Friday, September 4, 2009
Volume 4 of Aoi Hana is easily the loveliest, most romantic volume so far in the series. (And the last one out right now!! *cries in a corner*)
The volume kicks off with a new school year beginning and the Fujigaya drama club starting to prepare for their next drama festival performance- this time it’s Mishima Yukio’s “ The Deer-Cry Pavilion.” (Another sign that Shimura Takako is awesome. ^^ I love Mishima’s novels!! But I haven’t read “The Deer Cry Pavilion”…yet.) Ah-chan begins to (correctly) guess that Fumi is in love with her, but she doesn’t have the courage to speak to anyone about it. She and Kyouko get split up into different classes, and part without much ceremony. Kyouko really comes into her own in this volume, now that she isn’t as much in the shadow of her unrequited love for Sugimoto. Fumi stays in the same class as Yacchan and Pon-chan, but Mogii gets moved to a different class—and Fumi’s the only one with enough mettle to comfort her.
Two new Fujigaya first-year students also join the cast- Oono Haruka and Ueda Ryouko. Haruka is amusingly similar to Ah-chan (which Kyouko mercilessly teases Ah-chan about) and tall, quirky biliophile Ryouko reminds Ah-chan of Fumi—and seeing them stand next to each other makes Ah-chan’s heart skip a beat in one scene. :) Kyouko, Ryouko, and Ah-chan (because of her acquaintance with Ryouko) get leading roles in “The Deer-Cry Pavilion”, and Fumi promises Ah-chan that she’ll sit in the front row to watch her perform. (Haha! She didn’t sit in the front row for Sugimoto. :) ) Because Yasuko spoke so highly of Fumi to the Fujigaya drama club the year before (this was a pretty bittersweet revelation) they want Fumi to audition, and Fumi does it for the chance to show off in front of Ah-chan. (I know the feeling, Fumi. ^^ ) She fails since her acting abilities are nil, and withdraws from the play. On the periphery of Fumi and Ah-chan’s story, we also learn a little more about Kyouko’s home troubles with her mother. After befriending Fumi and inviting her to her house, Haruka confides that she (correctly) thinks her sister likes women. This prompts Fumi to go to Ah-chan’s house and finally, finally confess that she’s in love with Ah-chan!! ^^ GO, FUMI!!!!! Best of all, when Ah-chan platonically responds with “I love you too, Fumi”, Fumi doesn’t chicken out and say something like “Uh, right…yeah, that's right. You're my closest friend, Ah-chan.” She makes it undeniably clear exactly what she means- sparing herself and the audience a long, torturous arc of misunderstood feelings. After taking her spot as one of the best manga protagonists I have ever had the pleasure of following, Fumi reflects that she’s put Ah-chan in an awkward position, and they have yet to meet again by the end of the volume. Ah-chan hasn’t accepted Fumi’s love, but she hasn’t rejected it either.
Do I need to say that this volume was brilliant? The new first-year characters are delightful, the older cast continues to grow and impress me (especially Fumi), and the Fumi/Ah-chan arc kicks into full-throttle gear while (currently) avoiding certain irritating plot devices that have already been done to death in numerous manga romances. Plus, I love Shimura’s (and her characters’) penchant for literary references. :) The “Little Women” short this time is really nice also—apparently, Yasuko isn’t the only Sugimoto sister who had a playgirl reputation in high school. Shimura also conducts an amusing “interview” with several of her characters—she seems like she’d be a fun person to meet. :) (The funniest parts were Haruka and Ryouko's brief segments and Fumi's reaction to reading her own manga.) Even the art seems to be a little prettier and more refined in these chapters. This is definitely an amazing volume, and anybody who doesn’t like Aoi Hana at this point needs to relinquish their “Yuri Fan” membership card. (Or their plain old “Good Taste” card.)
It's saddening that there's only one more episode of the Aoi Hana anime left to air, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how it ends.
(And yes, beginning with this review, I'm switching from writing Japanese names on this blog from given name first-surname second, to surname first-given name second, partly for the sake of authenticity, and partly because some names really sound more awkward when written with the given name first instead of the other way around.)