Seeing that I am back in school now, I am finding less time to actually write stuff on my blog. In the meantime, I am compelled to complete a review I promised myself to do ever since I finished a certain book that I also reviewed! And I have to say, this is probably the first time I’ve ever decided to review an anime alongside a book (we’ll see if I ever decide to do that again)!
But before I get into reviewing one of the more beautiful pieces of Japanese animation I have seen, I need to clarify some limitations:
- Sweet Blue Flowers/Aoi Hana is not available for streaming on any of the legal hosting sites that I am familiar with. I did, however, watch and capture screen shots from the DVD copy, which is distributed in the US by Right Stuf.
- While this review also includes in-depth analysis alongside Wuthering Heights, it is not to be treated as an academic resource. These are my opinions, and I have not given them their proper references.
- Sweet Blue Flowers is a shoujo-ai (girl love) series that strongly advocates for LGBTQ rights. If that kind of topic bothers you, stop reading and move on.
Sweet Blue Flowers/Aoi Hana takes place in the rustic town of Kamakura, Kanagawa, Japan. Two childhood friends, Fumi Manjoume and Akira Okudaira, have a chance reunion together, when Fumi discovers her first romantic encounters. However, it seems that Fumi’s love goes unrequited, as characters such as her female cousin and her upperclassman have chosen other loves; but there is more than meets the eye to this complex yuri love story!
This is the first of two series created by Takako Shimura, a well-known writer who supports LGBT rights as is evident in her manga, which have been adapted into anime. And while I did enjoy her other work (Wandering Son/Hourou Musuko) a little more, this one felt more like a story that felt closer to her heart. Shimura actually grew up in Kamakura, so it is fairly accurate to say that a lot of the moments from this series are inspired closely to her own life.
The animation style is much slower than others; and the choice of watercolor-style art sets a much more calming emotion for me. Having these tranquil visuals, set with a mild musical score, made me a little more conscious of the story itself, rather than the visuals going on.
And as one can imagine, Sweet Blue Flowers takes on a more sentimental look at the homosexual themes that are found throughout the story. Many of the other anime I have seen usually use this theme for homoerotic humor or otherwise explicit content; but Shimura doesn’t do that here. But while Shimura’s portrayal of homosexuality is innocent by comparison, she does also raise concerns that the LGBTQ community at large can identify with.
But enough about these technical aspects to the story! As promised, I will discuss this series as it relates to the English novel (or play, which is how the story depicts it): Wuthering Heights.
Now I have to admit, comparing this to Wuthering Heights does seem to be kind of a stretch. However, as soon as I realized (roughly 3 episodes in) that the girls were going to put on their version of the story as a theatrical drama, the parallel couldn’t be more clear.
The town of Kamakura appears rustic by comparison to other cities, yet is home to these girls and their families, who live fairly Epicurean lifestyles. This is very much similar to the setting of Wuthering Heights in Yorkshire, United Kingdom. The two schools, Fujigaya (an all-girls parochial school) and Matsuoka (an all-girls private school), might also be considered (at least in my opinion) to be parallel settings for Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, respectively. The Christian influence, while I’m sure is actually relevant to Shimura’s upbringing (though I’m not sure about this myself), might also be inspired by the Methodist influences found within characters like Joseph in Wuthering Heights.
As it is clearly obvious, the illustrious Yasuko Sugimoto (whom I will call Sugimoto from now on, since her parallel was also called only by his surname) directly relates to Heathcliff, Emily Brontë’s main character in Wuthering Heights. Her tall, boyish figure makes her a clear masculine character throughout the series; and as one might imagine, she is well-loved by many of the girls found in this series. Fumi finds herself smitten by this handsome girl.
In the first half of this series, like the first volume of Wuthering Heights, Sugimoto appears cool-headed, charming, and very much popular with girls. When the announcement for the joint school play of Wuthering Heights is announced, she is the clear choice for the role of Heathcliff. We are expected to like, or at least relate, to Sugimoto at first; but by the second half of the animated series, this view changes, as we learn more about the drama behind Sugimoto’s life.
