Sweet Blue Flowers

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SWEET BLUE FLOWERS

Watched via Crunchyroll/YouTube/DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: I really gotta hand it to the production team on this one. Sweet Blue Flowers is based off of an eight volume manga series. I think the length and scope of this series is perfect for an anime adaptation. While the manga is long winded and wanders all over the place with a lot of characters and their side stories, the anime sticks fairly close to a short period of time and the central characters to the main story.

So before I go on about that, I’ll give a brief overview of the story. Akira Okudaira and Fumi Manjome were childhood friends back in elementary school. After Akira had to move away, they lost all contact with each other. Now that the two girls are beginning high school, they end up running into each other again and slowly reconnect. Fumi lets it be known that she is a lesbian and Akira supports her through her various heart breaks.

What I liked the most about the stopping point of the series is that Fumi begins to realize her previous and current romantic feelings towards her childhood friend. Akira on the other hand is shown as being loving and supportive of her friend no matter her sexual orientation. The ending is left open for interpretation. It’s also a great place to start another season (please!). While I think the two girls make an adorable couple, I also like the implication that maybe nothing will come of it, yet Akira will continue to be a devoted friend. What I like about Takako Shimura’s stories (the manga-ka) is that she shows that it isn’t just people of like minds that understand and support each other, but that people of all sexual orientations, tastes, and genders, can be friends and support each other. In the end Sweet Blue Flowers is a story about unconditional friendship, and that’s what makes it so great. The rest is just bonus.

The show’s focus on supportive friendships is part of what makes it so great for me, but I also like how it represents sexuality as a spectrum. There are straight and lesbian characters, but bisexuality also makes an appearance without seeming misrepresented.

PLOT: Sweet Blue Flowers follows two childhood friends who reunite in high school. Akira and Fumi had been best friends in elementary school, but after they moved away, they got estranged in that way that happens when you’re a kid. They don’t end up going to the same school, but they share the same route to school, which leads them to rekindle their old friendship.

Things haven’t changed much for the brash, outgoing Akira, but Fumi’s been in a lesbian relationship with her cousin. After learning that her cousin’s getting married soon, Fumi feels betrayed and ends up confiding her feelings to Akira. Akira’s completely supportive, though she doesn’t seem to really understand romantic love, and she continues to support Fumi through her romantic developments over the course of the series.

There are a slew of characters who Akira and Fumi come to know. Fumi quickly becomes infatuated with Yasuko, a boyish senior who’s destined to play Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. One of Akira’s friends, Kyoko, also likes Yasuko, which leads to some tension. Meanwhile, Akira has an overprotective older brother, Kyoko has a protective fiancé, and Yasuko’s hiding the secret that she’s in love with Akira’s drama teacher, who’s marrying Yasuko’s older sister.

There are so many characters and unrequited loves that the series could feel melodramatic, but Sweet Blue Flowers takes a more understated key and makes all of show’s romance feel bittersweet and honest. I can’t say that the events are realistic, but they’re all treated with gravity, and each character’s allowed their own feelings without being judged by anyone. Fumi’s emotions drive the plot, and over the course of the series she covers a range of feelings that cause her to change and reflect on what she wants. I found this to be a nice driving-force, but if you don’t love character development, it might wear on you.

I like that you pointed out how the series follows Fumi’s emotions. I felt that the set up of the story is more from the point-of-view of Akira, but the plot never really follows “her story”, rather we’re observing Fumi’s story through the eyes of her best friend.

SETTING: Akira moves back to her hometown in order to attend an all girls Catholic high school. Upon entering she decides to join the drama department. On her way to school one day she reunites with her childhood friend Fumi who is attending another school along the same train route. While Akira is quite extroverted, Fumi enjoys keeping to herself and reading. It is only once she learns that a sempai is helping the other school out with their stage productions, that she decides to help out her friends in the drama club to do the same.

I actually found the set up a bit confusing. Fumi’s school doesn’t have enough members to actually have a recognized drama club, so they help out their neighboring school instead. Really I think the manga-ka could have just had all of the students in the same school as it can get a bit confusing to keep everyone straight.

