Y’all know I love yuri. In anime that usually means the tender feelings of teenage girls for each other. Sometimes coupled with the fears involved with exiting the closet. There isn’t a lot of grownup yuri. That is sad. There is a bit of it in Bloom Into You.
I have no idea why women loving women is so appealing to me. It isn’t the fantasy of being the meat in the sandwich. I mean, that is a perfectly valid fantasy, one that most men share and a smaller number accomplish. But… these girls and women are not interested in having you. That ought to shut down that dream quickly.
Perhaps it is the illusion that I have that women are not as likely to take advantage of other women. Somehow a woman’s love “feels” more likely to be nurturing, pure and honest. (By “pure” I don’t mean chaste. I mean free of ulterior motives and disrespect.) A man’s love can also be pure but some men are likely to count a woman’s love as a casual thing and perhaps even a woman as a lesser being. Easy come, easy go.
Two women equals “purity” squared, right? That’s my personal mythology. But don’t worry. I’ve met women who were just as devious, disrespectful, and controlling in love as any man. The fantasy disintegrates upon contact with reality.
I used to think yuri and yaoi were the opposite sides of the same coin. I got corrected on that. Apparently, yaoi is usually hentai? (I never knew it was an acronym!) Yuri on Ice is really shounen-ai? So what’s the difference between yuri and shoujo-ai? What is the male equivalent of yuri? Where the hell does BL fit into all this? I am so confused!
A while back I visited a site that specializes in discussing yuri. They defined yuri as any story focused on a strong or close relationship between two females. That just seemed so overbroad as to render the term useless. It covers too many thematic elements. Mothers and daughters, sisters, women who are besties, mentors, police partners, comrades-at-arms, and bitter enemies.
When I talk of yuri, I’m talking about storytelling that is clearly about females who are
involved in a romantic relationship. Sex isn’t a requirement but there has to at least be an “I like/love you” in there and it has to be in a romantic way, not that they’re “besties” or close relatives. Sorry, Yuru Camp and Yama no Susume are not yuri.
Well, back to the subject.
This is not a fast action-packed roller coaster of a romance. Nor is it a rom-com. It is a very slow, character driven anime. It is quiet and the art is subdued. I many repsects it reminds me of Liz and the Blue Bird, only without the parallel story. But it is clearly yuri and we know exactly who is getting hooked up with whom in the show, right from the opening. The plot is all about how the protagonist gets from a state of loneliness to a state of happiness.
What an incredible OP! The music and the animation combine to express a gentle young love almost perfectly.
That’s the OP. There’s no mystery here. Not only do we see that the protagonist and her childhood friend fall in love and find happiness. but it is about as yuri as an OP for a mass-marketed anime can get. There’s no hint of conflict. It is meant to leave one in a relaxed and easy state. Childhood friends growing into young adult lovers. No drama here.
There are other character arcs here you might enjoy that haven’t been decided.
Fumi Manjoume is our protagonist. She is a tall, slender, dark-haired beauty just entering high school as a first-year. She has just moved back to her hometown after being gone for ten years and starts attending Matsuoka Girl’s High School. Very quiet and very shy, you don’t see a lot of happiness from her character. In fact, she is emotionally fragile and quick to cry, something we also see in flashbacks to her early childhood.
She’s a lesbian, no doubt about that. I don’t think she would call herself a lesbian, she just considers herself a girl who likes other girls. Part of the storyline is her gradually coming out of her closet.
Akira Okudaira is Fumi’s childhood friend. Fumi was always an emotionally delicate girl. When something happened to upset her, Akira was there to make things better for her. Ten years before the current time, Fumi had to move away and was distraught at losing her childhood friend. Both girls promised to write to each other but as often happens with promises and little children, it didn’t happen.
Akira is a short girl with a round face and a genki personality. When Fumi left she stayed behind and eventually attended Fujigaya School as a transfer student. This meant she didn’t attend the associated middle school and had to pass a test to get in. As children, she was the taller of the pair, so when she met Fumi on a train and saved her from a molester, at first she didn’t recognize this tall delicate creature as being the little girl she was always saving. But here she is, saving her again.
We hear nothing about her sexuality. When she is asked about romance, she says she isn’t ready for that yet.
Yasuko Sugimoto is Fumi’s first romantic interest upon arriving at Matsuoka’s. She is even taller than Fumi and is a star basketball player. She has an outgoing personality and an aggressive outlook on life. Outstanding at everything she does, the other girls fawn over her.
Yasuko isn’t an evil person, just a confused one. Her heart belongs to another who does not want it. She doesn’t intend to hurt others. She is genuinely affectionate to those who are close to her.
She’s not above a bit of manipulation to get what she wants. And Fumi is a beautiful flower.
