High school romance is confusing, no matter who you love.
Title: Sweet Blue Flowers (Aoi Hana)
Publisher: Ohta Publishing (JP), Viz Media (US)
Creator: Takako Shimura
Story/Artist: Takako Shimura
Translator: John Werry
Serialized in: Manga Erotics F
Original Release Date: September 19, 2017
A review copy was provided by Viz Media.
After going through several different licensors, it appears that Sweet Blue Flowers has finally found a home with Viz Media. Fans of the 2009 anime adaptation have been clamoring to read Takako Shimura’s original work ever since the adaptation ended and it has been on the licensing wish-list for yuri fans for many years now. With Viz’s two-in-one omnibus editions we now have a chance to compare this story of high school romance to its anime adaptation and see how the story ends.
It’s been several years since I last saw the anime of Sweet Blue Flowers so perhaps it’s my own memory that is skewed but I was surprised at how snappily paced this first omnibus was. This release seems to cover almost all, if not all, of the anime so it will not be long before we get to brand new material!
The story also feels much more like a soap opera than I remembered; I remembered this being a quiet one, focusing on childhood friends Fumi and Akira reuniting after several years apart and going through high school life and romance together as close friends, almost in slow motion. The story is still the same but the events seemed much more densely paced.
For example, Fumi begins dating a new girl, upperclassman Yasuko, quite soon after Fumi was dumped by her cousin. Yasuko herself might be using Fumi as a “rebound” after being rejected by her former teacher, and one of the friends of the other main character (Akira) was Yasuko’s former classmate it seems and also has feelings for her but was rejected in turn! This alone feels like a whirlwind of romances but that barely touches on the similar flurry going on in Akira’s side of the story. Akira’s friend, Kyoko (the one who was rejected by Yasuko), also has a fiancee who appears to be into Akira, Akira’s brother likes his sister a bit too much, and frankly it’s a wonder that Fumi and Akira ever have any time to themselves!
When Fumi and Akira do have some time alone the series does seem more relaxed. Fumi doesn’t appear to have any romantic feelings for her old childhood friend but they click back together nearly instantly after being apart for so long. Akira quickly learns of Fumi’s romantic adventures — like how Fumi’s cousin dumped her right before her own wedding — and her reaction to Fumi being gay are exactly how I think many allies think they would react. Some confusion at first yes, but Akira gives Fumi her love and acceptance regardless. It is a good move by her but I have been so jaded by queerbaiting in media that I’m a little suspicious at just how accepting the entire cast seems to be. It’s true that Takao Shimura’s other well-known manga, Wandering Son, was also heavily a queer story, but the fact that even Yasuko’s sisters seem fairly accepting of Fumi when Yasuko brings her home seems strange to me.
The story does get major props for actually saying “lesbian” and “bisexual” on the page, terms that are fairly rare in yuri manga. It also does give Yasuko’s sisters a good reason for being skeptical of her new relationship. They too think this relationship might just be a rebound since Fumi isn’t much like Yasuko’s previous crush, her former teacher who is now her older sister’s fiancee, and Yasuko’s sister bring out a defiant side in her not seen as much elsewhere in the story.
The story also gets props for being (so far anyway) not a “coming out” story. Coming out stories individually are fine. Overall they make up entirely too large a proportion of queer stories and it’s important to have stories about what happens next. While Fumi never says it out loud or in any of her monologue, she likes girls, no question about it. The story conveys this without being overtly sexual about it and doesn’t make this so subtle it could be handwaved.
The story does use quite a few traditional yuri tropes however. Sweet Blue Flowers is set in not one but two all-girls schools, both of which have active drama clubs who delight in putting on plays that readers will recognize from other yuri manga (with girls playing the guys of course), and it certainly seems like many of the background characters have crushes on other girls. Although whether or not those will be real, “lesbian” romances or just class-s feelings remains to be seen.
There is still some ways to go but so far Sweet Blue Flowers seems to be on the right track. It treats its characters as people, not characters created for the reader’s gaze but real teenaged girls dealing with the always overly-complicated world of high school. But it still remains to be seen just how many times these girls have their hearts broken and mended by the time they graduate.