The drama club is the glue that keeps everyone together. From there characters have stories that branch off into other areas, but it’s the home base, for well, drama.

SETTING: There’s something unrealistic to me about the all-girls schools Akira and Fumi attend. For one thing, how many all-girls schools are there in Japan? And would two really be situated right next to each other? For another thing, Akira attends a Christian school that even has nuns running it à la Maria Watches Over Us, which pushes the boundaries of believability for me.

The plot device behind students of the two schools working together on a play also doesn’t make much sense to me. Yasuko decided to attend Fumi’s school to escape the teacher she’s in love with, but she got dragged back to play Heathcliff anyway. The importance of having two schools never makes much sense, and the cooperation between the schools is more assumed than explained. These confusing bits don’t ruin the series by any means, but they weaken its credibility and make it more complicated than it had to be.

CHARACTERS: I really enjoy how the manga-ka portrays her young adults. As I’ve stated before about Wandering Son, there are no real clear cut labels to what an individual is or isn’t. Sweet Blue Flowers isn’t about labels, but about individuals making friends and falling in love with someone who is right for them.

Akira is a slow developer in the sense of love. She’s never really had a crush on anyone and isn’t all that interested in dating. She’s protective and friendly and always trying to help her friends out when they are in need, though she can’t keep a secret to save her life. Actually, when I put it like that, she reminds me a bit of Crystal when we were kids.

Fumi on the other hand is quiet and introverted, preferring a book to read over hanging out with friends. She’s learned early on what heart break is and her own sexual orientation. Throughout the series you get to see how the two have changed since childhood and how they’ve become more independent. I really like how their friendship is portrayed, in a couple of ways it reminds me of my friendship with Crystal since growing up and how at times we still fall into those childhood roles and dote on each other. There aren’t too many anime series that go into depth on childhood friendship in a realistic way, and this aspect really appealed to me in this show as I felt I could really connect to how the characters support each other.

As I’ve said before, the rest of the characters kind of confuse me. They are all really interesting and I love how their stories branch off, but the manga-ka seems to introduce too many characters too quickly without really building on their inter-relationships. This really leaves me wondering why the side stories are important, or how they connect to each other. The anime really helped sort out a lot of that and trimmed off the excess. After watching this series it is much easier to go back and read the manga and finally remember who is who and who did what.

While I like watching how Akira and Fumi fall back into their childhood friendship, I don’t actually find it realistic. Neither of them kept up correspondence, and they were so young that I don’t believe that either of them would remember their feelings and interactions so strongly. I certainly don’t remember many of my early elementary school friends that well.

CHARACTERS: Sweet Blue Flowers has an interesting exploration of maturity, as neither Fumi nor Akira could be called truly mature, but each is mature in different aspects of their lives. They pair well with each other, and they exemplify how people have different intelligences that may be unexpected.

Fumi, surprisingly, is the more romantically experienced of the two, and it’s even hinted that she’s been in a sexual relationship with her cousin. Despite this, she’s emotionally fragile and crumples at the slightest bad news, always leaning on Akira for support. Akira calls her a crybaby, which is completely accurate, despite how collected she seems. When she has a relationship with Yasuko, Fumi’s very uncertain and hesitant, perhaps because her past relationship ended so badly, but she always talks things out with Akira and needs support from the sidelines before making any move.

Akira, on the other hand, is romantically ignorant but somehow still gives Fumi pretty solid advice throughout the show. She’s unaware of the possibility of having a crush on anyone, but she’s wholeheartedly supportive of people who are having romantic issues. She’s interesting in that she’s romantically immature, but as a friend she knows how to act in situations and puts herself out there to protect her friends. She’s definitely not perfect, but I like seeing a character who balances strengths with some immature aspects so well.

I like most of the secondary characters in this series, especially the ones like Yasuko and Kyoko who receive more development throughout the show. The tertiary characters, like Yasuko’s sisters, appear and disappear so quickly that I’m left wondering why they were included, beyond establishing that Yasuko has a large family. I agree with Whitney that the side characters could be trimmed back more to better focus on the main cast, since they tend to get distracting. Either develop them all the way, or don’t include so many of them.