Kyouko Ikumi loves Yasuko. Yasuko does not love Kyouko. We first see her as she is leaving Yasuko in tears after breaking up. Kyouko wants commitment and Yasuko will not. Kyouko also has a fiance but she readily admits it is a fake engagement to keep up appearances. She is described as a great beauty. Sometimes characters have to say things like that because often the art doesn’t make it clear that one girl is a bishoujo, another just pretty and another plain.
Chizu Hanashiro is Fumi’s older cousin. The two were having an affair but Chizu kept her engagement a secret from Fumi until fairly late. Fumi felt betrayed and hurt by this. She doesn’t have an extended role beyond this.
However, it does show that Fumi was already sexually active in a prior loving female relationship. She didn’t suddenly discover her preferences just for this anime. Yasuko is catching her on the rebound so Fumi would be a bit more vulnerable to her advances.
ōko Honatsugi, Misako Yasuda, and Miwa Motegi are generic school-girl buddies. They typically end up helping “Achan” (Akira).
The Schools: The Fujigaya school for girls is an elite institution for female students only. Akira and Kyouko attend here. There are two ways to get in. You can have attended the related elementary and middle schools or you can pass a competitive test. Either way, you had best be economically very well off. Nobody ever says it but It sure looks like an extremely high-end Catholic girl’s school with dorms, an expensive restaurant/tea room, an old fashioned library, and a fancy chappel. The facilities are stunning. Nuns can be seen wandering about.
Matsuoka Girl’s High School is another fairly elite private school but it doesn’t feel nearly as formal. The uniform there includes a shirt and tie while Fijigaya uses the sailor’s suit style. There is a lot of crossing over between the two socially. Students from Matsuoka will help out students in the other school with extracurricular projects. Were it not for the uniforms, it would be impossible to sort the girls out. Very easy to get the two mixed up in my head.
Our main characters all commute from home, however. The student’s skirts are all well over their knees. That would be expected in a religiously sponsored institution and it seems Matsuoka dresses their students conservatively as well. Not a shred of what I consider “fan service”.
The Families: For an anime, the parents are surprisingly present. I expected a combination of rich orphans, workaholic parents who are never seen, and children living on their own after the family disintegrated. Or maybe the parents would never get mentioned.
Fumi’s parents, Yoshie and Akio, seem like typical parents. Working hard, hoping for the
best for their daughter, wanting her to find a boy (problem) and not a clue of what is going on deep inside her. This probably describes a majority of parents the world over. I talked about cousin Chiz earlier
Akira has a big brother, Shinobu, with a bit of sis-con going. Her mother Sakiko was friends with Fumi’s mother Yoshie and they resume that once the Manjoumes moved back.
Mom is concerned about Akira’s welfare but also has issues with Shinobu’s excessive attention to Akira. Dad doesn’t make a big showing here.
Sugimoto family: Yasuka’s mother Chie is tall and has a strong personality. Yasuka has three sisters, Shinako, Kazusa, and Kuri. The four “Sugimoto sisters” are all legendary in their height and their beauty.
Kayoko Ikumi doesn’t show a lot of her family. But she does have a pretend fiance, Ko, who is filthy rich and genuinely cares for her. Too bad for him – she’s only into girls.
Plot, plot, what the plot?
Fumi comes back to town after being gone for ten years.
At the very start, we see her pain at having to end a romantic and sexual relationship with her older cousin Chizu, who was getting married. The anime is not about Fumi discovering her sexual preference, she already knew. She’s already had her heart broken by this affair when it ended badly.
She enters high school as a first-year. Instead of being driven to school, she insists on taking the train. Akira, her childhood friend, coincidentally insisted on taking the train to get away from her sis-con brother. And coincidentally, they both take the same route to school. And coincidentally happened to be standing together when a man starts to molest Fumi. Fumi is unable to do anything but accept it and cry. Akira, who sees what is happening, stomps on the guy’s foot and yells at him to stop molesting her. Right there we see the difference in personality.
They soon discover their mutual past and become friends once again.
The train molesters. Spoken like an unavoidable fact of life. An irritant every female goes thru. I don’t understand the desire to feel up some poor defenseless girl. Oh, I’m touching her, I’m touching her!
How there can be any satisfaction at all in forcing a stupid grope onto a victim, with them hating every minute of it?
Oh sh*t! Back to the review.
Fumi meets Yasuko.
Yasuko is immediately attracted to Fumi and tries to trick her into joining the basketball team. This doesn’t work but Fumi ends up helping Akira in the Fujigaya drama club where Yasuko is also helping. They are putting on a play, Wuthering Heights, and Yasuko is the universal choice to play Heathcliff. Early on she moves in for a romantic kiss, probably before Fumi was ready.
