By Takako Shimura. Released in Japan as “Aoi Hana” by Ohta Shuppan, serialized in the magazine Manga Erotics F. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by John Werry.
Shameful confession to make: while I always enjoy Shimura’s series when I read them, I will note that it’s sometimes hard for it to stay in my memory, particularly when so much other yuri is already coming out. Not helping the matter is the fact that, while I do love her art, I sometimes have trouble telling her characters apart, particularly secondary characters. And thirdly, this particular omnibus seems to have backloaded the more interesting material. (There is a very helpful “Let’s meet the cast” list at the start of the second half/4th volume, which I realize is meant to be something of a parody but which I could honestly have used at the beginning.) Add all these things together and I’m left with a volume that I did not enjoy as much as the first. I suspect Sweet Blue Flowers may be a series that rewards marathoning the entire series in one gulp.
The first half, Volume 3, has the cast invited to Kyoko’s summer home for a vacation, which has horseback riding, and scary stories, and one of the secondary girls falling for Akira’s brother, which I’m honestly happy about because he gets so much abuse from his sister that he could use some nice things happening to him. Akira, meanwhile, is stricken with a cold, as is Fumi. This means that Akira is there to overhear some of Kyoko’s family drama and also with Fumi finally admitting that Akira was her first love, with all the awkwardness that comes with it. And we write Yasuko out of the story, at least for now, as she comes to terms with the fact that her crush is marrying the girl he loves (which isn’t her), and tries to apologize to Fumi for what happened between them (which doesn’t go well), then flies off to England. And so the fourth volume introduces new first-years, new potential relationships, and more and more of Fumi being a bit of a wreck.
This is not an easy yuri series, one that goes down smoothly and leaves a smile on your face. And it’s also not a series that seems to magically have no men in it whatsoever. Men are here, and they get into relationships with some of the cast. Girls have crushes on other girls, and then get over them. But we also have their teacher Yamashina-sensei, who gets a chapter devoted to her which seems to be about the bitter, unrequited love of youth – followed by the bitter, unrequited love of a student with a crush on her – but ends in a sweet way that shows us that it’s not ALL going to be angst and drama. I think Shimura may have realized that she was laying it on a bit thick – in the second half we get Haruka and Ryoko, two students who seem so far to be a bit less burdened with baggage than others. But we still have Fumi, and her attempts to try to be a bit more outgoing – which doesn’t work well – are very true-to-life but also painful.
Sweet Blue Flowers is a good series. That said, it’s exhausting as well, and I suspect that it’s best enjoyed either in one gulp – waiting till the other two omnibuses are out – or in smaller quantities, such as reading only half and then coming back. There is such a thing as too much Fumi. (And too be fair, too much Akira, though that’s slightly less pressure-heated.)