I think you perfectly summed up Akira. I get really annoyed with all the “immature” portrayals of characters, and she really stands out as an example of a character being in some ways naive or inexperienced, while still being very intelligent or capable in other regards.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Wow, I feel like all we’ve been reviewing lately are shows with no value range. Yet again, Sweet Blue Flowers is lacking any dark darks and looks over exposed. This gives the series that watercolor look like the covers in the manga have. I will say, for this series I think it works a bit better because of the “romantic” element of the show. Like the girls both go to an all girls school, they study the arts, and they all have beautiful and meaningful friendships. In that regard the soft shading and pastels help to give the series a soft air and nostalgia. Watercolor is also much more heavily used in Asian fine arts and has a reputation for being a media that is in the moment and that is permanent, which works quite well with the themes of Sweet Blue Flowers.

I think the anime did a great job with the character designs and animation to create a smooth flow to the story. I could easily tell everyone apart and I didn’t get mixed up with scene transitions. Like I said before, I think the anime improved upon the original manga, and I think this is also apparent in the scene directing. It’s hard to explain, but the the overall story is much easier to follow.

I think the watercolor feel of this show emphasizes that it’s a fantasy for viewers to sink into. Real life isn’t likely to turn out this way, so why not forget reality and soak up the beauty of Sweet Blue Flowers?

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I love the animation style of this show. It’s light and delicate, but surprisingly detailed. The animators care about small movements, like the way Fumi’s pantlegs crumple at the knee when she flops on her bed. The show doesn’t have any great action set pieces, but that allows the animators to pay attention to the small, intimate details that enhance this kind of character-focused narrative.

Beyond that, the watercolor aesthetic carries across the dreamlike feeling of this world. The background and foreground mesh well, and the effect managed to continue while characters are moving without being jarring. The only hole in the aesthetic comes with CG, which is primarily used on the trains. I stopped paying attention to this after a few episodes, but it pulled me out of the narrative the first time a train pulled into the station.

In comparison to Wandering Son, Sweet Blue Flowers does an excellent job of differentiating between characters. Beyond switching out hair and eye colors, there are actually different face, eye, and even body shapes, which make it so much easier to tell everyone apart. Characters still look similar enough that it’s obvious they’re in the same style, but I appreciate the range among them.

OVERALL: Sweet Blue Flowers isn’t the best slice-of-life or high school drama that I’ve seen story wise. The side character stories are a bit unclear, and there is a distinct lack of inter-relationships between primary and secondary characters. That said, it is still a wonderful improvement on the manga and does a lot within a limited amount of episodes. The story and character developments fit well in the single season format.

I really enjoyed the childhood friendship between Fumi and Akira and to see how time altered their interactions together. This is a marvelous series about friendship that focuses on unconditional acceptance.

I’ll readily admit that this series may not be for everyone. It is a slice-of-life series that is driven by emotional interactions, and of course, there are several relationships that feature same-sex couples. Chances are you’ll be able to tell if this is your cup of tea before watching it. As for me, I think it is wonderful that this series was turned into an anime, as it is a step closer to depicting homosexual relationships without trivializing or stereotyping them for the sake of entertainment.

OVERALL: Sweet Blue Flowers is a sweet, heartwarming show about sexuality and teen love. It’s certainly not a realistic portrayal of the subject, but I respect the range and acceptance the show brings to the topic. If you want to watch a very solid anime depiction of lesbian relationships, you can’t go wrong with Sweet Blue Flowers. Many anime treat lesbianism like a joke or a fetish, but this series eschews all of that to get to the heart of the relationships. Fumi and Akira have a precious friendship that I’d love to see develop further, but this show portrays just enough of it to establish a satisfying dramatic arc. This anime isn’t a perfect depiction of homosexuality, but it’s the best I’ve seen in anime. If you’re at all interested in homosexuality in anime, you owe it to yourself to check this out along with Wandering Son.

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (8/10)
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