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AOI HANA aka SWEET BLUE FLOWERS: Love Hurts

By alicebg, Mar 2 2017 07:54PM

Generally speaking, anime - no matter to which particular genre it might belong - deals in the fantastical. There is a heavy bias towards fantasy and sci-fi elements, with magic a strong underpinning force. Even sitcoms (such as Squid Girl, to be reviewed in due course, and Yuru Yuri, q.v.) will frequently embrace the bizarre. Sweet Blue Flowers is a rare example of what might be termed documentary realism in Japanese animation, which makes it particularly noteworthy. It doesn't hurt that it's also rather good.

Sweet Blue Flowers all but announces its intentions in its visual style, which is hyper-realist in the Studio Ghibli mode. The trains - which play a pleasingly prominent role in the proceedings - are superbly rendered, and the backgrounds are detailed to the point of excess. The characters, though clearly anime, are nowhere near as stylised as is normal - this show is obviously striving for a sense of immediacy and believability.

The setup is a familiar one for fans of the yuri sub-genre: the central protagonists are Fumi, shy and introverted to the point of inertia, and the bombastic, hyper-positive Akira. Close friends as children, they are unexpectedly reunited as high school commuters, even though they attend different institutions. But when Fumi falls hard for popular - and butch - basketball star Yasuko, it sets off a complex, if buttoned-down, emotional chain reaction in which hearts are broken and secret loves are dragged unwillingly into the light.

In many respects Sweet Blue Flowers can be seen as an anime equivalent to Girl Friends (q.v.), since it trades not only on the colossal impact of first love, but also the emotional aspects of everyday living. It is also, of course, impeccably lesbian, even including a couple of coming-out scenes, one of which is pretty brutal. It also takes an impressively holistic approach to its characters - there are no obvious villains, but everybody's flaws are put on open display.

Thus the overall mood is one of bittersweet melancholy, although that's not to say the show is morbid - there are wry laughs to be had, most of them at the expense of Akira's generally clueless older brother. The plot is minimalist to the point of being threadbare, but it does keep you guessing, and if the ending can reasonably be called a fudge, it does at least give the whole series a neat circularity.

As much character study and mood piece as drama, Sweet Blue Flowers takes the 'slice of life' concept and renders it near-literal, almost in the manner of Harvey Pekar (q.v.). If you're used to the fast pace and noisy action of most anime, it could seem jarring, but to my eyes it's a refreshing change of/lack of pace.

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