Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yuri Manga: Aoi Hana volume 1

Aoi Hana (青い花) by Takako Shimura is a quietly impressive romantic drama and, in this reviewer's opinion, a classic in the making. The drama is organic and affecting, the characters are nearly all likeable (save for one who only appears at the beginning of this volume), and the entire story thrums with a gentle, quietly realistic atmosphere.

The story is about Fumi Manjoume, an introverted, bookish teenage girl who is beginning her first year of high school at Matsuoka Girls' High School. She begins the school year with her heart broken by a previous relationship (the details of which I will not spoil for anybody who hasn't read this). At about the same time, she reconnects with her best friend from ten years ago, Akira Okudaira (nicknamed "Ah-chan"), who is now attending Fujigatani Girls' Academy as a first-year high school student. As they reconnect, Fumi falls in love with a third-year at her high school, the uber-cool Yasuko Sugimoto, who used to attend Fujigatani. While Fumi tries to balance her renewed friendship with Akira with her new relationship with Yasuko, she also makes friends with Akira's friend at Fujigatani, Kyouko Ikumi, who is in love with Yasuko while being engaged to someone else. Oh dear. ^^ And there's more to this love polygon that I can't mention without giving away massive spoilers. ^_^ *fangirls*

But seriously, disregarding my weakness for convoluted love polygons that blindside me with new twists, the execution is what elevates Aoi Hana above the ilk of ensemble romances like, say, Strawberry Panic or Fushigi Yuugi (yes, Fushigi Yuugi). Rather than allow its characters to wallow in over-exaggerated melodrama, the characters in Aoi Hana take a more mature approach to their problems while still being realistically insecure, sometimes irrational teenagers. And seeing the layers peeled away from the various characters adds to a lot of the fun of reading this series for me. My favorite part probably being the irony of how Fumi and Yasuko are both unaware of each other's first- and in Fumi's case, second- loves. And Akira makes a great foil for Fumi. :)

Parts of this manga also reminded me of how it felt to briefly live in Japan for a semester in high school. Not the romance, ^^;; but some of the other interactions (like among the students, or Fumi and Akira's mothers). And even though this is completely irrelevant, one of the teachers in this series looks just like one of my former teachers in Japan, only a little younger. (It's weird... -.-;; lol) Plus, I just think it's neat that the story takes place in Kamakura. We have more than enough manga set in Tokyo.

Takako Shimura's spare, soft-lined art fits the story like a glove. She's excellent at conveying the characters' emotions using facial expressions and body language, without ruining the visuals with unnecessary clutter (like screentones all over the place). My only caveat for this title is that when first starting it, it's a little difficult to keep track of who-likes-who-and-goes-to-which-school, but that's really insignificant. If you like mature romantic dramas like the Tokyo Marble Chocolate OVA or Maison Ikkoku, you should definitely check this title out.

Story: A
Art: A-
Overall: A

Edit: Eek, I forgot that there's an alternative likely spelling for the characters used to spell "Fujigatani": "Fujigaya." I'll wait and see how it's pronounced in the anime, and then go with that spelling.

Later Edit: It seems that "Fujigaya" is the more likely spelling, so I'm going with that name for Ah-chan's school from here on.

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