After a rejection by the one she loves, Sugimoto doesn’t quite know how to cope with her own emotions. While her sisters describe her as bisexual, I can’t help but wonder if Sugimoto is simply questioning her sexuality, unsure of her own feelings, and getting other girls involved in her spiraling disaster of unrequited love. Either way, Sugimoto’s instability is quite dangerous for the other characters involved; and she does hurt, at least emotionally, many girls (including Fumi) in the process.
If Sugimoto is our parallel for Heathcliff, then certainly there are also the two Catherines: Mr. Masanori Kagami, a teacher at Fujigaya (Akira’s school and Sugimoto’s former school, before transferring to Matsuoka), and Kyouko Ikumi, Akira’s classmate.
Even though Sugimoto is in love with Mr. Kagami, he is engaged to her sister, Kazusa instead. This betrayal leads Sugimoto into hurting others to cope with her romantic problems. Kyouko on the other hand, like the young Catherine (Catherine’s daughter who was born moments before her death), stalks Sugimoto as a reminder of the betrayal she had experienced. In Wuthering Heights, this Catherine has no particular feelings for Heathcliff like how Kyouko feels for Sugimoto; but Sugimoto continues to hurt her in a way that reflects her own hatred for the rejection. And just like the grim reminder of this betrayal, Kyouko’s presence haunts Sugimoto of this fact.
That’s fine and all, but one thing that I always questioned (and don’t have a very good answer for it yet) was what Fumi’s and Akira’s involvement in this lover’s quarrel is. On the surface, Fumi’s character is very much similar to Brontë’s primary narrator, Nelly Dean, thereby making Akira the equivalent of the other narrator, Mr. Lockwood. Both of them are fairly removed from this quarrel, despite being in the same environment. Furthermore, Fumi’s character specifically wants to be involved in this drama, but doesn’t actually seem to fit the mold, like some of the others do. However, after watching this series a second time, I couldn’t help but wonder if Fumi is more like a third, possibly “ideal” Catherine.
I say “ideal” because her character, both physically and mentally, resemble the more surreal version of Catherine, taking the quote “Heathcliff is me and I am Heathcliff” a little more literally. Our first impression of her is that she is tall and (at least in my opinion) quite beautiful for a girl. She has moved back to Kamakura after years of having lived somewhere else. She is rejected by Sugimoto (the series Heathcliff) and is betrayed by her cousin Chizu (her own Catherine?). And since we’re already considering homosexuality as one of this series’ themes, we might say that Fumi’s Heathcliff has fallen in love with Sugimoto’s Heathcliff. I know it’s a stretch, but perhaps this is another way one might interpret Catherine’s words, as she declares herself madly in love with Heathcliff, despite having not been able to marry him for social status reasons.
But at this point, we are clearly no longer following Wuthering Heights as an adaptation for Sweet Blue Flowers; which is totally fine, because it’s not! And as Fumi finally tells Sugimoto off, it seems that Fumi’s Heathcliff has the power to move on from unrequited love. Sure, she got hurt from the rejections; sure, she was depressed because of it; but that doesn’t mean she will sulk in these facts of life and hold a grudge against those she once loved, nor does she want to hurt others because of it. Fumi is an “idealized” Catherine, but also an idealized Heathcliff, simply by being able to let go.
And as one might imagine, the ending of the anime is one that might be considered happier than the bittersweet ending to Wuthering Heights. When Fumi goes back to her elementary school with Akira, she remembers the sweet blue flowers, forget-me-nots, in the garden, where she met her first love. For Sugimoto, the story ends; but for Fumi, the story of true love has only just begun. And in the end, Fumi’s Catherine/Heathcliff duality wins.
So if you are looking for an anime that’s more artistic in essence, a good romantic tale that has a satisfyingly happy ending, and are not bothered by same-sex love, go ahead and give Sweet Blue Flowers a watch. And don’t worry if you don’t understand the Wuthering Heights references. While it does add some extra flavor to the plot, this series has a clever way in giving it an alternative that makes it clearly original.
Sweet Blue Flowers is now available on Crunchyroll.