. Time moves on, as Ya-san notes, for all of us.

Yamashina and her lover, Haruka’s sister,  consider holding a wedding ceremony themselves, a scene that made me inexpressibly happy. ^_^

Without spoilers, I will assure you that you the ending does not bring closure. It has the one thing I had hoped for – ambiguity.

Ratings:

Story – 10
Characters – 10
Art – 10
Lesbian Life – 10
Service – 3

Overall – 10

The story began on a day that led to many other days, full of joy, sadness, loneliness, friendship and love. Aoi Hana ends on a day that will lead to more of the same.

Happily Ever After is, as we well know, a process, not a destination. And for Fumi and Akira life is, as well.

This is the third manga series I like that has come to an end in 2013 and for the third time, I find myself left feeling happy, rather than sad. ^_^

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Yuri Anime: Sweet Blue Flowers / Aoi Hana Disk 3 (English)

June 6th, 2013

swbDisk 1  is about beginnings and Disk 2 is about endings.  I’d sum up Disk 3 of Sweet Blue Flowers as somewhere between “what does not kill us makes us stronger” and “time heals all wounds.” Disk 3, is, in fact, about growing up and moving on.

Sugimoto’s sister’s wedding has arrived and with it, the house of cards that Yasuko has built must begin to crumble. When she tries to have it all work one last time, Fumi does something that won my wholehearted admiration when I read it the first time – she tells her to get lost. Not like that, of course, Fumi is kind, but firm, telling Sempai to learn to move on gracefully. Which is what Fumi then does.

To move forward, Fumi turns her thoughts backwards, setting in motion the remaining volumes of the manga. Knowing that very shortly the series will come to an end, I wonder if Fumi and Akira can both move on gracefully – and I absolutely hope they will. The end of the anime reminds me that the friendship between them is a good one. I’d hate to see it end.

I do have one complaint. The translation for Fumi’s lines in this last disk lost her “voice” entirely. She sounded exactly like Akira who sounded like Shinobu. In other words, everyone sounded like a 20 year-old guy. Fumi’s language is very pretty – she’s soft-spoken in voice and words. Akira sounding like Shinobu is one thing – she’s kind of mean to him, but Fumi? It could have been worse, but it could have been better.

This anime  is beautifully animated, well-acted by some newcomers to the voice acting world. It was strongly written and has pretty much set a standard for Yuri anime for many that is going to be very, very hard to beat.

I’m once again thankful to Nozomi/Rightstuf for bringing it over and to all of you for supporting them and buying the series. Now we need anime to roll around through the current non-Yuri phase and pick up something of interest to us once again. ^_^

Ratings:

Art – 9
Story – 10
Characters – 10
Yuri – 8
Service – 3

Overall – 10

Whether we want to move forward or not, this disk reminds us, the rest of the world will not stop for us. ^_^

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