Two childhood friends, Fumi and Akira, meet again ten years later as they both start their first year at a new school after Fumi moves back home. While they’re not in the same school, they’re brought together again by their families and memories of their close relationship. Where Akira is outgoing and innocent in love, Fumi is quick to fall in love with her senpai, Yasuko, after another failed unrequited love. But Yasuko may have been running from an unrequited love of her own, and when their relationship fails, Akira has to step in to comfort Fumi, igniting long dormant feelings once again.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews and recommendations that point to Aoi Hana as one of the great yuri’s to read. I had never read one myself and was looking to find a serious one to maybe get away from some of the more traditional romances and saw this one recommended somewhere. However, I really don’t think it lives up to the expectations put in me by those reviews. I honestly found it lacking in meaningful content and filled with scenes that could have easily been cut out. Combine that with a secondary cast that the mangaka tries to get us to care about, but are just generally uninteresting, and an art style that varies widely, this manga didn’t really make for an enjoyable read for me.
The art style that mangaka Takako Shimura employs throughout her story is pretty good, and I would like it a lot more if she could keep it consistent. She uses a pretty simple style when drawing her characters, using thin and sometimes wispy lines to create soft features that brings out a sort of delicacy at times. For the most part her backgrounds are simple to nonexistent. She frequently leaves many backgrounds blank, focusing on the characters themselves instead. While this would be fine in normal circumstances – leaving me with the impression that the author was going for a more simplified style overall – she goes on to pair these plain panels with highly detailed backgrounds making certain scenes look very out of place. There were a couple instances I noticed where one detailed background was stuck on a page with the plain panels, making it stand out even more (and not in a good way). Then Shimura also decides to use plain text panels, sometimes sacrificing whole pages to full black layouts with just text. These can be used effectively to give impact to certain lines, but when used too much you just diminish it’s overall effect. Don’t get me wrong, her art is very strong and I do enjoy her backgrounds, but you need to think about the overall ascetic that you want your piece to have, and this one’s is all over the place.
Other than this, getting into this manga was a very slow process for me. I felt like it really only started to get serious around chapter 20, and the rest up to that point was filled with story that really didn’t interest me at all. Not to mention the weird flashback moment where Fumi had sex with her cousin. Yea, that’s a thing, I guess. Did I mention that when she was in fifth grade her cousin was on her way to college? I can understand innocent love and young girls falling in love or thinking they’re falling in love pretty easily, but that one moment threw me for a loop. Not just because it may or may not have bordered on statutory rape (though the age of consent in Japan is 13), and not because it was very plainly spelled out incest, but because Fumi was so young at that point that I’m not sure she really understood the seriousness of what was happening. But regardless of that, I don’t think there was enough serious moments in the beginning to really get me hooked on the romance to actually care if the characters got together. Yasuko and Fumi’s relationship didn’t really feel serious at all, and maybe that’s because it wasn’t, but that just means fewer investment for me. When you combine that with a bunch of filler scenes and a long stretch between when Fumi realizes her feelings for Akira and when she acts on them, it makes me think this manga could have been a lot shorter.
There were a few characters that were pretty interesting. Obviously Fumi and Akira – considering they’re the main characters an all – and then Kyouko and Yasuko, but other than them, I had a very hard time keeping track of everyone else. Shimura introduced a lot of characters throughout Aoi Hana, from friends to family to teachers, and each one she tried to tell a little story about. But if you introduce a caste that big, you better give me a reason to care about them or even enough characterization to remember who they are. I found myself skimming over the parts that didn’t involve Fumi and Akira mainly because I just had no idea who the rest of them were and just no patience to try and go back and figure it out. Large castes of characters can work sometimes when you put the effort into making them each distinct from each other, but the secondary characters in Aoi Hana just seemed to blend together after awhile. It made it a little harder as well when a lot of their character designs looked similar.
But the main focus of this blog is romance, so let’s look at that for a little while. After I made it through the beginning, I didn’t mind the romance especially when Fumi confessed to Akira and their relationship became more complicated. With Yasuko, I felt that there wasn’t enough seriousness behind it, but that’s also partly because Yasuko wasn’t really serious to begin with. It felt like a lot of the story revolved around adolescent love and how easy it is to fall in love which leads to many instances of unrequited feelings. It seemed like more than half the caste was suffering from this at some point during the story, whether they confessed and were turned down or it was a kind of taboo love that never would have worked out anyways. However, this is just the process you have to go through to grow up and find out who you really are. Fumi and Akira’s relationship was much the same way, but moreso on the side of Akira. In terms of character growth, I think we see the most from her over the course of the chapters: going from someone who is confused about lesbian relationships but genuinely wants to support her friend to someone who now has to try and figure out if she truly has feelings for her childhood friend. She rushed into dating Fumi in order to figure out what love is really like since she’s never felt it before and it becomes a learning experience as she slowly tries to make sense of her feelings. And for someone like Fumi, who has always been “easy to cry” and nervous about speaking up for herself, she comes to find strength in her feelings and I think more stability in keeping them from fluctuating.
While we look at their romance, we also have to realize that this is a yuri as well. What makes for good tension in a story about gay relationships has always been people who don’t approve. So when I went into this series I was kind of expecting to see at least some tension between the characters because of this, but I don’t think there was nearly enough. Fumi worries a lot about what people will think about her and her attraction to women, but from what I’ve seen it’s all in her head. For pretty much the whole series, almost every character has supported them or has been in a lesbian relationship themselves. It wasn’t until later on that we start to see the smattering of gossip about lesbians at the school, but at no point is anything seriously done or at no point did anyone seriously come out and say it was wrong. Akira contemplates it for a while and seems a little put-off by it, but they’re friendship doesn’t end and there are no fights about it. It’s just generally lackluster in that regard.
Aoi Hana probably isn’t something I’ll ever have the urge to pick up again. Maybe it’s just not my thing, and if the story interests you, you should feel free to give it a shot. Just be prepared to give it time to get to the main story, but there’s definitely a lot of filler you can skip right over to make it go quicker. Overall, the art was very good and I enjoyed a lot of pages purely for that reason, but it is generally inconsistent on whether it wants to be detailed or overly simple. Aoi Hana gets a resounded “Meh” from me.
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