I'm still reeling from how breathtakingly stellar the first episode of Aoi Hana is. Takako Shimura's fantastic source material + series director Kenichi Kasai's brilliant supervision + some of the most beautiful opening animation EVER by Utena-mastermind Kunihiko Ikuhara = a slice of animated heaven!!♥ ^_^
Episode 1 covers the first chapter of the manga, in which Fumi and Akira meet on the same train on the way to their respective new high schools and Akira saves Fumi from a creepy guy on the train before they part ways without realizing that they already know each other from 10 years ago.
As they both adjust to their first day in high school, Akira's mother receives a phone call from Fumi's mother and she invites Mrs. Manjoume and Fumi to the Okudaira residence to catch up on their old friendship. Fumi and Akira recognize each other from their meeting on the train (that was a great scene ^^) and begin to rekindle their friendship after not having seen each other since Fumi moved away from Kamakura (the city they live in) ten years ago. There are some adorable flashbacks to Fumi and Akira's time together, back when Fumi had a crush on Akira but didn't know it yet, and Akira always protected Fumi. ^^
In the present again, as Fumi tells her cousin Chizu about her meeting Akira, her mother calls Chizu downstairs to give her a cake congratulating her on her wedding coming up. Fumi is heartbroken as Chizu gives her an apologetic smile- at this point, I felt terrible for Fumi and wanted to stab Chizu after mashing the cake into her face-, but there's nothing she can do. When she sees Akira at the train station the next day and unwittingly begins to cry over Chizu, Akira hands Fumi a handkerchief to wipe away her tears and Fumi reflects on how that simple action bridged the 10 year gap in their friendship.
If I had been given a carte blanche and all of the money and resources I needed to produce this show myself, I could not have created an adaptation of Aoi Hana that I would have liked more. :) The art is excellent, complete with lovely watercolor backgrounds and character designs that perfectly bring Takako Shimura's original illustrations to life. The direction, writing, music, everything is great. I worried about whether the gentle pacing of the manga would be preserved in the anime without feeling "slow", but there was no need to worry. The pacing is spot on, and I actually liked the few deviations that were made from the manga- like beginning the series from Fumi's point of view instead of Akira's, and making Fumi/Akira more obvious. ^^ As for the yuri, Aoi Hana, in both manga and anime form (from what I've seen of the anime) is honest to goodness a wonderful romantic drama that anybody could appreciate, yuri fan or not. After all of the moe and service-y junk I've sloughed through to see yuri in anime, this series is like a breath of fresh air. :)
Watching this episode made me feel like an unwilling dieter who has been only been eating fat-free ice-cream for the past two to three years, but then finally ate a bowl of freshly mixed Cold Stone's and remembered what *real* ice cream tastes like. Nothing fake or contrived- this is pure emotion at its best.
Judging from the first episode, this is a series is not to be missed.
Overall: A x infinity