That weeping girl you earlier saw fleeing the Drama club room Yasuko was in? Pay no heed to her. Yasuko confesses she likes Fumi so she’s elected for the rebound interest. Akira keeps getting in the way though. We’re supposed to do things together but Yasuko gets higher priority. Romance before friends, right?
Fumi explains the situation and “comes out” to Akira. That’s ok. Akira is a true friend and understands. Akira wants to be supportive. Akira hasn’t even thought about her own sexuality nor had any interest in romance herself.
They are all working together on the club play which keeps them in contact for lots of interaction. Including the girl who fled that room, Kyouko, who still loves Yasuke. Over time she becomes friends with Fumi and Akira despite feeling, from her POV, that Fumi “took” her lover.
While the high school does Wuthering Heights, the elementary kids do The Little Prince and the middle schoolers do Little Women. It will be a busy play night. The plays all do well.
Wuthering Heights wasn’t a parallel story and didn’t really have lots of meaning relative to the storyline. It could have been any old play. But they did bring out one point. Kyouko says she thinks Catherine, the tempestuous female lead, is selfish. Yasuko replies that “Everyone is selfish.”
They are both correct, of course. The difference in POV is a bit of insight into their different personalities. Yasuko might have reached her conclusion philosophically or perhaps thru hard experience. You decide for yourself.
Yasuko has another crush, a secret one. It is Masanori Kagami, a male teacher, forbidden fruit. She tried to confess to him early on but he said, “Let’s forget you said that, shall we?” However, after the play, she looks at him with tear-filled eyes after a complement and this gives away to Fumi where Yasuka’s heart is really at.
The blue flowers Fumi had brought her lay forgotten in an empty room.
It is easy to miss a girl’s pain when she seems supremely confident in her physical and academic abilities and her fellow girls throw themselves at her. But Yasuke is the victim of both forbidden and unrequited love. She is on the rebound every bit as much as Fumi.
When I first met her, I was prepared to dislike her because she was effortlessly what everyone wants to be. People who have everything going for them often turn out to lack empathy – or at least to be smug about it. She grew on me as it became clear she was trying to deal with her own vulnerability and loss.
We go on from here. More things happen, more things change. If I explain too much more there will no longer be anything to surprise you. If you have enjoyed the first episodes of the anime, the remainder will be even better.
That’s “final thoughts” in Latin.
Aoi Hana was an entertaining anime. It was slow to spool up and took six episodes get up
to the interest level of the other yuri I’ve reviewed here but there was never a chance I’d DNF it. It did get a touch boring in spots. The OP implied a happy ending for Akira and Fumi which shut down a lot of the tension. Everything you watched was another step towards a predetermined happy ending. You know she’ll get there, it is just the route that is in question.
OTOH, the other girls have their own arcs that are no so predictable.
“Aoi Hana” sounds so much better than “Sweet Blue Flowers”. I would never have bothered with the English translation of the title. The word “sweet” does not appear in the Japanese title. That would be Suu~ītoburū no Hana or スウィートブルーの花.
This is an eleven episode run. It felt short to me. I was expecting 13, not 11. Which leads me to speculate that they ran out of time or budget or both.
Nobuko Yoshiya wrote a collection of stories about intimate female relationships from 1916 to 1924 entitled Hana Monogatari, or Flower Tales. It is the beginning of the modern yuri genre. Episode one of Aoi Hana is titled “Flower Tale”. (Hana Monogatari is also the title of the Monogatari franchise arc entirely devoted to Kanbaru Suruga, a gay female.) Probably not a coincidence.
Liz and the Blue Bird was also slow and depended entirely on character development. The movie format is better for this kind of anime. It needs to be a continuous experience and not a series of 22-minute episodes, each of which seems to move the plot along microscopically.
“Liz” also had the counterpoint of another parallel story to explain things and keep things interesting. Wuthering Heights was neither ongoing nor parallel to the main story. It did serve its purpose of a kind of crucible where everyone was thrown together and forced to interact.
The art and animation are pleasant. The style, with faded colors and minimalist pastel backgrounds, was compatible with the story and reinforced the quiet ambiance. It was similar to Wandering Son, which should be no surprise. Both were created by Takako Shimura.
As long as they were just talking calmly, the voices were ok. But as soon as there was laughter or crying or maybe small children involved, there’s the old familiar feeling of that doesn’t sound real. I’ve heard women and girls laugh and cry and more little children talking than I can count. That isn’t what it sounds like. But that’s a problem I find in most anime.
It picks up in the second half, pulling thru to a sweet and heartwarming conclusion. There is a lot more material that could have been used and from how the plot developed it just feels like one or two more episodes ought to have been produced. It was still a fine ending to a good show.
And the OP and the ED are fabulous!